Recompile Review: A Great Look But Not Much More
With a great look and an original outlook, there’s definitely something interesting about Recompile. Despite its flaws, I found myself pulled back to it again and again, desperate to see what came next. Time and again, though, I ended up frustrated by design choices that work against it and visual design that looks great in screenshots but in practice makes Recompile difficult to enjoy.
You control an AI installed into a damaged computer to repair it. After an opening section which is fairly linear and meant to teach you the basics, you’ll find yourself in an open-world Metroidvania with little direction. You’re supposed to repair the computer’s various cores, but the order you tackle them is mostly up to you. Some areas really require upgrades found in other parts of the game, but there’s nothing to tell you that until you arrive and find yourself unable to proceed.
A Rough Start
Your initial tool kit is lacking, to say the least. You have a single jump that feels a bit too floaty and makes some of Recompile’s tougher platforming sections a nightmare to proceed through. The developers seem to be in love with nontraditional platforms, curved edges, and jagged pieces you need to reach. This could work with tight controls but far too often I felt more lucky than skilled when I finally made it through an area. Moving across pipes often felt like a nightmare, leaving me convinced I would fall to my doom at any second.
Death from a fall can be especially annoying because so many areas here are set high in the sky. If you fall, you’re generally doomed. Your character can only survive so much of a drop and there’s often nothing to land on anyway. Despite this, your character won’t actually die until you reach the ground. This can take a strangely long time, simply waiting for the death that everyone except the game has already realized is inevitable.
Don’t Get Erased
You also have a slow single-shot pistol that doesn’t provide you with adequate defense against the game’s inconsistent AI. Bosses in particular leave you feeling very underpowered early on, but even regular enemies can often kill you before you even start to engage them. They can fire from incredible distances, allowing enemies you can’t even see to sometimes become serious threats. Restore points are generously placed about, but losing a small amount of progress can mean repeating frustrating platforming sections.
The lack of direction in Recompile is a big part of its appeal, and I do like how much the game trusts the player to make their own choices. Being able to go wherever you want is great in theory, and there were times when I figured out a puzzle or took down a section where I really felt a sense of accomplishment. The world you’re playing in feels like it’s working too much against you, though.
Recompile makes fantastic use of light and color, creating an eye-catching look which I really enjoy when I’m not playing in it. Everything is so busy, though, that it makes the game’s already difficult navigation that much harder. You already don’t know where you’re going, and now you must navigate platforms that are hard to see with so much going on. In addition, some of the visual effects are incredibly distracting.
Things improve once you grab a few upgrades. They don’t necessarily fix Recompile’s combat and navigation issues but they at least help to mitigate them to a degree. It never quite feels like enough, though. I’m all for difficulty in a game, but ideally, it would come from the game design, not from areas I literally can’t see.
For the most part, Recompile runs well. I did find a few minor glitches, but nothing that impacted me for long. The game runs well even when there’s a ton going on with a consistent framerate. Its flashing computer world manages to create a lot of atmosphere, and the soundtrack enhances it greatly.
Perhaps if the story grabs you, Recompile will provide a better experience, but I found it very bland. More of what happened to this mainframe and why it is in need of repair is revealed through a variety of computer logs you’ll find scattered throughout the environments. One more set of things to collect isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I found these logs almost universally bland. The most interesting part is learning about various characters and finding more about them as the game progresses. Without knowing these characters at all, I just had a hard time caring. Parts of what is revealed were mildly amusing, but never to the degree I wanted them to be.
I love the way Recompile looks, and a Metroidvania with this much freedom could definitely work. To do so however, it would need to clean the world design up enough that you can tell where you’re going. A tighter jump or more forgiving platforms would go a long way as well. As is, far too much progress in Recompile feels like it comes down to luck and repetition rather than skill. Game Pass subscribers who love the look may want to give this one a chance, but most players will quickly want to eject from this drive.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: Xbox Series X|S (Reviewed), PS5, PC; Publisher: Dear Villagers; Developer: Phigames; Players: 1; Released: August 19th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Recompile.