Developer – Recoil Games
Publisher – Sony Online Entertainment
Platforms – PC, PlayStation 3
While downloading Rochard on Steam, I realized that I knew nothing about the game, including how to pronounce its name (“Row-shard”, by the way). Rather than reading earlier reviews or Wikipedia, I decided this would be a good opportunity to go into a game with a fresh experience, one not bound by expectations or preconceived notions. After the download finished, I hopped in. What I found was a charming, well-made, but rarely thrilling puzzle-platformer that left me with a feeling of ambivalence that weighed more heavily on the positives rather than the game’s shortcomings.
Rochard follows John Rochard, a pot-bellied southerner in charge of a down-on-their-luck space mining crew. His boss, Maximilian, is on his back about the crew’s recent, prolonged inability to find any valuable chasms and he leaves Rochard in charge of telling the other two crew members, a prospector-like miner named Xander and the Native-American Skylar, that they’re getting shut down. However, on the way, they hit a mine full of whatever material it is that they’re looking for, turning their luck around for a short time before they get attacked almost instantly.
What material is it exactly? It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Rochard and his team get betrayed by Maximilian, and it’s up to Rochard to save the day. The narrative has you go through Rochard’s mine, a space Casino, your boss’s headquarters, and eventually back to the mine for a good old final boss fight. The plot itself takes predictable turn; theres some junk about Native Americans and aliens and that Maximilian is trying to get a grand power left by them and so on. The point is is that the story itself is rarely interesting and it’s up to Rochard’s characters and script to do the heavy lifitng.
Rochard himself is easily the best in show, with his Southern colloquialisms and gruff voice (provided by the ever-entertaining Jon St. Jon of Duke Nukem fame) giving him a charm that the game seems to pride itself on. The others are less effective, with each character, even Rochard, relying heavily upon stereotypes and arch to get the job done: Skylar’s chief-like uncle runs a casino, Maximilian has an Austrian accent, and even Rochard utters “Git er done” within 10 minutes of the game starting.
However, it’s rarely distracting and the game’s light tone keeps it from becoming offensive. The script itself is well-written, if a bit over-reliant on expository dialogue in the later half. It has some good jokes, but it does love its puns. There is some odd referential humor thrown in as well. For example, Maximilian is basically the same character from Disney’s cult classic the Black Hole, Rochard’s employee number is 90210, and the numbers “1337″ are seen in the mineshafts throughout.
Gameplay-wise, Rochard is focused around platforming, puzzles, and shooting, all of which work great for all intents and purposes. After beating the game, I looked online and found that there were some complaints about the shooting on the PSN version, released in September, but on PC, with the mouse controlling your aim, the shooting works very well and actually can be quite fun when you’re on a roll, jumping, manipulating gravity, and blasting enemies with bullets and boxes and whatever else you can wrap your gravity beam around.
The puzzles are never particularly challenging, which adds to the game’s sense of flow. Everything, from the movement to the floaty jumping, evokes the same feeling one gets from a Sonic game; reading the signals ahead of you, reacting on cue, and feeling the satisfaction of taking down a room in good time. The game even has an achievement called “Speed Run”, which rewards you for beating it in under 3 hours.
Rochard begs you to blaze through it, hardly frustrating you with solitary challenges or mind-crushing puzzles, and this can make the game feel rather slight. Some puzzles are simply too easy and I even solved at least three on accident. They rely on you manipulating between regular and low gravity, switching around power sources, and playing with the various different forcefields types (blue blocks physical objects while red block biomatter, etc), and they are fun to solve. It just feels sometimes like the game is too fast for it’s own good, with the best puzzles in the game asking you to slow down, look around, and really think.
Rochard looks good for a downloadable title, but it comes apart when you look closely. In cutscenes, which happen frequently, you can see the complete lack of lip-synching, characters’ mouths never even closing, simply puckering like fish. The character designs are a bit generic, although I do respect Rochard’s choice to avoid a stereotypical muscular brown-haired man as a lead, instead asking you to beat the game as Redneck Santa Claus. Overall though, the game looks good from the angles you view it at normally, and the soundtrack often makes events feel much more tense then they actually are.
Rochard is a short game but it feels good for it’s length. It would have benefited from some more difficult puzzles, but it also would have seemed to drag if that was done (it comes dangerously close to doing so already in the endgame). However, Rochard is still a quality experience. It has great controls, a nice sense of flow, and a genuinely charming presentation and characters, so if you’re looking for a good time for about 10 bucks, Rochard is up to the task. Just prepare for puns.
Rock-hard, I seriously just got that. Goddammit.