I’m willing to bet that not many people have wanted to play a video game starting a character that resembles John Goodman more than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The blue-collar, colloquial everyman is a great character for film or television, but he seems a strange fit for an action star. Yet, hero John Rochard manages to be an affable, memorable character who transforms a thin premise into one of the best downloadable offerings so far this year.
Sony isn’t exactly known for its exclusive downloadable games. Thankfully, Recoil Games has changed that. Rochard gets its name from the aforementioned protagonist John Rochard, an asteroid miner on the tail end of a four year run of bad luck. John suffers from an affliction many of us can sympathize with, because when things go bad for John, they go really bad. His first success in years, the one that will save the jobs of him and his crew, is curtailed by the invasion of generic space pirates. Story isn’t Rochard’s strong suit, but it sets up the phenomenal characters of John and his crew member Skyler. You control John as Skyler directs him through their asteroid mine, helping to unravel the events and betrayal unfolding around you.
John is outfitted with two pieces of equipment, a G-Lifter that allows you to pick up, carry, and launch various elements around the ship, and a Rock Blaster, which is a strictly offensive weapon, and far less fun than the Lifter. These weapons are combined with the ability to reduce gravity, setting up an incredibly effect set of tools to solve the increasingly difficult puzzles throughout the mine. The strength of Rochard is without a doubt the puzzles, which gradually escalate and combine your abilities in more creative ways, yet pacing the game to keep your skills growing without becoming frustratingly difficult. It teaches you bit by bit and never throws more at you than you can handle.
Rochard manages to capture a great deal of charm through its aesthetic appeal. The side scrolling, 2D levels look like a Metroid game staring characters from Team Fortress 2. Realism may be lacking, but Recoil lovingly embrace the artistic choices of the game, and the attention to detail and consistent look keeps you focused on the game itself while still highlighting necessary objects and the paths you need to continue on. Add in the charming voice acting, clever one-liners and a shockingly memorable soundtrack, and you get a solid wrapping to accentuate the adventure.
Rochard does have its stumbling blocks though. Combat is a major weak point, coming far too fast and furious in comparison to the pacing of the rest of the game. Lifting blocks and launching fuses is great fun when you’re solving puzzles, but your tools don’t translate well to combat. Deflecting lasers back at your enemies seems like a solid strategy at first, but it is far too random and haphazard to allow you to use it effectively in a consistent manner. The Rock Blaster works for the most part, but is bland and clunky in comparison to the rest of the game. Eventually, clearing out space scum becomes a tedious distraction from the far more engaging puzzles. Luckily you spend more time flinging boxes and leaping chasms than you do shooting bad guys.
With the near 6 hour campaign, collectables and a trophy for completing the game in three and a half hours, there is more content than most PSN games. Add in the perfect pacing with puzzles and endearing characters that stick with you long after the game is over and Rochard becomes an absolute must buy for $10.