I love playing games. That’s stating the obvious, of course, but it needs to be said prior to the following: games rarely surprise me any more. I enjoy them but I know what’s coming every time. After 20 years of gaming, things sometimes feel a little staid and I find myself passively taking in yet another interchangeable FPS or RPG.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken might not be the most original of games, invoking memories of many a many classic title, but it does feel a little bit special – despite occasional moments of tedium.
Hardboiled by name, hardboiled by nature, players take on the role of Hardboiled Chicken. Think of him as a poultry edition of Gears of War’s Marcus Fenix.
Hardboiled is out for vengeance against the Penguins’ corrupt leader, Putzki. As he travels his way through Albatropolis, it’s quickly apparent that Hardboiled is not one to cross. Besides being rather handy with all manner of weapons (such as pistols, Uzis and a shotgun), Hardboiled can leap and roll just like a ‘real’ action hero.
It’s a system of mechanics that works well but, there is one crucial omission: melee attack. It takes mere moments to master how to fire, jump and roll, each action performed with an intuitive tap or two. Previously a PC game developer, Ratloop have taken to console development with ease.
In many ways, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken feels like a mixture of the Metroid- and the Oddworld series’ with its mixture of shooting and puzzling Even the personality of the Penguins is extremely reminiscent of the creatures in Oddworld; the minions frequently on guard duty and happily chatting with their comrades. More than once I found myself steering clear from danger, so that I could absorb the dialogue.
The level of difficulty, however, is nothing like the aforementioned titles. Enemies are far from bright and, as such, easily defeated. They rush at Hardboiled without thinking about hiding or ducking into the precious spaces of ‘shadow’ cover.
Shadow cover isn’t overly plentiful but uses the 2D perspective to allow you to hop into the dark corridors that litter the game. The enemy never appreciates the usefulness of such spaces in times of need. In fact, the only time the penguins ever feel like a threat is when they significantly outnumber Hardboiled, making it difficult to dodge out of the way of fire.
When there are only a couple of foes to take on, it’s easy to just duck a and shoot while the penguins’ backs are turned. The ease in which such foes are dispatched doesn’t dampen the enjoyment, though. There’s a perverse satisfaction in the way feathers fly and the penguins cluck in a pained (yet light-hearted) way as they’re defeated. It adds to the overall comic tone.
Puzzles are similarly unchallenging for the most part. While some situations may test you, most are simple affairs that employ gaming traditions such as positioning crates and collecting key cards. One shining light that ensures puzzles remain interesting is the ‘brain bug’.
Acquired around the mid way point of the game, brain bugs allow you to possess enemy penguins without alerting the others. This serves a couple of different purposes. Firstly, it means that the possess-ee can be used to kill off a few irritating penguins before you force them to off themselves.
Secondly, enemy possession provides Hardboiled with the means to explore otherwise locked off areas; an ability that’s essential to completing some puzzles.
Humour is ever present when possessing enemies. Wrong as it sounds, I did chuckle to my myself when I first discovered that the only way to switch back to Hardboiled was to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger. It’s something that makes me sound worryingly amoral, but I defy anyone to not smile the first time they do it. They kind of humour is consistent throughout the ‘Hardboiled experience’.
Humour isn’t the only tool used to endear you to the cast. A compelling back story is presented in comic book style between chapters, offering further glimpses of this surreal-yet-depressing world. These interludes are backed up by a great soundtrack from New World Revolution (a band I’ve never heard of), which adds to the relatively grim mood of the cut scenes.
The only real weak point is the jetpack side of the game. Jetpaction, as Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken likes to call it, might be there to break up any potential monotony but it’s just not needed and soon become tiresome.
Still, Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a very solid effort. It might not be the longest of games but the length suits the budget price perfectly. There’s also a co-op mode that offers a different experience as players undertake the role of budgies and save the general’s daughter in an adventure focused on puzzles.Co-op is not as entertaining as the single player campaign but it remains a nice bonus to the full package.
This is just the kind of game to remind you what smaller, imaginative developers can do while others are focused on big explosions and less personality.