Video game genres are tricky. For starters, there’s an entire group of games unhelpfully called “action-adventure” games. I’d say more than ninety percent of games have both action and adventure, so that genre is actually friggin’ enormous. What’s fun about game genres, however, is when developers decide to change the rules. The recently released Recompile is a stellar example of a multi-genre mashup that, while fun, doesn’t quite deliver in every regard.
Created by Phigames, Recompile is a 3D platformer, metroidvania, and third-person shooter all wrapped up into one. Crazy as that sounds, it actually works pretty darn well. The platforming is easily the best chunk of gameplay. Jumps and air control are ultra responsive, and the abilities that you unlock a la metroidvania games only make it better as you dash, double, and eventually triple jump all over the place.
What’s crazy is how seamlessly the game transitions from a satisfying 3D platformer into a shooter. All you do is hold the left trigger to whip out your digital all-in-one gun and the camera immediately slides into an over the shoulder shooter point of view. And it works really well too! Some games that try to combine third person shooting with an array of robust traversal options can feel like they don’t fit well into either category. However, Recompile feels like the perfect marriage between precision jumping thrills and gun-toting kills.
You may have noticed that I called your in-game weapon a “digital all-in-one gun”, so allow me to explain. You see, your character in this title is a living program. The entire game takes place within a digital world. Shortly after waking for the first time, your little program heeds the instructions from a friendly, other worldly voice in order to take down a rampant AI. In order to do so, you’re quickly armed with a nifty little gun that acts as an assault rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, and more. Of course, those alternate forms of fire only come once you’ve found the upgrades through exploration.
None of the weapon upgrades are required for beating the game, but you’ll definitely want to find each one since they’re all a blast to use. The combat in general really is a lot of fun. Enemies do loads of damage, but so do you and killing said enemies grants you chunks of health. It makes combat an interesting back and forth situation, and it kept me on my toes each time even a single foe showed up.
Where the combat falls short, however, is the weakest part of Recompile and that’s the boss fights. They are not fun. For some odd reason, the developers cranked the difficulty up from “tough but fair” to “incredibly tough and we don’t care” for boss fights. Each one of them is super fast, always right up in your face, and incredibly capable at one-hit killing you.
For the longest time I was convinced the boss fights were impossible until I found an upgrade that allowed me to slow down time indefinitely. Then, however, the boss fights suddenly became trivial. I’d slow down time and win each boss fight on my first try. This wasn’t any fun either, however, since the bosses took way too many bullets to go down.
Then again, perhaps the bosses aren’t the worst part of Recompile. It’s probably the game’s hacking mechanic. It’s super boring. You simply make boxes turn on or off. This causes light to either leave the box toward another, or not. Every hacking puzzle is yawn-inducingly simple, and places a crushing chokehold on the game’s pacing. What makes the hacking much worse is how any time you hack a little box it costs bits that you’ve collected from defeating enemies. This only stinks because enemies don’t respawn anywhere. If you run out of bits while working on a puzzle, you have to explore the entire world until you find a baddie, walk all the way back to the puzzle, and hope you have enough bits to finish this time.
Now that I mention that dreaded hunt for enemy bits, I think that’s the real worst part of Recompile: the backtracking. Eventually, you’ll unlock a traversal upgrade that makes backtracking really fun but this doesn’t happen until the very end of the game when there really isn’t any need to backtrack anymore. Until then, you have to meander slowly back through every single world in order to get anywhere. It feels like a design choice that was made solely to stretch out the length of the game.
In terms of story, Recompile isn’t doing anything particularly exciting. Bits of dialogue from your semi-omniscient companion and text logs you collect throughout the game offer admittedly well-written but sparse pieces of dialogue that don’t do much to excite or really move anything forward. They offer a view into what transpired in the game’s real world before your program’s existence, but you could already draw the conclusion of what happened from my previous use of the term “rampant AI.”
While the written story isn’t too exciting, the commitment to the digital aesthetic is marvellous. Recompile’s visuals are nothing short of exceptional. From your program’s character model, to the singeing projectiles of enemies that burn past you, every piece of this game is beautiful. It can’t be overstated just how creative Phigames got with the game’s various forms of lighting and how they all bounce off of or seep into the game’s myriad surfaces and textures. It’s one of the most visually unique games I think we’ll see all year.
With the game being on Xbox Game Pass, I’d say it’s definitely worth a go. The moment-to-moment gameplay is a blast and the visuals really are a sight to behold. However, unless you’re a super completionist, you may not want to stick around with Recompile much longer than taking a quick peek since the story, frustrating design choices, and disappointing boss fights can drag the experience down. Either way, Recompile is a great example of interesting ideas defying conventions in order to make a wholly unique genre mashup.
Take in the spectacular light show on offer in Recompile on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One