To use a rather timely analogy, Rochard is the Susan Boyle of this year's E3. An unassuming little gem, tucked away in Sony Online Entertainment's booth with a demo station facing opposite the West Hall's entrance, it was easy to miss. Even if you did catch a glimpse at it, there's little about a fat guy running through red and blue industrial levels that screams, "I need to see this!" Giving in to that dismissive instinct would be a grievous error, though, as Rochard ended up being one of my favorite games of the show.
The premise is that everyday astro-miner John Rochard discovers an ancient artifact that leads to space bandits capturing his crew unless he can free them. Rochard isn't an action hero, though. With his broad gut and gray moustache, he resembles the perpetually blue collar John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) and is voiced by the preposterously named John St. John of Duke Nukem fame. It's not the most original tale, but any skepticism I had melted away as soon as I got my hands on the controller.
A 2D platformer with 3D graphics, Rochard's hook is its malleable gravity. At any time the player can press L1 and the screen takes on a blue tint as gravity lowers, making everything slow and floaty. In this phase, Rochard can jump higher and weapons are lighter. There's no limit on how often you can do this, so simply messing around with it is fun in and of itself.
Just as groundbreaking is Rochard's primary weapon, a gravity gun. Sure, Gordon Freeman's been using a similar device for the better part of a decade in Half-Life 2, but I've never seen it in a 2D game or with this kind of precision. The right analogue stick aims a laser that makes it easy to gauge what can be picked up, and when holding an object, it shows the trajectory it will take if thrown.
These tools will be invaluable as you make your way through a series of physics-based puzzles. At one point, I was tasked with getting past a vertical wall with a platform beside it. If I grabbed a box and jumped on the platform, the weight of the box and myself would cause it to sink just enough that I could go under the wall, then use low gravity to just barely make what looked to be an impossible jump. The other solution would have been to go into low gravity, jump, then launch the box downward, which would have propelled Rochard high into the air over the wall. The demo rep explained that most puzzles will have multiple solutions, and this was just one simple example.
Puzzles grow in complexity as more obstacles are introduced. Blue force fields have no effect on Rochard, but prevent objects from passing through, while red force fields have the opposite effect. Several later puzzles are based on figuring out how to get items through levels filled with such barriers.
There's also an action component to Rochard. Space bandits, flying sentries, and enemy turrets will do their darnedest to make quick work of you, but Rochard's unique systems provide plenty of opportunities to thwart them. While a stalwart punch to the gut will work, it's hardly the most effective strategy. Grabbed objects can be used as shields before being launched at enemies, and sentries can be held prisoner by your gravity gun, then unleashed upon your foes.
As you progress, your weaponry grows as well. Near the end of the demo, I was given a blaster, but I'm told there will be three types of grenades as well. There will be the usual frag grenades, sticky bombs, and, more excitingly, zero-gravity bombs that make objects caught in their blast radius fall up. These are promised to play an integral role in later puzzles.
From what I played, Rorchard seemed to be the ideal mix of platfomer, puzzler, and action game. The way it blends all three elements together without skipping a beat left me hungry for more gravity defying, mentally taxing excursions with this plump prospector.