Platforms: PS3 | PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Recoil Games
Sony's 'Only On PSN' promotion has resulted in some truly exceptional downloadable games... though it isn't exactly accurate any more. Rochard and Sideway: New York have both released on Steam over the last few days, which means that a whole new audience can enjoy their very different takes on the platforming genre. While Playbrains went all-out to innovate in reckless and untested ways, Recoil Games have honed and polished the physics-based puzzle format into a staggeringly impressive package.
Nothing ever goes right for ornery asteroid miner John Rochard. His team haven't found Turbinium - the most valuable element in the universe - for years. His equipment is failing across the board. His company has given him a week to put up or ship out. And not to put too fine a point on things, he's not getting any thinner. However, after a mysterious find deep within their latest dig site threatens to finally put him on easy street, things go from bad to cataclysmic when hostile space pirates blow their way into the facility. Armed with little more than a cargo lifter and raw cunning, the unlikely hero sets out to save his team, save his station and maybe make it out alive in the process.
Rochard's G-Lifter (read: Gravity Gun) is a powerful tool designed for manipulating heavy cargo in hazardous environments, and provides a perfect excuse to embark on some physics-heavy platforming. Boxes, robots and items can be grabbed at a distance, stacked into piles or blasted in your direction of choice; allowing players to create open doors, design staircases, add weight to moving platforms and interact with the game world at a fundamental level. Throughout the six to seven hours of the main campaign, Rochard introduces you to a host of new puzzle elements and gameplay styles that continually encourages you to use your basic equipment in increasingly imaginative ways.
Gravity control is soon introduced as the second major gameplay element, and it's an absolute blinder. Holding the shift key reduces the station's gravity levels, allowing you to jump higher, lift heavier objects and soar gracefully through the air. Being able to trigger it at will is an exceptionally versatile feature, and one that allows Recoil Games to deliver some incredibly intricate puzzles.
Rochard's toys may be impressive, but its leading light is the level design. Recoil Games clearly have a great head for pacing and challenge. Cerebral solutions and constantly-changing provide a satisfyingly meaty experience without ever becoming truly frustrating; hitting that sweet spot between tough and obtuse. Several puzzles will outfox you because they're truly difficult, but many others are much more straightforward than they first appear. Veterans and achievement/trophy hunters can optionally gun for plenty of collectibles that are easy to spot but tricky to reach. It's a shame that these pickups have no in-game effect, mind, as they feel more like an afterthought as opposed to added value.
Combat. There's a word you normally wouldn't expect to read in a puzzle-platformer review, but Rochard decides to implement it with mixed results. Using the G-Lifter as an improvised projectile launcher and shield is fun in short bursts, but the offensively-designed Rock Blaster upgrade is a clunky, clumsy and rather unnecessary addition to the formula. Making us think our way out of firefights would have been a lot more rewarding than just giving us a gun. Rochard's combat isn't particularly bad by any stretch of the imagination, rather, there's just too much of it in overly-repetitive doses.
The ever-reliable Unity Engine does a solid job of rendering Rochard's colourful environments with some crisp modelling and sensational lighting effects, as you'd expect from what is fast becoming one of the most popular graphical workhorses for the indie and boutique sector. It looks great, though it's important to note that the vibrant art direction and caricatured characters have more to do with the visual charm than any advanced rendering techniques. A solid soundtrack and voice acting, coupled with excellent scripting, put the finishing touches to the presentation.
As mentioned, Rochard will provide most players with between six to seven hours of play, while completionists will need an extended playthrough or multiple runs to grab all of those delicious achievement-worthy collectibles. For the price, it's absolutely spot-on.
- Effective physics puzzles, great platforming
- Brilliant pacing
- Art style and scripting brims with character
- Far too much lacklustre combat
- Collectibles feel like an afterthought
The Short Version: Rochard is an exceptionally competent puzzle platformer that would have impressed even without the combat sections. If you're looking for a cerebral brainteaser or action-packed platforming fun - or both - Recoil Games will not disappoint.