Wot I Think: Rochard

By Alec Meer on March 23rd, 2012 at 7:08 pm.

yo Rochard, you could jump even further if you lost a couple of inches off that waistline, huh?

We somehow overlooked Recoil Games’ charming gravity-troubling puzzle-platformer Rochard when it boinged onto Steam last November, but a few recommendations belatedly made their way to my curious ear recently. So I looked it up, and in turn I had a good time. Here’s why.

After the peculiar miseries of Duke Nukem Forever, telling me that Duke voice actor John St John handles vocal duties for the title character was a good way to put me off it entirely, but I reminded myself that DNF’s failings weren’t St John’s fault and soldiered on. He’s actually on refreshingly laid-back form as John Rochard, lending the overweight space-engineer a homespun, ego-free charm. Rochard isn’t a character for the ages, but he’s a reliably likeable presence. Plus I love that he’s a fattie with a ‘tache, in a welcome change from the usual musclebound male-model space heroes.

Oh, no. I now empathising more with chubby middle-aged men than with toned 20-somethings. It’s happened. I am lost.

Anyway, let’s move on from my existential crisis and talk about what Rochard does. As the handyman on an industrial spaceship, he fixes stuff up and moves rubbish around with the help of a personal gravity gun. It’s unavoidably similar to Half-Life 2′s iconic weapon, but uses a big bendy beam to move things around, rather than essentially gluing them to the front of the gun. The side-on game focuses more on puzzles than on action, although guns and enemies are involved.

It’s more fun to bash a foe over the head with a crate than it is to shoot them, but regardless the action is generally as laid-back as the the performances and the slightly Team Fortressy art style. Rarely frustrating, and generally entails coolly shooting down occasional turrets and easily-killed thugs as you sail between puzzles. Rochard’s very much about having a pleasant time rather than a hard or even especially challenging time, but it stops short of being too easy. I felt oddly comforted by the balance it found: relaxing while still involving a touch of brain-power.

Rochard’s other major ability is to temporarily deactivate gravity, which enables him to make Neil Armstrong jumps and pick up heavier crates with his gun. Hold down shift (or tap Capslock to toggle), the screen tints blue and he’s free to take giant leaps for mankind, or at least for his fellow crew-mates, currently wounded and hiding out from the invading thugs. I tend to have activated whenever I can anyway, as there’s something wonderfully indulgent about the slow-motion sailing it transforms Rochard’s movement into.

Puzzles tend to involve a mixture of crate-stacking, finding ways around coloured energy gates that block either organic or synthetic objects and occasionally dealing with inverted gravity that sticks you to the ceiling and entails mastering reversed controls. It’s not massively varied, but it’s always pleasant and offers just enough leeway that you can often bodge your way through or at least feel you’ve had an aha! moment rather than followed an all-too-obvious path.

The necessary mechanics – grabbing and throwing crates, finding and relocating fuses, zero-ging to make longer leaps, letting a shot or two off at a thug’s bald head as you sail gracefully over it – quickly become natural, and satisfying. I hit a few spots where I died in exactly the same place multiple times, but generally I made steady, satisfying progress.

Letting Rochard down somewhat is some wobbly voicework from his supporting cast and an unengaging story. That doesn’t ultimately matter though: this is a game about relaxed puzzle-solving, mastering ever-so-slightly cartoonish physics and enjoying spending time in Rochard’s good-natured, wide-bellied company.

Rochard is admittedly a collection of familiar ideas and mechanics, but all bolted together into something that’s… well, this is an awful, bland word in so many ways, and I strive to never use it in my writing, but… nice. Rochard is a very nice game. There, I said it. Rochard is nice, okay? And by that I mean nice like a nice, satisfyingly cake or friendly dog that bounds up to say hello, not an inoffensive pair of curtains or someone slightly boring but who never has a bad word to say about anyone.

Sure, it’s light fare almost to the point of being throwaway, but I enjoyed spending time in Rochard’s gravity-bending world, and I do encourage you to do the same.

Rochard is out on Steam now.

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53 Comments »

  1. FRITZY says:

    You really sold it. This is now a must have for me.

    • InternetBatman says:

      It’s only ten bucks and I would say wait for it to go down in price. I thought it was mediocre. That’s not the insult that mediocre normally is. It was not bad, not good, just kind of right in the middle. Passable but not interesting.

      • AlexClockwork says:

        I kind of liked it, I spent some time hunting the achievements, but I got it in some Bundle, so it’s not the same. I’d probably enjoy it much less if I had paid 10€ for it.

  2. rustybroomhandle says:

    ‘light fare’ … Is that a gravity pun?

  3. qd says:

    I found myself confused over what was the developers’ intent with the camp gay enemies who speak with a lisp that you encounter later in the game. And I don’t know what to think about it myself, either.

    • ThinkAndGrowWitcher says:

      Quite frankly, it thucks ballth

    • InternetBatman says:

      I wasn’t too happy about them either.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      It’s already been explained away as a “genre tribute”. There’s a decent summary at the Steam forums.

      I’m sensitive of faux pas issues, particularly in video games, but I honestly don’t see what the big deal is here. I mean, how many U.S. Southerners are going to be offended by the lead character’s accent?

      Some people do lisp in real life. And some of them are actually gay, which is entirely incidental in regards to the use of a lisp in the game IMO.

      Rochard is a great game. Don’t let some alleged, unproved homophobia on the part of the devs prevent you from enjoying it.

    • Jupiah says:

      Frankly I thought they were hilarious, though I can see how they can be offensive – I mean, explicitly gay characters rarely appear in video games, and they always seem to be villains on the rare occasion they do show up. So it’s not so much this particular instance of the stereotype – I thought Rochard pulled it off in a fairly light-hearted, no-offense intended manner. But the overhaul trend does bother me.

      Honestly I felt that the space pirates all being fat, slow, stupid bald men was even more lazy and offensive, but then that’s probably just me. Fat people seem to be an acceptable target in media for some reason.

      • Wreckdum says:

        Because they are too lazy to complain about it. HAR HAR HAR. Silly fat people and their stupid slow metabolism and lack of proper exercise. When will they ever learn?

      • LionsPhil says:

        Being fat is self-inflicted and avoidable.

        • MD says:

          a) not always, or at the very least it is much, much harder to avoid for certain people than for others
          b) since when does that make it okay to bully people about it?

          Not that the differences are trivial; they’re not. And it’s possible that I actually agree with your position (I’m not sure what it is). So consider the above a reply to the hypothetical person who made your post in order to defend the bullying of fat people.

          • LionsPhil says:

            In exactly the same way that it is acceptable to “bully” people for other self-inflicted and avoidable choices, such as playing Myst, or buying graphics cards from ATi AMD.

          • Prime says:

            Shush, you. Myst is awesome. AND I have an AMD card! Grrr.

      • crinkles esq. says:

        Well, they certainly present a sizable target.

  4. Dreforian says:

    As the man said: “nice”. Not blockbuster but not sloppy or cheap either. Refreshingly different atmosphere though not ‘timeless’ or ‘epic’. The thinking needed for the puzzles goes hand in hand with Portal or Prey type logic (being pseudo-physics based) although obviously less immersive being a side-view platformer. I personally liked the bits of puzzle based exploration. There are trophy icon thingies hidden about that can require a range of things from simple curiosity to serious puzzle re-bothering to find. Even found a few when I failed to platform or had spectacular screw-ups. Some things you just don’t think of until a cutting laser is wildly out of control.

    P.S. The spell checker recognizes the word “thingies” but not “immersive”?

  5. LionsPhil says:

    Given the demo,

    The Good:
    The music is great.
    The art style is beautiful.
    Jon St John’s voicework is excellent and the station announcements are well-done too.
    The platforming is lenient enough, getting its challenges from puzzles, to not annoy someone who normally doesn’t like platformers for being fiddly. (It particularly helps how you can muddle through with a less elegant but easier to pull off approach.)
    It’s not actually pronounced “rock hard”.

    The Bad:
    The other voices. (Is that the UT2003/4 announcer voicing the ponytailed woman? Because she’s still reading into a PA system.)
    That’s one spoilery trailer you’ve embedded, relative to the Steam ones.

    The Ugly:
    It only wants to run at 1280×960@60Hz, which this (admittedly odd, but most games cope) 5:4 1280×1024 CRT isn’t the happiest about; nor are my eyes at that vertical refresh. :/

    • Brun says:

      It only wants to run at 1280×960@60Hz, which this (admittedly odd, but most games cope) 5:4 1280×1024 CRT isn’t the happiest about; nor are my eyes at that vertical refresh. :/

      People still use CRT monitors?

      • LionsPhil says:

        You can take my ability to handle non-native resolutions gracefully and decent colour reproduction when you pry them from my cold, dead raytube.

      • The Tupper says:

        Gawd I wish my dearly-departed CRT monitor was replaceable. Best picture quality possible.

  6. Jupiah says:

    I thought the game was great overall, but the slightly off cartoony physics did have me scratching my head a few times – like the bigger boxes that can only be lifted when gravity is reduced. Lowering their weight would make them easier to pick up, but they still have higher mass and inertia than the smaller boxes so getting them moving or slowing them down should take considerably longer and it should be much harder to change the direction they’re moving in.

    I was also bothered by how bare-boned the plot was, the fact that the villain was so blatantly obvious and had no believable motivation for his actions, nor did his allies have any real motivation for helping him.

    Not to mention one particularly stupid cutscene where Rochard is trapped in a forcefield cage that we know only blocks biological matter but not inanimate objects or energy blasts, and the villain gloats and monologues on the other side of it despite the fact that Rochard still had his energy blaster. The whole time I wanted to scream “Just shoot the bastard!” at my monitor.

    Also the final boss fight was lame and the cliffhanger ending was terrible.

    But despite all that I still enjoyed the game, and pretty much everything Meer said I agree with.

    • Sweetz says:

      Yup Rochard has 90′s sensibilities about it. The story is a throw away and the characters are all ridiculous stereotypes (for example, there’s a native American character who wears a feathers in his hair, talks about spirits, and and owns a casino…). But you know what, I kind of appreciated that, it felt nostalgic and wasn’t all up in my face with some nebulous and pretentious “artsy” story like some other indie games.

      I agree with Alec, it’s a very *nice* game. I wouldn’t call it middling or fair – that doesn’t seem to accurately capture it. It’s a fun game, worth the asking price for a single playthrough and then easily forgotten afterward with no regrets.

  7. Dances to Podcasts says:

    Now if only there was a game that let us play a fat woman with a moustache…

  8. Noodlemonk says:

    I grabbed it on sale back in the days. It’s all good fun – I absolutely loved Shadow Complex on the 360 and Rochard is somewhat the cute but also a little retarded little sister to that. Agreed, the support cast’s voice work on Rochard is truly hideous!

  9. beetle says:

    I rather enjoyed the game, it’s perfect for playing with the sound turned off while listening to an audiobook or lecture. I wish there were more games like it.

  10. Kryopsis says:

    I got the game for free when I signed up for that IGN Prime trial to get a permanent discount from GamersGate (thanks LewieP). I haven’t bought anything from GG since but Richard ended up being my favourite indie title.

    The music in the game is by Markus Kaarlonen from Poets of the Fall who also works with Remedy and Futuremark Games. The game has two very distinctive and memorable tracks.
    The bluesy opening theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66cos8RTooA)
    The 80′s inspired track that plays in the casino (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lR7ODA2cLWY)
    The second track reminds me of Alexander Brandon’s work on Jazz Jackrabbit 2.

    • xelested says:

      Poets of the Fall is/was a very popular band in Finland, I’m surprised they still work with small indies.

    • Silphatos says:

      I also got it from IGN Prime and it was one of the best indies I’ve played this year.

  11. Frank says:

    I’m somewhat surprised. Rochard is the worst game I’ve bought on Steam in a good long while. The whole thing is filler

  12. JFS says:

    So… summary: MEDIUM QUALITY. Thatokay?

  13. crinkles esq. says:

    Here’s a first-level walkthrough I found: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8paznfImoiQ
    Within the first couple minutes we find the woman on the crew telling you, “You really know what girls like, don’t you?” Either some employees of Helsinki-based Recoil Games (http://www.recoilgames.com/en/contact/) have questionable attitudes towards women and gay people, or they are being very cynical and designed a game for that target audience. Despite the fact that it looks like a capable and polished action-puzzler, it just exudes sleazy.

    • Dreforian says:

      It’s not like he saved some random woman and then immediately thereafter they boned. These are two people who have been coworkers for some time, quite possibly friends and maybe just maybe they care a little for each other. Or at least could? If they weren’t so focused on scraping a living out of asteroid fields? While I can’t absolve the devs of any mind-gutter interaction, I think that at worst this exchange is a little overly gender-specific banter. Harmless.

      Wont bother defending them on the other count though. Probably a rather irresponsible design choice. Either that or only really flamboyant VAs showed up for that particular casting call. I don’t know their minds and the human enemies were so forgettable to me that…well I’d forgotten what they sounded like until it was mentioned in the comments here.

      *crawls back under his rock*

    • Tubbins says:

      I don’t see the problem here. If you played Duke3D, you would probably have a coronary.

      • Burky says:

        not to be all “political correctness gone mad”, but criticising a work for having a single line of non- gender/sexuality neutral dialogue is flat-out ridiculous

  14. J.Wake says:

    Is it Row-shard or is it Rock-hard?

    • Dreforian says:

      Roche-ard mebe? “Roche is French for “boulder/rock”" -from wikipedia so it seems appropriate. If I recall correctly it sounds most like Row-Shard in game.

    • Kradziej says:

      Row-shard.

  15. Kradziej says:

    I played it on my PS3 last year and didn’t love it. Sure, it was cool and, just like Alec said, “nice”, but I felt that the puzzle mechanics were never properly expanded on and the challenge never reached a high point. The combat, too, wasn’t fascinating.

    A cool little game, but nothing special.

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  17. Zyrocz says:

    The only thing about this game that I didn’t like was the fact that the developers promised an 8 hour long game when it isn’t more than 5 hours even if you try to find the collectables. Other than that the game was decent, not as good as Vessel turned out to be, but decent.

  18. kristian says:

    The lesson i gather from reading the comments: Never make a game with characters other than muscular young male stereotype or the silicon female stereotype. They all need to speak perfect english and should have no personality.

    • Jupiah says:

      Dunno what comments you were reading. Most people are annoyed that the characters are ridiculous, cliche, one-dimensional stereotypes. Not that they were the *wrong* ridiculous, cliche, one-dimensional steroetypes, as you seem to have gathered.

      And most of us, myself included, actually like Rochard at least as a character, fat Southern trucker that he is. He’s a likable dude. The rest of the characters not so much though.

      • Tubbins says:

        > “cliche, one-dimensional stereotypes”

        Haven’t played many platformers, have you?

  19. Eddy9000 says:

    “I felt oddly comforted by the balance it found: relaxing while still involving a touch of brain-power.”

    This is the most lovely way a puzzle game could ever be described.

  20. Nintyuk says:

    Well I played it and enjoyed it until I reached a segment which ran on for too long.

    I had figured out what the solution was but kept on getting killed by enemies and hazards while trying to get through it, and being re-spawned back behind this tedious segment of puzzle that I had solved at least 10 times by that point before I reached the more combat focused bit where I was dying.

    I just called it a night there and never felt the urge to go back and try and continue.

  21. Forceflow says:

    Rochard is good for jumping in for 15-20 minutes. The low-gravity power is awesome: a killing ballet when baddies are near.

    Minor quibble: I found some of the fights pretty tedious. The guy has pretty low health, and if you’re playing with a controller (like I did), it’s pretty hard to direct those mine charges.