October 7, 2011

Rochard review: Weightless wonder

Throw it on his head

The typical fall onslaught of big-budget blockbuster games is nearly upon us, but before we find ourselves entirely engrossed with bat-men, battlefields, and assassins, let’s take a look at a less-weighty title that’s available right now. At first glance, Playstation Network-exclusive Rochard might appear to be just another side-scrolling action game, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find an incredibly satisfying mix of platforming, puzzles, physics, and puns, courtesy of Finnish studio Recoil Games.

Players assume the role of the game’s namesake, John Rochard, a down-on-his-luck space marine miner whose bad-day-gone-worse sets the story in motion. After being informed that their under-performing mining operation is going to be shut down, John learns that his longtime boss is actually a Really Bad Guy and has sent a pack of armed thugs in to neutralize the miners and seize control of a mysterious new finding deep within the mine. The narrative doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but a liberal dose of campy humor permeates the entire affair and Jon St. John, the voice of Duke Nukem himself, does an excellent job of bringing John Rochard’s gruffly bad-ass personality to life.

Solid and satisfying gameplay – not plot points – are clearly the main attraction here. Mechanically speaking, Rochard is a “2.5D”, physics-centric, gravity-manipulating, puzzle-heavy, action-platformer. Characters, objects, and backgrounds are fully 3D-rendered, but gameplay occurs in 2D space. What elevates the experience beyond what’s found in a typical platformer is the “G-Lifter”, which serves double-duty as gravity tether and laser rifle.

…once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find an incredibly satisfying mix of platforming, puzzles, physics, and puns…

Initially just a basic crate-manipulation device, the G-Lifter is incrementally upgraded over the course of the game, each time adding a new wrinkle into how situations are approached. One minute you’ll be tossing boxes into a guy’s face, the next you’ll be blasting turrets, and before you know it, you’ll be using the G-Lifter to assist in solving increasingly elaborate puzzles. Toss in the ability to lessen the effects of gravity, some color-coded force fields, and a handful of others elements I’ll let you discover on your own and what you end up with is a perfectly-paced progression of challenges that never feel too easy or too difficult. Even with numerous puzzle elements involved, their gradual inclusion both helps to increase variety and also enables you to perform some pretty sophisticated tricks in later sections without batting an eye, all because the game has done such an excellent job of preparing you for them.

Double trouble

While the puzzles are obviously the shining star of Rochard, it’s worth noting that the game is pretty darn good-looking too, especially for a downloadable game that’ll only cost you a Hamilton (that’s 10 American dollars, for our international readers). To the best of my knowledge, this is the first PSN game to utilize the rather flexible Unity engine. Having played a couple of Unity-powered iOS games in the past, I had no idea the engine could look as good as it does in Rochard.

Sound design is impressive as well, with lasers sounding appropriately “pew-pew”-ish and the the G-lifter’s beam emitting an appropriate hum. The soundtrack incorporates a score which sounds straight out of space opera and other twangy tunes that would sound right at home on a southern blues-rock album. To achieve this impressive sound, Recoil collaborated with Markus Kaarlonen of the popular Finnish rock band, Poets of The Fall – if you’ve played Alan Wake, you’ve heard their music. The presence of a talented professional musician can absolutely be felt (er, heard) throughout.

Set blasters to "pun"

Aside from a handful of brief laser-repositioning sequences, I never felt frustrated and I always wanted to keep playing on. Frequent checkpoints kept the more difficult bits from leading to frustration and made the game palatable for shorter play sessions when I only had 10 or 15 minutes to spare. Combat in Rochard is satisfying more often than not, but there are a few battles where it edges a little too close to chaotic. Then again, these occasional action-heavy moments also help to break up the puzzle sections and add variety, so it’s difficult to truly find fault there.

Rochard defies expectations, delivering an immensely fun and rewarding experience in a tightly constructed package. It’s challenging, but not overly daunting. Intense, but never quite frustrating. The puzzles are cleverly designed and the difficulty curve is near perfect. Most importantly, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun.


Score: 4 out of 5

4 out of 5

Recommended if you like:

* Clever, physics-based puzzles
* Throwing things on people’s heads
* Intentionally cheesy humor (at least, I think it was intentional)
* Jumping, floating, etc.
* Trine, Portal

Highlights:

* Learning I could levitate a crate in front of me reflect incoming laser fire
* Realizing that John Rochard was voiced by Duke Nukem
* The final G-lifter upgrade

Title: Rochard [PS3]
Developer: Recoil Games (Twitter: @RochardTheGame)
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment (Twitter: @SonyOnline)
Release Date: 9/27/11 (PSN)

Rochard on PSN
Buy a $10 PS Store credit to use on Rochard
Buy the soundtrack

Rochard was purchased for review by Matt Kernan. Played to completion in approximately 7 hours, earning 9 out of 14 trophies. For more info on how VGH approaches game reviews, please read our reviews philosophy.

 

 

One Comment.
  1. Great review! Well written.

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