In Rochard you play as John Rochard, a space miner with a beer gut and a redneck accent. The space mining station you’re working at gets invaded by space pirates after your team finds something potentially space interesting in space and it’s up to you and your handy gravity-bending gun to save the day. The plot is that particular brand of quasi-mystical, quasi-racist, trite sci-fi that you’ll only find in video games and B-grade films.
On top of the space mining business, they add some Native American prophecy about aliens into the mix, complete with a casino-dwelling character with mystical advice for the hero and his sidekick. The story, writing, dialogue and voice acting are completely uninspired, but good gameplay can still save a game from the horrors of poor writing. Unfortunately the gameplay is just as uninspired.
Rochard is a side-scrolling 3D platformer, meaning the environment is fully rendered in 3D, but you’re confined to a 2D plane for movement and shooting.
[Personally I prefer this style to standard 3D platformers, which are usually beset by camera issues. The move to 3D in platformers seemed like an arbitrary choice by an industry driving blindly towards 3D, gameplay be damned.]
The XBLA-only title Shadow Complex works the same way, but with Shadow Complex the background and foreground are more dynamic, with soldiers entering the level from the third dimension, and creative architecture that does a great job of putting you inside the titular complex. In Rochard we occasionally get some level elements in the foreground, but they’re irritating more than interesting and always seem in the way, even if they only take place during quiet moments.
Our rotund protagonist is equipped with a gravity gun that allows you to manipulate various elements of the environment to solve the game’s puzzles. The puzzles range from tediously easy, to genuinely difficult, but still won’t offer much challenge to veterans of the many puzzle platformers out there.
The gravity gun doubles as a standard gun too, which is something of a shame. Here a gun feels like a crutch, only needed because the developers were too lazy to fully commit to the gravity gun concept. For instance, at the end of the game (literally, for the last 10 minutes of it) you get an upgrade to your gravity gun that lets you grab and fling human enemies, and it’s the first time the game really lets you feel like a badass… too little, too late.
If it had been a game of physics puzzles, low-gravity bullet dodging and flinging bad guys around like rag dolls for its full 5 hours, it would have been a much better game. Instead we get 5 hours of alright-to-good physics puzzles and frustratingly mediocre gunplay, all wrapped up in an offensively bad story. I still finished the game, mind you, which is a first for this lumbarjack, so take my complaints with a grain of salt.
I complain because I want Rochard to be good, instead of only okay; I want it to scratch that Shadow Complex itch, instead of just reminding me that there’s a better game I could be playing instead.
If you have an Xbox, go play Shadow Complex,if you don’t, you could certainly do worse than Rochard.