Criticize Me, Recompile Me

HIGH A stylish, polygonal TRON-like aesthetic.

LOW Infuriating level design.

WTF Having to wait a full 10 seconds to respawn after each death.

Taking a journey inside a computer has long been the dream of the ’80s generation, ever since the release of the seminal 1982 film TRON, which — while not a huge influence on gaming — was an important franchise for computer fanatics all over the world.

Similar to the movie, Recompile brings players inside the world of computers. Yes, literally inside, in that we’ll be hacking a hostile mainframe by directly interacting with the various bits and bobs inside it, including everything from output ports to ram banks and hard disks.

Described by the developers as a “metroidvania hacking adventure”, we control a humanoid-shaped virus-like entity seen from a third-person perspective. We’re tasked with shooting, jumping and making our way through the cyberworld of the mainframe by unlocking new abilities, navigating around glitched areas, and trying to survive attacks from hostile bits of AI.

It’s hard to mistake Recompile for any other current title, mainly because of its distinct aesthetic choice to employ a certain sort of pixelized/shaded 3D look which has been rarely seen before. Everything is appropriately built around simple polygons for an overall effect that is nothing short of stunning. However, looks aren’t everything.

Unfortunately, I have some issues with Recompile‘s “metroidvania” gameplay. While Recompile does force the player to revisit sections after a new skill is learned elsewhere — generally a new attack or power-up — the order in which the levels have to be visited is set, and it’s not communicated. Having a central hub world (accessed after the first zone is completed) gives the impression of freedom, but it’s just that — an illusion.

Also, there’s no fast travel or teleporting between zones. This means that after wasting time discovering that it’s impossible to progress in the current zone, the player will then waste even more time traveling back to the hub and then the next zone on foot.

The platforming mechanics are also an issue. They require the player to execute jumps with perfect precision, but it just doesn’t seem possible with controls that feel slippery and imprecise. Dying means having to wait a full ten seconds, while the sprite is disintegrated and then slowly recreated — a nice visual effect, but ultimately grating. It doesn’t help that depth perception when navigating the abstract 3D space inside the computer is difficult, and most areas are largely dark. Recompile almost made me rage quit and throw my controller in frustration.

While I wanted to like Recompile thanks to the strength of its concept and visuals, it never managed to strike the right chords with me. Regardless of how sharp it looks, the experience is marred by weak metroidvania design and frustrating platforming that override the aesthetics. Players interested in this one would do well to watch Tron or track down the excellent first-person shooter Tron 2.0 instead.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Phigames and published by Dear Villagers. It is currently available on PC, PS5 and Xbox. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: this game is rated T for Teen by the ESRB, for Violence. Despite the rating, there is not much actual blood and violence, but shooting and disposing of enemies is definitely a big part of gameplay, so I would recommend still to a young teen audience at least.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game does not feature spoken dialogue, everything is subtitled but text cannot be resized or altered.. The game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable and there is no control diagram. Movement is done typically as in 3D games with the two analogue levers to move the character and rotate the character, with the front buttons for jumping (A), shooting (X) and interacting (B).

Damiano Gerli
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