Have you ever wondered what life would be like as a program inside of a mainframe? Well, as our review will reveal to you, it turns out that things are not as you might imagine in Recompile. You’d be forgiven for assuming that it would involve a lot of functions rather than exhilarating platforming throughout evocative, dark environments and occasional gunfights. At its heart, Recompile feels more like an atmospheric experience attached to a distant, fragmented story. It has plenty of high points, but there are a number of frustrations that will become evident along the way.
The premise is simple. You are a purpose-built program set with the task of restoring a powerful, dormant mainframe. Recompile does little to set things up, and instead relies upon the strategy of revealing more information through recoverable data fragments you encounter along the way. The first level simply drops you in, and your creator instructs you on your goals.
The gameplay in Recompile consists of platforming elements combined with shooting the occasional security bots and solving basic puzzles. Everything feels satisfying enough from the moment you jump in, but the game builds on your mechanics and weaponry along the way. As such, the first level is fairly linear and easy enough to complete, but things open up once you reach the Central Exchange hub. From there, you can go off on your own to various levels denoted by distinct hues. There are red, green, blue, and yellow portals that send you to unique areas.
Recompile is easy enough from the get-go, but the issues begin to arise once you start exploring the latter levels. The main problem the game suffers from is that it doesn’t really indicate where you need to go or in what order you need to do things. Generally speaking, it’s understandable that some game developers want to encourage exploration, but that concept just doesn’t mesh well with this game.
Where do we go from here?
Unlike actual open-world games where you can go about many things in your own way, Recompile doesn’t truly let you do this. As mentioned, you get better abilities and mechanics along the way in each level. The problem is, you can only complete certain levels with certain abilities, and the abilities you’ll need for one level are only discoverable in another.
In my case, I ran through two levels where I reached a stopping point and couldn’t figure out if I had done something wrong. I finally retraced my steps to the Central Exchange and decided to just try another level and see what happened. It turned out that the most menacing looking portal contained the easiest level to complete.
Yet, the easiest level to complete also featured the most challenging boss in the game. Fortunately, I progressed through the wrong levels before I encountered that boss and picked up some very useful abilities to help deal with it. Even then, it was so absurdly overpowered that I had to just cheese it after about 10 tries. That particular asshole tracks you aggressively with flamethrowers to the point that it’s not even fun, and you’ll just get one-shot once it further gets enraged. At the very least, the game has a forgiving respawn system so you don’t need to fret about redoing anything too crazy. Recompile desperately needs a fast travel system or a better sense of direction though.
Aside from this, I also encountered the most difficult puzzles and platforming sections first by sheer luck, or perhaps a lack of it. These sections were also made worse by the fact that I didn’t have the necessary resources to hack certain terminals and instead had to solve those with perfect switch sequences. The puzzles also don’t feel particularly intuitive. It’s highly recommended that you open the menu and go to the User Manual section to learn more about how to do these. You will also need to find the hacking ability first to alter the terminals. This hacking ability can be found inside the Central Exchange, and it’s actually easy to miss the terminal the first time you’re there, so keep your eyes peeled.
Flow like an accelerated workload
Despite the game’s level design and progression issues, the movement and weapon mechanics are quite good. For movement, you get to do things like double jump, glide, dash, and eventually use an extremely overpowered jetpack. Actually, you become quite adept at these things due to even more upgrades I won’t directly reference. When it comes to weaponry, there are repeater rifles, rail guns, shotguns, and a grenade launcher. I made use of everything, especially during boss fights when I needed to squeeze in a couple extra shots or adapt to close quarters combat.
The weapon options never felt like an issue for me and should be enough to get you through any encounter, even if you don’t have everything unlocked. Once you do unlock all of your abilities, you’ll feel like a big, bad anti-malware executable. Well, technically you are the malware. Or are you?
Bot I want more, or at least one less
Recompile features plenty of little minion bots you’ll need to take out along the way. They are interesting enough as far as base enemies go, but they are sadly few and far between. All you really get are a few enemy types to take on. Aside from the handful of boss fights, nothing particularly interesting ever jumps out at you. This makes the game feel like more of a wonderous platforming adventure than anything else. It also makes that one boss feel totally out of place.
Now that’s some good-looking code
If you’re the type who just likes to stare at scenery and smell the digital flowers in games, you won’t be let down with Recompile. The game features an excellent art style with some genuinely splendid and complex effects. From the moment you load up the game, you’re greeted with a feast of sensory details. The menus and even the sound effects harken back to the perceptions many people had of computers back in the ’90s and earlier. The music is also something of wonder and, oftentimes, foreboding.
You’ll see plenty of rapid-fire animations for the bit text in the menus, hear the beeps and the boops that any good mainframe should resonate with, and experience complex animations and particle effects that look good enough to be in a AAA game. Even indie games are able to do some really cool things with graphics these days thanks to better game engines and hardware. For instance, every time you get an upgrade, you’ll experience a shower of hundreds of cascading light particles. I was particularly impressed when I noticed the subtle, complex smoke effects coming off of my rail gun.
All of this comes on a decently optimized and stable build. I was able to turn most of the graphics to max settings and maintain a stable 60 fps in 4K on an Nvidia RTX 3060 paired with an Intel 7700K CPU, 16GB of 2400 RAM, and a Samsung 870 SSD. Recompile loads very fast too. Considering how simple the game is though, this level of performance was expected. The only real criticism I have about graphics options is that the game could use a resolution scale.
There are a few sore points to cover though when it comes to support and user settings. For starters, Radeon users may experience regular crashes. That was the case for our Reviews Editor, who has a 5700 XT. The Nvidia card didn’t have a single problem by comparison, so it seems Nvidia received priority on this one. There also aren’t any camera adjustment options in this game. It is all preset and the camera comes with a degree of sway to it that makes the game feel loose to control. Given it’s not really a combat-centric experience, this oversight isn’t much of an issue in reality.
If machines could think
Aside from enjoying the ambience of each new section, the discoverable narrative text fragments are sure to captivate your interest and further encourage exploration. And it’s a good thing too, because the platforming eventually grows stale. The narrative gets spicy, however. It follows the story of a crew working alongside a specialized AI to help humanity colonize a new world. This story actually takes place in the past, so you can only piece things together to find out what happened to them. Anyone who loves science fiction or futurism themes will love it, and the story eventually ties into your purpose and is extremely well thought out and complex. This game is a shining example of how something as simple as text can be an engrossing medium on its own.
Countdown or count your fragments
Given the options at your disposal and the generous respawn system, you shouldn’t ever feel too frustrated with the game outside of boss fights. Anyone looking for more of a casual playthrough will enjoy Recompile as long as they don’t mind taking their time with it. Just to be clear, if you want crushing enemies of various types, you’ll feel sorely disappointed in this experience. To actually call this a Metroidvania feels like a stretch in my opinion. Rather, Recompile offers a nice vibe and an invitation to experience a fascinating narrative with twists and turns. Considering the low cost to experience this title, it feels easy to recommend if you keep your expectations in check.