Rochard review: Puzzles suitable for miners

Rochard understands the peace of mind found in a sealed room. Like Portal, it offers bursts of purity in its puzzle design, and a calming, implicit reassurance that each area has a clean start and solution. It may not exude ambition in every moment, but Rochard's quiet, deliberately delineated approach offers a sublime break from the mental overhead that accompanies the year's bigger games and their sprawling quests.

That simplicity -- or focus, rather -- extends to burly protagonist John Rochard, a down-to-earth space miner armed with an anti-gravity lifting tool and a quaint selection of backwater metaphors (you're right to assume that "tighter than a frog's butt" means very tight indeed). While an unexpected discovery on a barren asteroid leads to a vague galactic threat, you get the feeling he's more worried about its effect on his pension. And as a special bonus, he's proof that the voice of Duke Nukem managed to find a good game in 2011 after all.
%Gallery-131030% Rochard essentially asks you to don a leather jacket, light a cigarette in a dark alley, loiter with a motley crowd and tell gravity to eff off. Your manipulation of that pesky downward pull, be it in nullifying the weight of heavy items or dampening its effects throughout the entire room, gives impetus to every puzzle in the game. Sure, there's a lot of crate levitation and stacking, but Rochard introduces new tricks, mechanics and abilities at such a steady rate, and without repetition, that you barely notice how complicated things are getting.

Simple object manipulation puzzles become enmeshed with color-coded force fields that only allow passage to certain materials. There are conveyer belts, turrets, elevators, evil minions, transportable power nodes and switches that let you run on the ceiling. And you have a (nearly) ever-present ability to lower the gravity in the whole room and turn a half-hearted hop into an Olympic high jump. That sounds like a lot to consider, but the 2D perspective makes it easy to envision solutions, and the game teaches you the results of every mechanism, step by step. You're never stuck wondering whether your gravitational tinkering is actually contributing to a puzzle's solution.

Fortunately, Rochard's neat, room-by-room challenge doesn't eliminate all out-of-bounds behavior. There's just enough space for play, as you'll discover when you tweak gravity to adjust the arc of a grenade, or propel yourself away from a crate in mid-air -- in what feels like the tame version of a rocket jump. Turrets can be ripped from the walls and tossed as explosives, boxes can be levitated in front of you to deflect bullets, or they can simply be dropped onto an enemy's unsuspecting, unprotected head. Those crates may as well be anvils.

Combat isn't a crucial element of Rochard, though it's seemingly important enough to place a feeble laser gun in John's arsenal. The annoying pea-shooter battles that occur in the few rooms that don't cater to alternative solutions (read: where have all the crates gone?!) simply don't belong in this game. And when you're forced to shoot your way through the obligatory elevator siege, it feels like Recoil Games suddenly drew inspiration from all the wrong sources.

No, Rochard is best when it sticks to Portal, aping its elegant learning curve. It's a refreshing, perfectly sized game that squeezes the fun puzzle process, of learning and exploiting the rules, into tidy little rooms. I'd add that the gravity gun -- excuse me, the G-Lifter -- is also borrowed from Valve, but it's not like Dr. Freeman's been using it.

This review is based on final code of Rochard sent to Joystiq by Sony.

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