16 January 2012

Review: Rochard (PC)

There's not that much to say about Rochard. It's like, remember those gravity gun levels from the original Half-Life 2? Those were a laugh, weren't they? Rochard is like a whole game of gravity gun silliness, except in side-scrolling platformer style.

They added most of the rudimentary, no-brainer things. There's a spiffy trajectory predictor, for instance, to use when tossing crates. There's a targeting laser, and so on. All those little, obvious things that help make the game less annoying and more fun.

A few relatively minor design decisions are a bit bizarre. Aiming, for instance: You would expect your mouse cursor to freely move around the screen in a game like this, and Rochard (yeah, it's the name of your guy. And a horrible pun, too, as the game reminds you a few times too many) to always aim at the cursor. The first Trine, I think, did it like that. Any sane platform shooter would do it like that.

But Rochard? Oh no. Rochard is too cool for normal human controls. Instead, there is a very weird mouse-look thing. It seems to lock what would have been the "crosshair distance" to a constant number (or rather, or mouse translations are transformed into polar coordinates with origin at Rochard, and then the r component is discarded), the end result is that you can move your mouse to the right quite a lot, and Rochard will look right, but then the slightest leftmost jerk will still make him turn to the left immediately as if the "crosshair" was still next to the middle of the screen. If it doesn't make much sense, don't worry. Having finished the game, it still doesn't make any sense to me. It feels like simulating an analog stick with the mouse, and it's really awkward. Well, I say feels like, but really it's obvious they made the game for a gamepad (it's a Windows and PS3 release), and then never really bothered porting the controls, which doesn't really work because an analog stick is nothing like a mouse.

And while we're here, there's a lot in Rochard that's half-assed. The whole thing feels like someone had a good idea for a game (and it is a good idea- who doesn't like gravity guns?) and coded up a quick prototype full of placeholders. The visual style is lame (the characters look like plastic molds, like the CGI in those cheap TV commercials). The levels are badly designed, with uneven and jarringly heterogeneous difficulty. The puzzles are really easy and boring. There's no real point to many features (the flashlight, the gun/health upgrades, the grenades). The voice acting is bad, and some of it has obviously not been checked at all before inclusion into the game assets; some bits are obviously voiced completely wrong. Crucial animations are missing in important cutscenes (the characters just use some stock animations and stances from the rest of the game which don't fit some scenes at all). The story is ridiculous; it's a huge mess of cliches thrown haphazardly together. It just doesn't feel like a game that people were actually meant to play and enjoy.

I mean, you think, "it's okay that it's corny". You think, "oh, it'll be campy. It'll be fun." Who cares if it's rough around the edges? Dicking around with gravity puzzles is fun, right? And then fast forward a few hours and you are sitting there, wondering why you are even playing this, and what exactly you are doing with your life. You think about these things, because the game's puzzles occupy as much of your brainpower as staring at a particularly uninteresting section of wall- your mind finds itself dreadfully idle. The level design just isn't interesting or challenging, the graphics or voice acting aren't beautiful enough to keep you interested regardless (the game would probably be better overall if they straight up removed all the cutscenes and dialogue!), and the story is downright painful to listen to.

Having grilled it like that, it's not that Rochard is a horrible game or anything. The core idea is solid. But honestly all they have is a solid idea (gravity puzzles and a gravity gun!) and a placeholder game. I feel kinda bad calling it crap, because the devs seem kind of small and they've at least tried to be original, but I'd feel worse calling a game good when it isn't. Rochard is a chore to play, and you get nothing out of the experience. I wouldn't bother unless you were utterly obsessed with puzzle platformers.

Score: 2/5

Bias: Probably would have given it a one if the developer was bigger.

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