STAFF REVIEW of Recompile (Xbox One)

Wednesday, September 8, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Recompile Box art I’ve always been into computers ever since home PC’s were a new thing when I was a young gamer. When shows like Reboot came along, it always made me think of what goes on inside each virtual world and your hardware. This was clearly some inspiration for developers Phigames with their latest 3D metroidvania platformer, Recompile.

Set within a 3D Mainframe backdrop, Recompile starts out as a basic 3D platformer, eventually evolving into slightly more, adding combat, hacking, puzzles and more for quite a unique adventure. You play a sapient AI that just came to be, taking place completely within its own digital world. You’re essentially tasked with figuring out what happened to the digital world and choosing to bring it back online or not with a rampant AI that will try and stop you, as you now have the gift of choice with your new life.

There is more to the story, but you’ll only ever get new information whenever you find hidden collectables strewn throughout each of the levels. These data logs are dry text only affairs, but do offer an interesting perspective if you take the time to piece them all together. Having them somehow narrated would have at least helped keep my attention with them or something in between each stage to have some narrative continuing. Given that levels aren’t linear, you can miss some important text logs, and unless you find them all you’re not going to get the whole picture. The coolest part about the whole overarching narrative that your 8 hour or so playthrough actually takes place within one second of real time.

As you begin your journey, you’ll first notice how cool your character and the Mainframe world you’re in appears. As an AI, you resemble much of the protagonist from the classic Rez game on PS2, a humanoid-like structure, but clearly compiled code or something of the like. As you traverse around Mainframe you’ll notice how computer-like it appears, dark in background with bright and colorful accents you might see in Tron. The first level acts as a tutorial of sorts, showing you that there are multiple ways to get to certain areas, hidden collectables and how to find and utilize upgrades for your character.

After you complete the opening area you’re put into a hub world that you’ll be coming back to often. This is where you’ll access the four separate areas and biomes, each with their own color schemes and distinct focuses on gameplay. At the end of each you’ll battle an incredibly challenging but memorable boss, filling up a progress bar that will eventually unlock the final area and boss.

Recompile isn’t linear though, and you’re welcome to play any of the biomes in any order you wish. Now there is a suggested path as each world will net you different upgrades which will be necessary to go further in the biomes you’ve already explored. This is where the Metroidvania gameplay comes in, so you better be a fan of backtracking and aimlessly exploring until you find the missing upgrade you need before being able to progress further elsewhere. There’s a lot of places you won’t be able to reach if you can’t Dash, Double Jump or even use a Jet Pack for example, so if you choose a ‘wrong’ level to play first, you’re going to have to go back there later on once able to traverse properly, though this isn't really explained well. I eventually got stuck, spending an hour trying to figure out how to pass a huge gap only to realize I didn't have one of the necessary upgrades yet.

Certain biomes focus on different parts of the gameplay, such as one that is more combat focused, one that’s primarily platforming and another that utilizes a lot of hacking. Most of the gameplay is going to revolve around exploration and the platforming, but you’ll also have to defend yourself against enemies with your weapon as well.

There’s some light puzzle elements, mostly just having you step on a button to light up some circuitry. Hit all of the switches and a path opens or platforms appear that allow you to progress further. These aren’t terribly difficult, though the later ones do become much more involved, needing you to turn certain ones on and off again to get the correct combination for the amps to light up. While I didn’t mind these puzzles, they really slowed down the gameplay to a crawl at times as opposed to constantly moving and exploring the level you’re in.

With Recompile’s computer and data background, it only makes sense that its UI is done in classic ASCII format. This of course fits the setting absolutely perfectly, but it’s quite cumbersome to read as you aren’t always presented what you need right in the middle of the screen. This also applies to its ASCII map, giving you an idea of what section you’re in and what upgrades are nearby, but good luck figuring out how to actually use it in any realistic way.

Combat was a mixed bag, though it did get better once I got all of the weapon upgrades. You start out with a basic pistol-like weapon that is quite weak but you don’t ever have to worry about ammo. They all have computer terms for their weapon versions, like the Rocket Launcher being called BSoD. You’ll get a shotgun and even a railgun that takes a few seconds to charge up before shooting, each better suited for specific enemies and situations.

While the weapons feel great, something about the combat simply feels off. Having more than one hovering enemy attacking you is almost a guaranteed loss of half your health given how odd the aiming system is. These flying enemies will go up quite high, but as you hold Left Trigger to aim your gun, there’s actually a limit with how high you can look and aim upwards. This of course will cause you to take a lot of damage when you aren’t even able to fight back. This means you’ll need to back up so that the enemy can be in your sights, but you might back yourself off a ledge, or they’ll simply fly upwards again. Killing enemies is satisfying when they explode and their bits travel towards you, but the real challenge comes when you face off against the massive and interesting bosses.

These bosses are extremely tough, and if you go in without a few certain upgrades, you’re going to have a much more difficult, near impossible time. I’m all for challenging boss fights, as they represent skill checks before moving onto harder enemies, but the majority of Recompile doesn’t focus on combat, so these frustratingly difficult boss fights seem much more harder than they have any right to be. Be prepared to either die dozens of times from one-hit kills before making any progress or checking online how to actually find a cheap way to beat the bosses. That said, the bosses themselves are quite an experience to take in and stands out from the rest of Recompile’s gameplay in the best way.

The visual aesthetics have quite a contrast from dark black nothingness and the neon colors that accentuate many of the platforms. I have a feeling that if it was at all possible to jump into a computer and explore it digitally, this is probably not far off of how it may actually appear. The soundtrack is also fitting, adding to the mood and dark digital themes.

While I wasn’t much of a fan of the backtracking and not knowing what upgrades I got or missed, or its clumsy combat, Recompile still gave me a unique gaming experience I’m glad to have had. Its visuals are gorgeous at times, even with its minimalistic style, and while the story isn’t told in a traditional way, I quite enjoyed its concept. Given that it’s also included on Xbox Game Pass, there’s no reason to not check it out and see if it’s a program you’d like to execute or not.

**Recompile was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.3 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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