(PlayStation 3 Review) Rochard

Developer: Recoil Games
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Genre: Action / Puzzle / Platformer
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Philip Smith

Overall: 8 = Excellent

Rochard is the story of one John Rochard, a portly, down-on-his-luck astro miner whose good fortune suddenly takes a turn for the worse. On a remote asteroid, a crew working for the Skyrig Corporation strikes pay dirt at the eleventh hour, saving their jobs and bringing an end to a four-year dry spell. After discovering a large deposit of valuable minerals, the team is quickly set upon by the wandering Wild Boys space bandits and a call goes out for assistance. As luck would have it, not everyone is who they seem, and John is quickly left facing down a motley crew of heavily armed enemies and setting out to find a kidnapped friend.

The six-hour-plus adventure takes place across several worlds set on a 2D plane. The look and feel is similar to other side-scrolling action platformers, such as Shadow Complex, Castlevania, and Out of this World. There are two major differences, though; the first is that Rochard is predominantly about solving environmental puzzles, and the second is that there is little to no backtracking. The puzzle element gives the game a unique twist, with the multi-step physics-based challenges offering a nice break from nonstop blasting. A significant element throughout the levels is the many force fields.  The semi-transparent barriers come in a variety of types, with some blocking only organic matter, others blocking only inorganic, and others only explosions. Finding ways around the force fields, as well as ways to power down insta-kill lasers and take down the many patrols, makes for some interesting encounters. Not having to backtrack also cuts down on confusion, which is handy in a game that will reverse gravity or send Rochard falling down a half-mile-long shaft on the fly.

Rochard won’t have much help along the way, but he will have numerous tools at his disposal. During the course of the game, he will unlock an anti-gravity device, which slows down his movements and allows him to jumping higher and farther, as well as upgrades for his G-Lifter anti-gravity gun. The gun is a multi-purpose tool, serving both as his primary means of solving problems and defending himself. The gun can be used to pick up, move around, drop, and toss objects, as well as fire lasers and launch grenades. Sometimes the two uses intertwine, such as exploding a grenade near a power source to cause a short in order to lower a force field. The game’s physics engine also allows enemies to be killed by hitting them with a launched or dropped crate. Later on, the enemies themselves can be picked up and shot into others—very satisfying. Some cool makeshift combos can also be pieced together, such as launching an anti-gravity grenade onto an object to lift it, and then firing a sticky grenade onto its side to in order to detonate it once they are in range of a ceiling turret.

There are some downsides to the design, though. The game is fairly easy, with most area solutions being obvious within the first minute or so upon entering a room. Tight controls and handy sighting lines, for both the laser and the anti-grav beam, mean that it’s almost as easy going through the motions of working through a room as it is determining what needs to be done. The lack of backtracking also limits the game’s replayability, as going through it once means there’s very little else to go back for. Hidden in-game trophies, a handful of optional health upgrades, and a speed-run Trophy are the only incentives to go back through, but they aren’t very strong. Six hours is a fair amount of time for an action-puzzle title, though a few of the action-heavy rooms could have been trimmed. Not only do they break up the flow of the game, but they are the only times when the game feels rigged. In fact, most of my deaths were from the many environmental hazards but from the cheap enemy placement; there’s nothing like walking into a room and having sentries, who tend to be excellent shots as it is, and turrets a few feet away and ready to let rip.

Speaking of enemies, some of them are very fey, with dialog delivery reminiscent of Jack from Will & Grace. I’m not really sure why that is, either, because it isn’t funny and really stands out amongst the otherwise great characters and voice acting. The only thing I can think of is that it’s a setup of the effeminate, pampered elite guard versus the rough and manly miner, which is entirely unnecessary. Rochard himself is a likeable guy, akin to a John Goodman being sent 400 years into the future and told to break rocks and kill.

Thankfully, some truly rad music will make the occasional strange line (some enemies apparently need a shower) easy to overlook. While the sound effects and visuals are nice, especially a handful of really well-lit areas, it’s the 1980s-style sci-fi tracks that stand out. The game does a really great job of mimicking those dramatic scenes from the era’s horror and sci-fi films whenever drums and synth beats kick in to set the scene in motion, as found in such classics as Chopping Mall and Night of the Comet. There are also some soft, eerie tracks that do a wonderful job accentuating moments of discovery and isolation. Hats off to the audio department for the soundtrack.

Rochard‘s six-plus hours flies by, with the puzzles doing a good job of masking a fairly linear design. The game isn’t terribly challenging, despite some frustrating enemy placement, but it is a lot of fun. Navigating the environmental puzzles is made easier through responsive controls and helpful aids, and even though many are easy to parse out, it’s still quite satisfying to safely guide Rochard through a four-screen area filled with turrets, electrified tiles, and trigger-happy patrols. There’s not a lot of replay value, and the anti-climactic boss battle and cliffhanger ending aren’t the best way to see John off, but at $10, Recoil Games offers an enjoyable adventure filled with likeable characters, interesting scenarios, and a rocking soundtrack.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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