As our species has become more technologically advanced, we've become more distanced from the world our distant ancestors inhabited, back when they were focusing on how to walk about on two legs. Largely this has been a good development as now we don't have to worry about being eaten by a wild animal in our sleep, but it does have a downside. It's caused us to forget about the struggles going on out across all over the countryside, some among life forms so small that we can't even see them, and others only seen in slow motion on National Geographic specials. One of these struggles that has escaped all our notices is the terrifying struggle that exists between penguins and chickens, a struggle that has been captured in all it's epic glory by developer Ratloop and Reverb Publishing in the form of Rocketbirds: Harboiled Chicken.
First things first…the gameplay. If you've ever played Another World, Flashback: The Quest for Identity, Shadow Complex, or Deadlight you know all you need to know about this game plays. If you haven't, well, I'll describe it for you quickly. There are 2 methods of control for the game; keyboard and mouse or with a game controller. I was using the keyboard/mouse arrangement for my playthrough and, despite the usual clunkiness that such an arrangement always has, the controls were pretty easy to handle. Hardboiled (yes, that is his name) can do combat rolls, jump up and climb onto higher surfaces, duck into cover if cover is available, and do other badassery type things. However, there is a bit of learning curve with all this, and you can loose track of what key does what, even with the helpful visual prompts that show up throughout the game.
The game's graphics and level design are very well done, and often impressed me with the detail put into them. Propaganda posters can be found stuck on the walls both in the foreground and background,a TV attached to the wall will display a looped animation, and numerous other bits of eye candy show a great level of attention to detail in the game's level design. The level design is one of the best parts of this game, even when you're climbing through a sewer or a badly lit dungeon. When you get to the levels that have you rocketing around through the air, it's even cooler. Enough about that, though. The game also features cutscenes, and while they are brilliant pieces of animation, they are quality pieces of work in their own right.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag…the soundtrack, provided by the New World Revolution, will delight fans of modern rock and roll, but those who aren't probably won't find it doing much for them. The only voice acting in the game is in the cutscenes, with the rest of the game's dialogue occurring in mumblespeak backed up by text boxes. While the dialogue does have some funny moments it's something of a mystery why the characters only speak in pre rendered cutscenes and nowhere else. The voices do match their characters well, though, with the unflappable (get it?) tones of the protagonist, the deep and chilly tones of the huge thug in a suit who is the muscle behind the cowardly leader Putzki. The roles are rather straightforward, and rather silly at times, but then again this a game where brawny chickens engage in gun battles with fascist penguins. If you can't take a little silly, this os probably the wrong game for you.
One of the biggest problems with games like these is that, too often, the story gets bogged down in the gameplay. I'm glad to say, though, that this game knows that it's not to outstay it's welcome. There are 15 stages in the game which can be played through in a matter of hours. Despite the game only having two difficulty settings -normal and hard- the developers recognize that backtracking and fetching are to be kept at a minimum, and they've also installed a autosave system that makes the game much less of a headache then it would otherwise. There's also times when you can get away from puzzling solving in dank underground lairs, and zoom through the air on a jetpack battling airborne penguins who leap from a huge zeppelin to do battle with you…as a bonus, you get to blow the zeppelin up afterward. Tell me that's not fun.
All in all, Rocketbirds does get a lot of things right, but there are things that it's get wrong. Thankfully these are mostly few and far between, but they can bite the player rather hard. The major issue of the game stems from the weapon upgrade system, where you can just stumble upon newer and more powerful weapons in your path. These weapons do make for more of an equalizer against small groups of enemies, but there are times when the game will through you into combat against large groups of enemies, and that can dissipate whatever advantage you get from your weapons in a hurry. The fact that your weapons all share the same ammo pool doesn't help either, and when reloading in a pitched battle means rolling over to an ammo box and pressing the E key getting shot at all the while, these can be the moments when the game turns from a fun experience into a searing pool of frustration. Being thrown into a encounter where you can either thoroughly plan out what to do or keep trying and hope you get lucky isn't fun for everyone, and certainly not for me.
Rocketbirds gets a lot right, and the majority of the game is fun to play. On the other hand, there's a feeling later of the game of it trying to suddenly change from a side scrolling game with stealth elements, into a raging shoot'em up, and it doesn't handle the transition well. In one particular case I found my progress completely stalled by this sudden transition, and it drove me nuts. This was partly due to the frustration inherent in the situation, but mostly because the rest of the game moved along so well. I felt like I had been driving a well appointed car along a picturesque road, and then suddenly I hit a wall. This game is a polished product, but in the end it doesn't feel nearly as polished as it could have been. If you are not easily frustrated, then you'll have fun with this game, but if you are I'd advise playing something else. I give this game 6 out of 10.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
Developer: Ratloop Asia
Genre: Side scrolling adventure.
Release date; October 15, 2012