Recompile Review

Xbox One

I’ve never had an IT job, so the prospect of running around inside a computer fixing things in Recompile gave me the totally realistic opportunity to correct that. This 3D metroidvania puts you in the digital shoes of a humanoid computer program, telling a brief but entertaining sci-fi tale filled with hacking, shooting, and jumping – you know, just like in actual computer repair. But while the premise is intriguing and unique, the combat, puzzles, and platforming within it are about as bland as they can get.

Recompile takes place in a minimalistic, geometric virtual world where you control an anthropomorphic computer program who shoots robots, solves puzzles, and hacks computers by running around and jumping on buttons. The tried-and-true metroidvania design has you steadily unlocking new abilities that make you more lethal or let you access new areas as you unravel the mystery of a space station that’s fallen into disarray from within its computer system.

Recompile Gameplay Screenshots

Like its simplistic art style and ambient music, Recompile’s sci-fi story is as minimalist as can be, delivered almost entirely through collectible text logs. These captivating bits of backstory detail the steady decline of a crew of space travelers and their increasingly unstable AI construct. And even though you never actually see or speak with another character, every bit of what you find is still extremely well-written.

Some games with lots of journals, books, and story snippets hidden in item descriptions like this make it tempting to just skip over everything and get back to playing as soon as possible, but Recompile is absolutely not among them. Instead, searching for every possible fragment of information became an obsession as I crept ever closer to understanding the full picture of the tragic events that transpired. The dialogue is superb and each character grew on me despite only ever recovering details about them indirectly.

The story kept me intrigued, but the gameplay between text logs didn’t.

Even better, you’re actually rewarded for collecting as many of the text files as possible, as they’re required to complete the final boss encounter for reasons I won’t spoil here. The encounter itself is unfortunately pretty bland once you reach it, but Recompile at least manages to transform the time spent uncovering the secret history of its setting into the key to reaching its conclusion along the way, which isn’t something I’d ever seen done before.

Although the story is quite good and kept me intrigued the whole way through, the stuff you’re actually doing between those text logs isn’t quite so inspired. Most of the time you’ll be hopping around big empty levels in incredibly run-of-the-mill platforming that’s been done better in dozens of other games. You start out with a standard jump, but unlock multi-jumps, midair dashes, and even gliding along the way – all the familiar stuff you’d expect to find in a metroidvania platformer without any surprises. Its platforming and controls aren’t actively bad by any means, but they also don’t do much to challenge or excite you either, ending up feeling passable but forgettable as a result.

When you’re not jumping on platforms, you’re jumping on buttons instead as you noodle your way through very simple circuitry-themed puzzles. If you’re a fan of redstone circuits in Minecraft, you’ll feel right at home following wires in these logic-based distractions, though they never get complex enough to be called obstacles. In fact, if you’d rather not spend the time to figure out each puzzle, that’s completely fine. You need only hop on a few buttons in a random order to solve them through process of elimination. It’s all surprisingly elementary for how complex some of the circuit mazes appear to be at first, and it’s downright disappointing that they never present any kind of challenge.

But of all the gameplay disappointments in Recompile, combat is by far the worst offender. Simply put, it’s really sloppy. Each of the five weapons is slow and unwieldy, aiming down the sights slows you to a frustrating crawl, and you can’t point your weapons very high in the air at all. That last point makes fighting the many flying robots an absolute pain in the neck as you have to exit ADS, run to a better vantage point, and then aim again. Thankfully there isn’t a whole lot of combat to begin with as enemies only appear sporadically and rarely pose a threat. But when they do, you’ll be met with clunkiness that’s hard to ignore and sometimes painful to get through.

It doesn’t help that enemies are wildly inconsistent in their deadliness. Sometimes they’ll barely engage, while others they’ll bombard you with attacks before you can draw your weapon. When you do take damage, your health bar goes down so fast and with so little warning that most times I died without ever knowing I was in any real danger. Bosses are even worse as they usually spew one-hit kill attacks all over the place and require overly precise attacks to take down. But after a few frustrating deaths, suddenly you’ll fire a few shots and the boss will die abruptly without fanfare, leaving you wondering what changed when you didn’t alter your strategy at all. It makes the finales at the end of each area completely anticlimactic.

The good news is that most of Recompile’s shortcomings are mitigated by its briefness. This adventure can be completed in a few short hours and (bland final boss aside) has a satisfying ending that genuinely rewarded the time I spent collecting and reading through all the intriguing lore entries. I can appreciate a short, entertaining story that respects my time.

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