Faced with his crew’s immediate dismissal from SkyRig, an intergalactic mining outfit, John Rochard needs to hit it big, and quickly. After dozens of fruitless digs, John’s boss, Maximilian, has seen enough. He lets the foreman know they’re all to be let go. Moments later, John’s informed by Skyler, one of his crewmates, that they’ve finally hit pay dirt. He soon learns unemployment was the least of his worries.
On his way to check out the find, John brandishes his trusty G-Lifter, a must for any space miner. Like the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2, the G-Lifter is capable of grabbing all sorts of objects and propelling them long distances. John can also manipulate the gravity around him, allowing him to jump in and out of zero-G situations at will. Combined, the two abilities provide a lot of mobility options, which are necessary to progress and hunt down collectables.
First and foremost, Rochard is a sidescrolling platformer with a heavy emphasis on puzzles. Like another Valve title, Portal, a lot of the game is composed of locked rooms, each possessing a puzzle that needs to be solved in order to advance. Opening a door is never as simple as wandering over to a switch and pushing it, but rather, finding fuses, finding places to use them and finally, powering up doors and elevators. All the while, rooms are separated by various energy shields that only allow specific things to pass. For example, red barriers allow people through while blue shields allow objects.
Solving Rochard’s puzzles is a frequently perilous task. An intergalactic mining facility is a dangerous place, filled with heavy machinery, deadly lasers and in this case, an overzealous group of space pirates. Death is a state you will become terribly familiar with. Again, John Rochard is an average Joe, which means he’s no hero. A hydraulic press, a few rounds from a pirate blaster, everything is dangerous and potentially fatal to John – not the least of which includes fall damage and misfired objects.
Combat isn’t Rochard’s strongest suit and can be a source of frustration throughout the entire experience. Though John comes into a Rock Blaster of his own early on in the adventure, it’s extremely easy to become overpowered by his adversaries. With that said, a little bit of caution and a firm strategy goes a long way in each engagement. Crates can be carried for mobile cover and zero-G jumps can be made to close gaps in truly epic style, allowing you to rain down Rock Blaster fire or deliver high-speed physics objects to unsuspecting noggins, all in slow-motion.
However, the highlight of the game is definitely the G-Lifter, which is upgraded at predetermined places throughout the course of Rochard’s five chapters. Each upgrade yields a new use for the device and each is layered on top of those that came before it. The new G-Lifter features allow Recoil Games to continue to iterate on their puzzle design. And, although you’re regularly learning to use the G-Lifter in new ways, the variations are slight, letting new tactics be seamlessly integrated with the old.
Before the first upgrade, Rochard gets off to a slow, low thrills start. Clearly the early portion of the game is designed to give the player an adequate amount of time to familiarize themselves with the game world and the various uses of the G-Lifter, but the section long outstays its welcome, highlighted by a curious lack of background music. By the time the space pirates arrive, Rochard’s pacing finally kicks into gear.
The last defining characteristic of Rochard is its colorful palette and offbeat sense of humor. Ironically, or purposefully, Recoil’s title goes three for three in Valve comparisons, as Rochard echoes the cartoony vibe of Team Fortress 2 – Skyler even looks like a female version of the iconic Scout. The aesthetic serves the game well by keeping the tone of the proceedings light, no matter how dire the miners’ predicament may become. That levity is continued in the voice acting, where the voice of Duke Nukem, Jon St. John, lends his pipes to the titular main character. Replacing racy one-liners with silly work related observations, St. John is an ideal fit for the goofy blue collar protagonist.
Though Rochard’s influences are quite evident, the final result is a unique, thoughtful puzzle platformer. Recoil Games has shown an impressive ability to iterate on a handful of puzzle types, thus creating an organic, gradual learning curve that challenges players throughout and punctuated by several gravity defying moments. Despite its small list of issues, Rochard is a good game, assuming you fancy a bit of thinking with your shooting.