Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Dear Villagers
A second may seem insignificant to us, but it’s enough time to perform a plethora of functions for a computer. Developer Phigames shows you the importance of time in Recompile, where a sentient AI virus fights against deletion, all within the span of a second. Though the narrative and design are vivid and mesmerizing, the gameplay elements are daunting.
You begin the game by learning the controls and mechanics of traversing the digital world known as the Mainframe. This hooked me from the start as I was taken in by the captivating atmosphere. The world of Recompile is a digital landscape full of biomes, all connected by a central hub. Whether it be an open area of spiraling platforms or a sector of hazardous security, each biome has a bright and colorful presentation with hints of the cyber theme scattered throughout.
For example, many of the platforms and structures are glitched-out polygons that assemble into complete shapes as you get closer. Outside of these structures, there are other environmental features to retain a consistent theme of computerization. For example, there are holographic platforms, glowing force fields, and interconnected circuitry puzzles. The Mainframe is a brilliantly designed world with detailed shading and dynamic, yet dark lighting effects.
To complement the elaborate world is a narrative about perspectives and intelligence. As you explore the Mainframe, you discover the truth behind your existence and purpose. The story is shown via scattered fragments of logs and entries of conversations between various members of a crew and an AI assistant known as the Hypervisor. Over time, you witness the increasing awareness of the Hypervisor and how it starts to make its own decisions, affecting the crew and their circumstances.
Given that these logs are scattered randomly throughout the Mainframe, I wasn’t expecting the story to be this compelling. The dialogue between the crew and the AI is quirky and fun to read. Their banter is natural, humorous, and charming to follow, even if they were lengthy. As these logs are spread out in each level, the narrative is not provided in a linear manner. Rather, you’ll be witnessing different parts of the story piece by piece as it coalesces into something meaningful over the course of the game.
Despite the superb quality of the world and plot, the gameplay itself is where things take a sharp turn for the worse. Recompile is a Metroidvania adventure-platformer title with some combat and puzzles woven in. The game encourages you to explore, fight, and survive in the digital world. I adore both the platformer and Metroidvania genres, so going into this game was a big thrill for me.
As expected of a Metroidvania title, you will be traveling back and forth between the different biomes. Some areas are not accessible until you have completed a task in a different level or gained the proper upgrade. This isn’t a new concept, but the lack of direction weighs heavily on the experience. You’ll go to a zone and explore it for minutes just to find out that you can’t move forward. It’s also a chore to head back to the hub as you move slowly, dampening the pace significantly. As a small but notable aside, there’s a lack of music in many parts of each level, so it feels even drearier in some aspects.
As you explore the Mainframe, you’ll come across upgrades that aid you in reaching areas in other levels, such as a long dash or a triple jump. Alongside traversal upgrades, you’ll also get access to hacking abilities, which become a huge support in your journey. For example, instead of solving a logic puzzle sequence, you can hack your way through. Or, if enemies are giving you a hard time, you can command them to attack other bots for you.
While upgrades and understanding the mechanics were fun, executing them in the various stages left me considerably frustrated. It’s a shame since most of those moments of frustration are unavoidable. It’s as if the developers took every measure to try to make things as inconvenient as possible.
The key aspect of the gameplay is platforming, but always sticking your landings is tougher than it looks. Firstly, the perspective of the camera slightly alters your perception of where you’re actually jumping to. As a result, you’ll have plenty of moments where you think you’re landing on a platform only to fall off the sides.
This is also where the beautiful cyber aesthetics backfire for the player. As mentioned before, the platforms or structures have a glitchy look to them. Since the glitches don’t fully assemble until you’re close by, you’re going to have to take it slowly and carefully. Otherwise, you’ll have moments like I did where you’re trying to speed through an area only to fall through an incomplete platform.
It’s a bit weird to describe something as trivial as falling in a game review, but the developers made both a helpful yet cumbersome choice with you falling in the game. When you descend off a platform, you don’t actually die until you hit another platform or go all the way down to the abyss below.
This may not seem like much of an issue, but if platforming is already tough, it becomes tiresome to wait for a lengthy 10 seconds each time you fall. I mentioned this choice could be helpful as unlocking a double or triple jump can potentially save you from death should you find a platform below.
As another hindrance to gameplay, combat isn’t as fluid as the movement. Over time, you unlock abilities to help with combat, but it never truly feels satisfying. Aiming your guns at the enemies is awkward and sluggish, causing you to miss your shots often. If they’re above you, which they will be regularly, don’t even bother trying to shoot, as your gun won’t point that high. It would be nice to shoot mid-jump or mid-dash, but alas, that is also not doable.
What becomes apparent over time is the lack of engagement. There is variety here, but not much depth. Jumping on the plentiful platforms can get dull quickly, combat becomes extremely repetitive, and puzzle sequences become stale. It feels dissatisfying to comb through a sizable map just to push a few buttons to move forward. Combine the tough precision platforming with strenuous combat, and it makes for a dreadfully poor gameplay experience.
Looks aren’t everything. And unfortunately, Recompile is a prime example of that sentiment. The potential was there to make a joyful experience, one where you would look forward to trying out the various biomes and tackling the challenges in each of them. The narrative and design lured me in, as the plot choices and stylish flair of the Mainframe was engrossing. But, unfortunately, most of the actual gameplay took me right out of the experience and made it a disappointing endeavor.
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