So there I was, sitting in a hotel room with a PlayStation 3 controller in my hand, playing Recoil Games' upcoming PlayStation Network game Rochard for the first time. I’d known very little about the game before I was handed the controller, outside of the fact that it was an “action packed side-scrolling puzzle platformer.”
It had been one of "those" days already: I’d woken up late, waited an hour and half for a taxi cab to take me to the hotel where Recoil was staying, and I hadn’t swallowed a single drip of coffee. It was soon that I’d realize it was the “puzzle” part of Rochard -- a polished-looking Unity-engine based title (the first on consoles) -- would be giving me trouble. The lack of caffeine was certainly not helping.
Rochard (PlayStation Network)
Developer: Recoil Games
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Release: Spring 2011
Rochard is easily described as “Shadow Complex meets the Half-Life 2 gravity gun,” but that’s probably simplifying things too much. Players wield the G-Lifter, a space mining tool used in moving around heavy objects in physics-based puzzles and, in the game's later areas, shooting enemies in their stupid enemy faces. So there I was, caffeine-deprived, but slowly coming to grips with the basic G-Lifer controls. They’re surprisingly streamlined, aiming the direction of boxes I was lifting and using them to trigger doors and such.
As the game’s controls and puzzle tutorial ramp up, Recoil Games does a pretty great job of slowly introducing you to the rules and expectations of the game world. It’s all about using the objects in the environment and the game’s physics system to solve problems before you can advance. But I soon learned that it’s not just a simple matter of moving or tossing boxes around.
You’ll also have to adjust the gravity in certain areas, letting you toss boxes farther or jump higher to new areas. I also started running into different types of force fields. With blue force fields, players can walk right through, but objects like boxes can’t pass; red objects offer the reverse situation.
While the concepts are simple, they’re the building blocks for some seriously mind-bending puzzles when used in tandem. Not that I had to deal with any particularly difficult puzzles in my short demo, but please keep in my mind my lack of caffeine.
Sitting to my left as I played were some folks from Recoil, as well as Conrad Zimmerman, arguably one of the most adept videogame players on our staff. (Don’t tell him I said that; it’ll go to his head.) They were all shouting directions at me. “Move the box there. No, there. No… THERE! Hit that lever. That! No, over there!”
John St. John -- the voice actor who provides the Southern drawl for the game’s beef mustachioed lead, John Rochard -- sat on a nearby bed, and shook his head at me disapprovingly.
I handed the controller to Conrad. Mental note to self: don’t try to play games that require any level of thinking before noon and before you’ve had a full pot of coffee.
I’m looking forward to spending some time with a clear head while exploring the world of Rochard and its physics-based conundrums. But it’s a game that appears to be as much about exploration as it is about those clever puzzles. I watched as Conrad engaged in some action, using the G-Lifter to repel enemy fire at one point. Rochard won’t get a proper gun -- he’s an astro miner, not a space marine after all -- but you will be able to upgrade the G-Lifter to act as a weapon in a number of fun and unusual ways.
I came away impressed by the cunning use of familiar physics mechanics that were implemented in ways I hadn’t seen before. Mixed with a touch of exploration and driven by what appears to be genuinely clever writing, the world of Rochard should be a real treat to play around in.
Published by Sony Online Entertainment, Rochard looks to be another feather in the cap for the Sony and original quality PSN titles. I certainly won’t be playing it deprived of caffeine… or at least not with Conrad and the folks from Recoil watching over my shoulder.