There aren’t many PlayStation Network exclusives which could be considered “top of the heap”, with only a few true standouts such as Pixeljunk Shooter and Super Stardust HD. However, there may be another title joining them atop this short list: Sony Online Entertainment’s Rochard, a game which combines the 2.5-D design style of Shadow Complex with a bit of Portal-like puzzle solving and some classic run-and-gun action, all culminating in a package that's just bursting with quality presentation and surprising replay value. Honestly, this just might be one of the best downloadable games of the year.
Rather than lean on just another mindless story revolving around some unbeatable superhero, the game puts you in control of John Rochard, a typical miner who works alongside his team at the Skyrig facility. For years, they’ve been tasked with seeking out a precious ore for their employers, and just when they think they’ve failed at their mission (and are doomed for the unemployment line), they finally catch a break and stumble across the ore. It’s there that the plot takes a sudden turn, putting John and his team up against all sorts of odds. To give away more of the story would ruin it, but let’s just say it’s quality stuff, especially coming from a downloadable title.
Over the course of the game, John will have to keep in contact with his partner/potential love interest Skyler, as the two get separated over the course of the game. But John isn’t helpless, with a trusty pair of tools to turn to when the going gets rough – and judging by the size of invaders overtaking Skyrig, boy, does it get rough.
The first tool in John's arsenal is a Rock Blaster, and, as you expect, it works along the lines of any given assault rifle. You can use it to blast open doors and shoot enemies. It’s typical operations stuff, but the fact that it doesn’t really change over the course of the game is one of its weakest points.
But then there’s the G-Lifter, a device that’s right up there with some of the best gadgets created – and yes, we’re including the Portal Gun. See, this is a virtual device that picks up objects, and you can combine it with a low-gravity diffuser to carry even heaver objects across great distances. (It lets you jump higher too.) Some of the puzzles scattered throughout Rochard require you to really think about how best to use your G-Lifter, deactivating locks in one area and picking up crates in another to hammer some unsuspecting alien in the noggin (Way better than shooting them.)
It’s the fine mix of action and puzzle-solving that makes Rochard so unbelievable. And as you proceed through the game (it’ll take a good five hours to beat, a quality time for a download-based game), you’ll be able to locate hidden Trophies, to add to your virtual collection. Additional collectibles and upgrades for your G-Lifter are also available, giving you more than enough reason to play through the game again.
The controls are precise throughout Rochard. If for some reason a room's resolution doesn’t end in your favor, chances are it’s your fault, that you didn’t think the puzzle through properly. Luckily, you have a good amount of lives so you can go back and try again, and smile when you finally figure out the solution. Meanwhile, the ability to use the right analog stick for aiming is sheer genius, especially in some of the tighter rooms.
As for visuals, Rochard is quite the looker. The game utilizes a 3-D world, but plays it out in 2-D style, similar to Shadow Complex but not nearly as serious. The game has plenty of comic cues, along with beautiful outer space environments, quality level design (how does Recoil Games do it?!) and splendid animation. The use of colors is also quite nice, especially when you’re trying to figure out what neon walls you can – and can’t – walk through.
Even better, the development team didn’t skimp on the audio. The soundtrack is outstanding, with a great deal of twangy guitar and tunes that will stay in your head long after the game is over. The voicework is a huge plus too, with Rochard and Skyler building a solid, believable repertoire and quality sound effects galore. This is one instance where you won’t mind hearing what the folks have to say in a video game.
When we played Rochard a few months ago at Game Developers Conference, it had potential, though the game was incomplete and it was really hard to call a verdict at the time. It’s come a long way since then, and it excels in every area imaginable. The gameplay is marvelous and addictive; the presentation top-notch; and the replay value surprisingly high, even without any sort of multiplayer. Like the Pixeljunk games and Super Stardust, this one is a must for your collection. Pick it up – even if you don’t have a G-Lifter handy.