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Recompile Review (PS5) – A Wonderfully Lonely Game That Champions Minimalism Over Practicality

Recompile PS5 Review key Art

Recompile PS5 Review – First revealed back in March 2019, Recompile is a 3D Metroidvania that has generated much intrigue online, and indie developers Phi Games have crafted a visual experience that certainly stands out from the crowd. Recompile sees the player take control of a sentient virus, hacking its way through a vast digital labyrinth.

Recompile excels in creating an atmosphere like no other, with its unique aesthetic design. However, the pursuit of art has come with a cost. Whilst Recompile’s presentation is always breath taking, some of those design choices can contribute to painfully frustrating gameplay.

Recompile Review (PS5) – A Wonderfully Lonely Game That Champions Minimalism Over Practicality

The Unsocial Network

Unquestionably, Recompile is a curiously striking visual showcase, that will universally inspire involuntary intrigue. The game takes place within a mainframe which is currently being hacked by an entity known as Janus. This digital infiltration is visually represented by a massive world of monolithic superstructures, which you, an anthropomorphic piece of code , must traverse and unlock its secrets.

To achieve this virtual realm, Phi Games have opted for a minimalist design fitting the tone. Recompile, in its entirety, is made of pure geometry, bloom lighting, and other alpha effects. There isn’t a texture map to be seen, and the result is surprisingly beautiful. Furthermore, the scenery comes in all sorts of bizarre shapes and colours, to represent different “biomes” within the mainframe.

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As you make your way over sharp terrain, and through alluring ominous lights, Recompiles ambient score makes everything feel alive. Musical motifs mark every significant location, and deepen the sentiment that Recompile seems to hit so poignantly. Specifically, Recompile is a wonderfully lonely game.

Everywhere feels vacuous and unknown, and evokes this sense that you’re wandering around aimlessly, even when you somehow find the way. It’s an almost romantic endeavor of isolation, and poetry in motion with every step. Certainly there are very few games that manage to strike a chord like this, and Recompile’s aesthetic make-up is definitely worthy of fascination.

Watch Your Step

Dazzling though Recompile often is, this can also be its undoing. An unfortunate tedium is brought on by its art style, in conjunction with the platforming aspects of the game. The dimly lit surfaces which you must hop along can be painfully treacherous. Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by the fact that the player character has no visible feet.

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Discerning your exact position mid-jump can be a nightmare when so much of your body is transparent. Even in brighter lit areas, the bloom lighting can be so intense that it further contributes to your spatial discombobulation. Falls happen often, and they can be soul destroying.

Since most of the game areas are structures floating in huge vacant spaces, a misstep can result in a prolonged free fall into oblivion. For whatever reason, the developers allow this to happen for up to about 7 seconds before resetting your position. Double that if you haven’t realized you’ve set slow-mo mode by accident (by press of a button).

Another insult to injury is that Recompile features fall damage, detonating your body upon heavy landing, and resetting your position. This feels like a very odd choice for a platformer. Some of these frustrations are mitigated later in the game, when you receive air jump upgrades to break your fall, and better yet, a jet pack to fly. However, these late additions don’t come soon enough to ameliorate an overall irritating platforming experience.

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By the end of the game, maneuvering around can feel really slick and satisfying. Naturally, as a Metroidvania game, you unlock your abilities gradually. However, considering how tedious a lot of the game is without the upgrades, it makes you wonder if more of them could have been made core features from the beginning.

One element of gameplay that never really takes off, even with upgrades, is the woeful gunplay. Regardless of the weapon, you never really get a satisfying feedback, or even notice you’ve hit a target in some instances. Your available angles to aim are very limited, and cannot be done while running or mid air. It really just isn’t fun.

Of all the fire modes, the grenade launcher-esque upgrade felt the most satisfying to use, but is only applicable in certain circumstances. Probably the most painless option for dealing with enemies, once you’ve found the upgrade, is the hack enemies ability. It isn’t very exciting, but it’s certainly preferable to franticly trying to land hits on flying enemies, forever plaguing your blind spots.

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A Compact Metroidvania With A Mystery

Despite parts of the gameplay being quite jarring, the structure of the game flows quite well. The only major criticism, as hinted earlier, is that too much of the better gameplay comes too late in the game. The game is also quite short, but generally this acts as a strength for Recompile. Every area offers a new ability to freshen things up, and there’s no bloat to the game.

Boss fights provide a difficult but enjoyable challenge. Incidentally, this is one of the rare areas where the gunplay doesn’t feel as tragic, since the bosses are very large, and difficult to miss. Instead of a thrilling shootout, the tension of boss battles is created by their devastating one hit kill attacks, which keep you in a constant state of evasion. You have to learn their patterns and steal brief moments to land some hits, before being sent on the back foot again.

In between bosses, puzzles involving logic gates, and generally falling to your doom, you have a very intriguing narrative, gluing it all together. Without spoiling anything, the tale unfolds through various messages from Janus, as well as various lore points you find. What starts off as an ignorable premise becomes an increasingly engrossing story. Discovering the secret of the mainframe and the mystery surrounding the pursuing Hypervisor become a carrot well dangled, luring you to games completion.

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Minimalistic Style, Maximally Artistic, Moderately Frustrating

While its difficult to ignore some glaring faults with Recompile, its successes are grand enough for you to forgive. The wonderful digital world, brilliantly complimented by a delicious ambient score and intriguing narrative make for a very compelling play-through. It’s highly doubtful there will be another game, that can immerse you so comfortably in a sense of isolation, coming out anytime soon.

A lot of the shortcomings in Recompile are quite bizarre, just because they feel very fixable. It would be very interesting to see how a title such as this fares with engaging gunplay, better visibility, and no long free falls of doom. However, for now we are left with a curiously distinct Metroidvania that commands your senses, and is certainly worth your time.

Recompile was released August 19 on PS5

Review Code kindly provided by Publisher




The Final Word

As a metroidvania, Recompile succeeds in bringing the genre typical hallmarks into a marvellous minimalistic world, full of curiosity and poignancy. Where it fails is in its core gameplay. Between a lacklustre implementation of core mechanics, and some glaring oversights, Recompile feels it is not all that it could be. Flaws aside, there are moments in this game, both visually, audibly and narratively, that you won't soon forget. Beyond doubt, this is a stunning game in a few respects that needs to be seen. It is just a shame that the artistic vision had to be delivered at the cost of getting some of the basics right.