(Sony Online Entertainment)
US: 27 Sep 2011
Everyone has heard the sayings, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” and “Everything is connected”. To use these phrases from the physical sciences for a philosophical outlook is most commonly to explain why something has happened or where we are going. In the case of Rochard, Recoil Games’s newest PSN exclusive, defining how everything is connected is the foundational method used to explain the platforming puzzler’s story, how an industry operates, as well as the role that the creator and player form in an interactive experience.
You take the role of John Rochard, a type of deep space mining/truck driver, who is employed by Skyrig Industries, a leader in finding the valuable space fuel turbinium. Long story short, Skyrig has been using John’s team to find an ancient relic and once they stumble upon it, Skyrig’s leader, Max, sends a hit squad to silence them. Of course, John won’t just stand by and let this happen, so he picks up his G-Lifter and goes to work.
In a market where every big title coming out seems to have you shooting a gun it was refreshing to see how Recoil Games approached John’s main weapon, the G-Lifter. The G-Lifter allows you to pick up and shoot items in the environment, allowing you to use it as a weapon as well as a way to traverse the world around you. If you see someone in front of you shooting a gun, you could go around, shoot a crate at them or reflect the bullets back at the enemy using an object in the environment. This could technically become very complicated considering the many directions you could choose, together with the controls and time altering mechanics, but because Rochard is set on a two dimensional plane it makes things a little easier.
Besides having the ability to manipulate objects around you, the G-Lifter also allows John to control the gravitational pull. With the simple touch of a button you are able to repress some of the gravitational pull, allowing John to reach higher places or shoot objects at longer distances. Implementing both the object manipulation and the gravitational control, Rochard gives you the tools needed in order to complete the puzzling environments they put you in.
Once you get the basics down, Recoil Games puts you in some of the most fun and challenging puzzle situations since the Portal series. Combining movable objects, crate building, low gravity jumping, sticky bombs, conveyer belts and enemies on screen makes for some very satisfying and frustrating moments. Most of the frustrations won’t come from a misunderstanding of the situation, but the sheer amount of objectives you have to clear in order to complete the area, with the most obvious being John’s inability to be a bullet sponge.
Throughout the narrative you will constantly hear that “Everything is connected.” This is used, on the surface, to explain the rather derivative plot in Rochard, but underneath I believe it has more to do with a statement on the industry and the player’s relationship with the author of their experience, the developer.
From the look of Rochard, the G-Lifter gun, and the story, it is all taken from places you may have seen or read before. This doesn’t make Rochard less enjoyable, because it gives you enough of the elements that are familiar and that are recognized as enjoyable while giving you a new scenario to use those familiar tools with. In fact, Recoil Games gives the big middle finger to innovation as soon as John says “Git er done”. Nothing is new and we can’t all expect the greatest innovations with every title that comes out in our industry. What we can expect is more titles like Rochard to give us the tools we recognize while giving us a new opportunity to use them in different ways.
It may seem that the in-game quote “Everything is connected” is getting a little overused here, but when it is repeatedly drilled into your head in a relatively short time span (on a downloadable title at that), you have to assume there is a reason behind it. While I have already mentioned the comment on the industry, I also want to mention its reasoning behind the player’s experience. When you are already recognizing that there is nothing new, and that everything is connected or a derivative of something else, there needs to be a reason for someone to want to experience your version of that narrative—in this case Rochard.
Rochard’s elements are familiar, but the way you manipulate those elements are a choice given to you by the developer and in this choice they are creating something new or fresh. In this instance you are connected with the elements they have presented you with, but Recoil Games are connecting their narrative to your experience by giving you a manipulative tool that can be put in your control to tell the story in a way you want to, therefore allowing your input into your experience. This control, although only slight, allows the player to feel a little more control in a tightly controlled experience and in this way Rochard excels.
Rochard takes elements from pop culture and other media you may have played, seen or read before, but puts them in a fresh environment with endearing characters and more importantly, the ability to create your own experience.