Recompile Preview: A Viral, Frenetic Metroidvania

Computer viruses have never been so fun.

I walked into the oddly-named but lively Tentacle Collective showcase at EGX Rezzed and waited behind Phi and James, developers at Phi Games. After adopting the semi-awkward loitering convention stance that says ‘I’m here to see you but I don’t want to interrupt,’ I introduced myself and sat down to play.

It was mid-afternoon on the final day of the event, so there was a casual atmosphere of exhaustion and hangovers. As I played through the Recompile demo, I could hear the two of them chatting about the usual event stuff: flights, the show, where they’re headed next. The kind of small talk you make after three days of demos.

If it wasn’t immediately obvious from the Tron-inspired aesthetic, Recompile is a game about hacking. “The character is a computer virus,” Phi explains. “You play [as a] virus that’s been installed into this virtual world through a mainframe. You’re the catalyst to create the first sentient AI.”

Recompile makes a great first impression with its crisp art style excelling in sharp motion and its infectious, suitably glitchy soundtrack. It immediately draws you into its gorgeous rendition of cyberspace and inspires you to explore every corner.

“The story is about the ‘Inside’ cyberspace world and the ‘Outside’ real world,” Phi continues. “There’s a post-apocalyptic war going on [in the ‘Outside’ world] where a renegade group have infiltrated a facility, hacked into the computer and installed the virus: you. However, your memory of why you’re there – your programming – gets corrupted and you’re left to fend for yourself, unsure of your goal.” Recompile sounds like it’s tackling some pretty heady subject matter, but my experience with it was a breezy blast.

Recompile’s progression is inspired by Metroidvanias, with action-platformer mechanics at its core. It all feels extremely punchy. The controls are tight and responsive, supported by audio feedback that accompanies every jump and air dash. Although primarily a game that has you hopping, gliding, and dashing through cyberspace, Recompile also has third-person shooter elements. They were pretty straightforward, with only the assault rifle available in the demo, but the shooting was solid nonetheless. 

The primary antagonists I came across were glowing green enemies that explode into satisfying showers of health pickups when they die. The shooting itself felt rewarding enough, but the traversal abilities the demo was rapidly piling onto my character were much more exciting. The ground stomp, for example, works wonders at crushing your foes, whilst the air dash can be pretty devastating if used offensively. My 10-15 minutes with the game were pretty trivial difficulty-wise, but Phi was eager to insist that the final version wouldn’t be that way.

The demo was essentially an open sandbox, where I was treated to infinite jumps and air dashes, instant respawns, and immediate access to all the cool stuff. Of course, you won’t be able to endlessly double jump straight from the get-go in the final product, but I was told that such abilities will be available. Phi cited a particular location late in the game that “won’t be accessible without the infinite double jump.”

Phi also discussed hacking mechanics that were yet to be fully implemented. They will allow you to “inspect environmental features, change the behaviour of logic gates found throughout the floor, and hack enemies to fight each other,” he explains. These systems tie into the fascinatingly ambitious aspect of the wider narrative: your behaviour and approach to enemies and puzzles will ultimately decide which of the five endings you’ll get.

“We want to be the first Metroidvania to feature multiple critical paths.” Phi explains. “We want [Recompile] to feature a dynamic, branching narrative based on playstyle. Whether you decide to focus on combat or hacking – or even avoiding enemies outright – your outcome will be unique and will account for your actions. The idea is that the AI you create is based on your personality; if you’re an angry person, you’ll create an aggressive AI and so on. It means that [Recompile] is a lot shorter than similar experiences, but we want people to replay the game and make different choices.”

Although it was an early demo, with some of its grander ideas yet to be entirely present, Recompile made a great first impression. There’s an excellent foundation here, on which new mechanics and approaches can build a uniquely interesting game. The narrative ideas Phi explained were largely absent from the demo, and with sufficient focus they sound promising. Recompile is currently planned for a mid-2020 release. Right now, although PC is the only confirmed platform, the team are looking into alternatives.