Rochard is one of the best surprise downloadable games of the year. It really came out nowhere on PSN with a relatively quiet launch, but is a very well-crafted game that will certainly please anyone who loves puzzle-platformers like Braid and games that make gravity its plaything like Half-Life. Fans of Team Fortress 2 will probably also get a kick out of the character designs as well. Plot-wise, it’s a basic corporate turncoat story, with John Rochard, a simple miner, out to discover the truth when his boss turns his back on him and his team. It’s a basic good vs. evil storyline, complete with a damsel in distress, but comes off pretty well due to the voice acting.
Rochard blends puzzle solving, shooting, and melee combat pretty well. Much of the game is spent solving various puzzles. Some are logic-based, like getting a fuse activated by doing things in a sequence, like moving boxes with the g-lifted to get to a ledge with a fuse, and then going down and placing it in its container. Others are more complicated, and involve using that mechanic to open up doors of various types and colors in a particular order to progress. These can be really tough, but the puzzles never to the point where you want to just turn the game off and never play again - normally, just taking a break from the action and giving your brain a break will help tremendously. The frustration always winds up being worth it when you have that Eureka! Moment and find the solution. As a result, the feeling of failure is also pretty devastating - especially when it comes right after you’ve solved the puzzle…but run into an enemy that kills you between checkpoints.
Outside of puzzles, you can use the g-lifter to either shoot at enemies or use its gravity-altering mechanic to lift up things like big boxes or explosive devices and hurl them at enemies. Since John is an average guy, he can’t take much abuse, so a long-range approach is usually best. Using gravity-based projectiles whenever possible is wise, especially if you’re surrounded by foes on each side. You can pick one off long-range, rest up to let your health recharge, and then do whatever needs to be done to the other guys. Melee combat is super-short range, and does far more damage than just using the g-lifter gun, but is also much riskier as well.
The platforming side of things is essential to everything because without it, you wouldn’t be able to reach anything. Thankfully, it’s done pretty well. John jumps about as well as you’d expect a slightly heavy guy with seemingly no athletic prowess, which is why the low-gravity mode is so great. It turns the whole stage into a moon bounce of sorts, and sometimes, even an upside-down one. The controls are nice and responsive here, and pretty good in every regard - although jumping, using the low-gravity mode, AND carrying an object at the same time (yes, even upside down) can be a little tricky since low-gravity requires one shoulder button, activating the gripper part of it requires another, moving requires you to move with the left stick and moving the object around requires the right. So there’s some definite room for improvement there, but luckily, it’s not too big a deal since you’ll never have to do all of these things and fight enemies - that would be beyond absurd.
Visually, the game looks really good overall. I love the exaggerated designs that seem ripped from Team Fortress 2, which takes away some originality points, but does wind up fitting the game well. I really can’t imagine the characters looking any different that they do here. The environments look perfectly fine, but do seem to repeat themselves a lot. You’ll see a lot of industrial imagery, tons of steel, sometimes with different lighting over it, but it leads to a sameness that hurts things slightly.
Rochard’s music is surprisingly epic - very Star Wars-esque stuff that gets your blood pumping during action, but then quiets down during puzzle sections to allow you to think your way through. Rochard’s heavy on in-game soundbytes, which either go really well for games or badly. Thankfully, this time, it’s the former. His quips are usually funny, and his voice actor did a great job with the material he was given. The sound effect work is great too, with things like the clank of your footsteps on steel sounding realistic, while sillier ones, like the big whoosh for an anti-grav jump, being just goofy enough to work and not turn things into a farce.
Rochard takes the somewhat-familiar puzzle-platformer genre and puts a unique spin on it. The gameplay is very well-done, and the controls are usually great, with only a couple of issues. It’s a rewarding experience despite its flaws, and is a must-buy for anyone who loves Braid, Limbo, or anything that involves real-time problem solving. Those iffy about those kinds of games will be happy to know that Rochard’s demo is absolutely perfect. You get a few cut scenes to introduce you to the characters and the game’s sense of humor, get to solve quite a few puzzles, and even get to upgrade your weapon throughout the half hour or so it lasts. If you dig it, then you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of the game’s $10 asking price, and if not, then all you‘ve lost is a bit of time.