The side-scrolling puzzler has been given new life in the digital realm this generation, and games like Rochard prove that such adventures can remain addictive for long periods of time. The new effort from Recoil Games mixes puzzle, platforming, and action elements and although it can feel a little complicated at times, this is a rewarding, well designed title. There’s a bit of humor, a whole lot of brain-busting sections, and portions that require dexterous movements. Basically, it’s challenging and tough to put down.
The character designs actually remind me of TimeSplitters; the developers utilize that same smooth, not overly detailed cosmetic style for Rochard and the enemies. The background and atmosphere isn’t technically superior, but it’s a consistent, refined presentation. Furthermore, the puzzle creation is excellent, which is critical; poorly structured puzzles lead to frustrating gameplay. The special effects aren’t too special and there’s nothing really flashy about Rochard, but the solidarity and very clean style are worthy of praise.
From an audio standpoint, we get some decent voice acting and a good soundtrack. The latter tosses out a few rock ‘n roll themes with distinct country overtones for cut-scenes, and the gameplay score really fits. It’s actually reminiscent of ‘80s side-scrollers, as it has that futuristic techno beat; only such pieces are more accomplished in this adventure. The effects work nicely as well, and although I wish we heard more of the soundtrack (the game goes curiously quiet too often), the sound works as a nice complement to the on-screen action.
The story is secondary but for the record, Rochard is a gruff miner with a gut, and he totes the G-Lifter, which will receive several upgrades through his harrowing adventure. At first, the process seems relatively simple: the G-Lifter can pick up objects like crates and either drop or toss them. Grabbing a fuse to place elsewhere is often helpful, and you get a glimpse of a couple force fields that may hinder your progress. But within the first hour, the concept takes several big steps forward.
The first thing that happens is that you find you can manipulate gravity. By simply holding down the L1 button, you enter a sort of zero-grav environment where time slows and you can jump much higher. Furthermore, this allows you to move heavy crates you normally couldn’t move, and gives you more time to line up your shots. Those “shots” can be throwing a fuse, aiming a crate at an enemy’s head, or quite literally firing at an enemy. Your G-Lifter gets upgraded to a blaster early on.
But don’t think that turns this into a straightforward shooter. No, with the combination of the low-gravity option, various colored force fields (blue ones will let you pass, but not objects, red ones are the reverse, yellow ones stop explosions or bullets, white ones stop everything), and oh yes, the inverse gravity fields that pin you to the ceiling, the game embraces the puzzle structure. You can get creative when eliminating foes, too, and there are Trophy Collectibles to find if you’re ambitious.
The pacing and progression is just about right, as you always feel challenged but not overwhelmed. The only downside involves the control, depending on how quickly you wrap your head around the button layout. For instance, you have to hold down L1 to keep the low-gravity on, but you don’t need to hold R2 once you’ve grabbed something. However, you do hit R2 again to fire what you’re holding (R1 to just drop it). And when you include the Triangle button to switch between your G-Lifter upgrades, things can get a tad demanding.
Most of my problems didn’t really involve the puzzles, but the exact execution for solving them. I had to get the sequence right in my head— “Okay, hold L1, hit X to jump, aim and then fire with R2.” When you’re inverted and walking around upside down, the situation requires even more precision and calculation. I’m not saying this is a universal drawback, though, as others may grasp the entire control spectrum faster than I did. The story doesn’t really play much of a role, though, and the control does feel just a touch loose at times. Rochard’s exaggerated jump with the gravity off is bizarre.
Overall, though, this is a relatively lengthy, challenging, satisfying adventure that requires us to use our heads as well as our fingers. The puzzle design really is inspired and the combination of so many various gameplay pieces makes for an enjoyable, dynamic experience. The technical presentation is sound and stable, the audio is equally competent, and each new section demands your attention. You just want to keep playing; you want to tackle the next elaborate puzzle. It has a few small flaws but that shouldn’t keep the intrigued away.
The Good: Smooth, clean visuals. Entertaining soundtrack. Fantastic level and puzzle design. Inspired use of diverse gameplay mechanics. Challenging without being frustrating. Campaign is an agreeable length.
The Bad: Mastering all aspects of control can be tough. Story doesn’t help much. Control is a touch loose.
The Ugly: “Damn…wrong button. I keep doing that.”
9/29/2011 Ben Dutka