So you're this agent called “Hardboiled”, a chicken that has been tasked with bringing down a totalitarian regime led by Putzki, an evil penguin with dreams of world domination. You're given a few guns and some grenades to take down his empire and save the world. Can you do it? Of course you can, you're Hardboiled; the baddest chicken this side of the Atlantic ocean! You're basically James Bond with feathers and you fly around on a jet-pack, what more could you want?
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is a remake of Rocketbirds Revolution, but for its PSN release developer Ratloop Asia added more levels, more weapons, better graphics, a backstory, a Co-op mode, and 3D support. This is the definitive Rocketbirds, but in spite of the added content, there's still not that much to it.
Simplicity is the name of the game when it comes to Rocketbirds, and since it was originally a browser game that you played with a keyboard, they had to keep the commands and gameplay very simple. They have done this, but it's a little too simple for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against simple games – some of the best games of all time were simple but refined – but this game lacks the polish needed to take it out of mediocre territory, instead the gameplay is plagued with issues that kept it from being truly fun, aside from a few sporadic encounters.
Basically, you have three gun types and two grenade types and you have two positions to shoot from (standing and crouching), offering you a little strategy. When you stand, you can shoot over obstacles but can't hit crouching opponents, when you're crouching, you can duck under bullets shot by standing opponents, but can't hit them if you're behind cover. This was actually a decent idea, except the second half of the game seems to forget about any sort of cover to hide behind, and instead throws waves of enemies at you without letting you have any way to defend yourself. There's no block button, and any crouching enemies can kill you even if you jump, so it gets annoying and frustrating really fast. Had they remembered to give you obstacles to play around with, cover to use, and a block button, it could have been fun, instead I found myself repeatedly in situations that were entirely beyond my control. It's a shame, too, because the game had some good ideas but failed to properly utilize them.
This is made even worse by the bad controls. Most people tell you that if a game's controls are messy and unresponsive, you need to get used to it since that's just the way it is, but Rocketbirds was just too much of a chore to control. Moving your character often led to overshooting or undershooting your target, dodge rolling was a pain to keep under control, and even something as simple as ducking or standing seemed to be hard to control. The worst offence is committed when you're in a firefight that requires shooting guys on both sides simultaneously - an action as simple as turning around to shoot the guy behind is so slow and sluggish that you're shot in the back and killed before you get the opportunity to return fire. It just doesn't work, which is a shame because the game has some real potential, which it manages to showcase in the rocket-shooting levels.
In between the running, jumping, and gunfights, you end up in aerial dogfights with other rocketbirds. These missions are easily the most fun in the entire game, since they control well, are brisk and exciting, and lack any of the issues present in the majority of the game. There are also some pretty fun puzzle elements in the game, thanks in part to a mind-controlling brain-bug weapon you get early in the game. The problem with the puzzles, however, is that half of them are really well done, whereas the other half are poorly designed and frustrating, failing to give you that 'eureka' epiphany like most puzzles should.
When it comes to gameplay, it really seems the main issue is polish. It has a lot of really good ideas put in use, but the sloppy controls and lack of defensive options make the game a lot more frustrating than it needs to be. It's also really short. I played through the entire single player mode in a little over three hours, which really isn't enough content to justify its $11.99 price tag. Then again, at least they threw in a co-op mode - in which you go on a series of rescue missions - to help pad the game's value. The co-op mode is actually unique, but it still shares a lot of the locales and levels of the main campaign. The major improvement in that department, however, is the co-op based puzzles and gameplay modes. Instead of crouching or ducking, you take control of two smaller birds that can jump on each other's shoulders. It does add a decent amount of content, and the emphasis on co-op puzzle solving made it a better mode, but that still only adds another couple of hours to your game time. It's still not worth $11.99. If this game was $4.99, I'd actually be really impressed, but I expect more content and polish for a download game I'm paying 12 bucks for.
Where the game fails in gameplay and value, it almost makes up for in presentation (almost). Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is designed with stereoscopic 3D in mind, and the graphics are nearly jaw dropping. The backgrounds and foregrounds are probably the best I've seen in a PSN title - the level of detail is virtually unmatched. Special mention also goes to New World Revolution, who have supplied the outstanding soundtrack to the game. Not only do their songs make the cutscenes pop like a music video, but their use during actual gameplay is context sensitive and that really heightens the mood, especially during action sequences.
But for every beautifully rendered waterfall background, there is a problem elsewhere. First and foremost, the 3D that the game seems to have been designed around has altered the perspective in such a way that the locations of platforms and elevator shafts are actually a little to the left of where they look like they are, making for some frustrating platforming. The character animations and cutscenes are also a bit disappointing, reminding me of Newgrounds rather than a professional videogame. The voices are also really dull, though that may be intentional in the interests of humor. That said, those were all minor problems, and the soundtrack and visuals make up for them.
I'm actually quite saddened by my experiences with Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, because it's clear the developers had a lot of great ideas and gameplay features, but lacked the discipline to refine it to the point it needed to be to support those ideas. There are some great shooting, platforming, flying, and puzzle mechanics in the game, yet the issues with control and perspective take what could otherwise be a great game and turn it into an exercise in patience. I actually hope this game sells well so that Ratloop can take those funds and turn future, great ideas into equally great games.