16 Nov 2011

REVIEW: Rochard

The country rock song that opens Rochard is, in some ways, a perfect analogy of the excellent mix of entertainment it introduces. This is a game that is as bouncy and lighthearted as it is a parody of everything that has come before it. The song gives a good idea of exactly what will follow, which is: space hicks and silliness.

You'll take the role John Rochard, an asteroid miner in search of some precious something or other... I'll be honest, you won't be playing Rochard to follow its story. It’s not as if I wasn't paying attention to the cutscenes that join level to level, just none of it was apparently worth remembering. What’s important here is that things have gone bad in space and it’s up to you to right those wrongs with guns and physics manipulation. I rarely need an excuse to engage in platform puzzling and mass brutality and this game has plenty of both.

Rochard has a fancy gun, you see, one that was apparently swiped from the hands of fellow game man, Gordon Freeman. With this you have the ability to grab onto objects, pull things towards you and swing ape-like from conveniently placed crates. It’s a weapon as well as a tool though, offering you laser power and a multiple grenade launcher in case any of that mining work requires the firepower more readily available to the Starship Troopers.

Of course, you won’t actually be doing any mining here. Each chapter is divided into a series of rooms, more often than not with puzzles to solve to allow you to move on to the next screen to further your quest. It’s formulaic in a sense, but owing to the tools available it’s generally up to the player as to how best to approach each problem. Crates can be grabbed and thrown to make stepping stones or to boost jumps, fuses can be switched to power any number of devices or to avoid hazards. Gravity can be turned on and off at the press of a button to allow you to float serenely about and reach tricky ledges. Enemies can be shot in the face.

There are so many different aspects to the abilities with which Rochard allows you to experiment that I won’t be able to lay them all down here. Suffice it to say, there can be a great deal of freedom as to how you mix them up to achieve your goal. Much like Frozenbyte’s Trine, Rochard understands that there’s fun to be had in letting the player experiment with a varied toolset.

And despite this complex arrangement of actions, the controls (at least with a 360 gamepad) fit sublimely. For those tied to their keyboards I would say that mouse aiming leaves something to be desired. Instead of a reticule with which to aim, any movements made simply decide the character’s facing, so it can be tricky to be accurate, especially under pressure. Truth is, you should already have a gamepad if you’re interested in PC platforming - these days it’s essential.

What’s interesting about this game is how much of it has been lifted in spirit from those preceding it. If you have any interest in physics puzzling, you’ll likely have seen half the moves on offer here, from the gravity gunning, to see-sawing and energy fields, very little here is brand new. But that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. Rochard is entirely derivative, but its constituent parts are so finely manipulated to fit in with the bigger picture that it doesn't ever become dull or obvious in its solutions.

The story is a different matter. It's entirely skippable. When you’re playing a fat miner with a gravity gun you really shouldn’t need any further motivation to become inventively sadistic to those who oppose you.

Few people may fall in love with Rochard, but many will find it impossible not to smile at its clean, cartoony nature and the increasingly elaborate puzzling antics. It may not be the most original game released this year but it's packed with variety and a desire for fun that is frequently refreshing. It's also a decent length of play for the price you'll pay and when time equals money for certain video gamers, this should be where they're looking.

Rochard is out now and available to buy on Steam, here. (£7.99)

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