Review spoiler alert: Rochard is a pretty fantastic game.
Rochard is the debut title from the newly formed Recoil Games, a Finnish studio that must either have employed some industry veterans or managed to pick up some really talented individuals. Despite borrowing mechanics from a couple recent games, Rochard is a good example of a game that can take in familiar concepts from other titles and reshape them into something that seems wholly original, or at the very least fresh and exciting.
John Rochard (pronounced Roche-ard) is a pretty decent guy living life as an astro-miner for Skyrig, a corporation that specializes in deep core mining operations on asteroids. Rochard and his dig team, comprised of tech expert Skyler and Zander, the tired but experienced old timer, are down on their luck having been unable to hit healthy ore veins and risk losing their jobs. Just when things are at their lowest, Skyler and Zander discover a set of mysterious ruins hidden deep within an asteroid and Rochard’s boss, Maximillian, seems incredibly interested in them. While waiting for Maximillian to send in a team of experts, a group of mercenaries arrive and attempt to kill Rochard. To his dismay, Rochard learns that Maximillian and Skyrig were responsible for the assault in order to kill those those connected to the ruins. Not to take this betrayal lying down, Rochard arms his trusty G-Lifter and high tails it after Skyrig for some good old fashioned payback.
Rochard is a side scolling puzzle game reminiscent of Chair’s Shadow Complex and a hint of Portal. However, instead of blasting your way through a underground base filled with one man’s personal army, you’ll navigate a number of different environments using brains instead of brawn. The game is built around a series of rooms, whether they be in an asteroid, casino or the Death Star-like interior of Skyrig, filled with various obstacles that must be overcome in order to advance. Getting through an area can be as easy as stacking a number of crates on top of one another but later on in the game you’ll have to maneuver past mining lasers, turrets alarm systems and repair droids.
The manipulation of gravity plays a large role in the game, as Rochard can shift gravity at will allowing him to jump and launch objects farther as well as lift heavy objects. Using the G-Lifter – think of Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun – Rochard can move crates around to help him get to higher ground or as projectiles against mercenaries and Skyrig soldiers. The G-Lifter can be upgraded during the course of the adventure, granting you the ability to shoot projectiles and grenades. Enemies, such as turrets and soldiers, can be taken out with a few hits from the Rock Blaster, but the G-Lifter has the capability of ripping turrets from the wall which can then be thrown at soldiers for an easy, one hit kill. For good measure, Rochard can also use a melee attack for an instant and gratifying beat down.
Initially, the game’s environmental puzzles are easy to get through, but it isn’t long before you’re going to have to think quickly and perform some advanced feats of agility in order to survive. There are a number of ways for Rochard to die, whether it being shot, sliced by lasers, crushed by machines or blown up. Should you ever get injured, waiting a brief moment will allow Rochard’s health to regenerate but sometimes it feels as if the game is purposefully throwing so many things at you without reprieve that death tends to come quickly and cheaply. While there is no way to save your game at any time, a generous checkpoint system has been put in place that will send you to the beginning of major puzzle areas. Well, sometimes.
With its animated visual style, Rochard is a beautiful to look at and admire. In some ways, the visuals remind me of the early work of Insomniac and Naughty Dog, as the characters are incredibly expressive and animated despite being cartoony caricatures. Environments are big, colorful and detailed and despite being a side scroller, the depth of the backgrounds gives the game a 3D feel to it, much like Shadow Complex. Characters look great, objects look great, effects look great…. In other words, this game is great.
Rochard is mind-bendy fun at its finest. My only complaint is that during the later parts of the game, the checkpoints are often two to three screens away from particularly tricky rooms filled with devious puzzles or enemy spawn points. This has been cause for some headache, as having to go so far back after dying from an errant blast or some other miscalculation can be slightly frustrating. You can finish the game in an afternoon or two but can go back to find all of the in-game collectibles as well as attempt the achievement for finishing the game in under three hours. That said, there is really only one way to solve the game’s puzzles, so if you’re hoping for some sort of New Game+ feature, you’ll be disappointed.
If you enjoyed the puzzle nature of Portal and the action of Shadow Complex, there is no reason why you shouldn’t play Rochard. Even if you didn’t particularly like those games, I feel that you should give it a shot. Not only is Rochard fun to play, it is incredibly well built and glistens with polish. Games like Rochard are proof that casual titles can be just as fun and engaging as multi-million dollar blockbusters and it’s simplicity of design and gameplay is something that players of any skill level can enjoy. Based on the experience, I think we can expect some great things in the future from Recoil Games.