It is difficult to write negative things about a game with as much presentational polish as Rocketbirds 2: Evolution. It’s also hard to write particularly positive comments about a game that at times was so personally rage-inducing. Somewhere in the middle of those two statements are my true feelings about independent developer Ratloop Asia’s latest digital offering.
Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is a darkly comical action-platformer about a special agent rooster named Hardboiled, the original “Cock of War.” His nemesis, the evil penguin despot, Il Putski, is seemingly back from the dead after the events of 2011’s Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken. With his reemergence, chickens everywhere have begun to disappear, never to be heard from again. Hardboiled reads about this turn of events in a newspaper that goes on to call him a liar for “claiming” to have killed the megalomaniacal Putski. Our stoic hero sets out to right this situation, reclaim his honor, and bring down Il Putski for good.
Along the way, he will blast his way through armed fortresses, gigantic submarines, and strange temples. He will stand against penguin soldiers, pigeon bodyguards, chicken cultists and space owls (yep!) to find out the truth behind the chicken disappearances and the new food product “Putzki’s Pork”. He will bird-brainwash guards with a smartphone, and then blow them up. Our fearless fowl will scuba dive, infiltrate bases, and take to the skies. He absolutely will not stop until he puts a bullet in Il Putski one more time…for the last time.
I was immediately floored by how much more went into the graphical design for this sequel. The art style and character designs haven’t changed at all, but the level of detail on all art assets is genuinely stunning. Characters and environments can, at times, seem almost three-dimensional with the extra layers of shading involved in the finer details of their design. The lighting plays off of everything. Firing a gun lights up the surrounding area with every burst. Metallic surfaces shine and deep shadows cut all the way down into individual elements of the character’s attire. The backgrounds move from side to side as you travel through every area, creating a very effective illusion of room depth. All these subtle touches come together and highlight a truly great looking game.
All those flashy visuals come at a price, however, with the total install being a sizeable 2.7 gigabytes. That’s huge for an indie download, so those with smaller Vita memory cards may need to free up some extra space. I also noticed that while playing the game’s campaign, the network features of the Vita were disabled. I can only imagine that came down to the level of detail present in every aspect of Rocketbirds 2: Evolution‘s design. Load times weren’t extremely egregious, but they were lengthy enough to be a bother when I had to retry after yet another hapless death. The game plays smoothly, regardless of the graphical intensity, with only the occasional slowdown in hectic moments. It never really detracted from the experience, in fact, it often seemed like it could have been a “bullet time” design choice if the developers had ever chosen to call attention to it.
The controls, however, took some serious getting used to. The inventory management and map, controlled by the d-pad, felt odd all the way to the ending credit sequence. I found myself falling off of ladders I was climbing, due to having to use the incredibly sensitive Vita analog stick for movement in what is a traditionally D-pad oriented genre. Aiming was always a little touchy and I often found myself shooting just above or below the enemies I was aiming at. Hardcore players may appreciate the level of precision the game allows, but with the already slightly twitchy Vita analog sticks, I feel like an auto-aim feature would have been helpful. The crosshair for your weapon is located extremely close to the end of your weapon, making it difficult to determine the exact angle of your shots. Moving the targeting reticle out from the end of the gun barrel at least another few centimeters, or even a laser sight, would have benefited this game immensely.
Maybe it would have helped with the handful of times I found myself cursing the game’s extreme difficulty spikes. In every level, I managed to find a couple of rooms where the sheer number of enemies that would spawn from all directions, the finicky aiming, and the ridiculous amount of ammo required to kill the bullet-sponge avian scum, would combine into a perfect maelstrom of frustration. These rooms would eventually be cleared with the “strategy” of running around and jumping like crazy, spraying bullets in the enemies general direction (sort of), and praying to the video game gods that I wouldn’t get stunned by another shotgun blast, because the burning anger I was feeling would likely cause me to throw my Vita directly through the nearest wall if I had to start over at the last checkpoint AGAIN! I managed to brute force my way through all of these situations eventually, but no matter how angry I got, I found myself compelled to get to that next area…that optional gun I saw earlier…that next story scene. When you start to feel like you are getting things done in Rocketbirds 2: Evolution, it feels absolutely great.
New World Revolution, who composed the soundtrack to Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, are back again to compose and perform the game’s music. Their musical chops were immediately obvious, but the actual soundtrack, for me, was a mixed bag. I really enjoyed some of the background music, but the majority of the actual songs seemed to clash somehow with the atmosphere I felt the rest of the game was conveying with the art direction and personalities of the characters. This feeling lasted with me throughout the entire game, and because of that, I never felt completely connected to the world as a whole. That’s not to say that Rocketbirds 2 has a bad soundtrack, far from it. Outside of the immediate context of the game, there are some truly awesome tracks. I made my way over to New World Revolution’s Bandcamp page after I wrapped up the game, and I would highly recommend others do the same.
I need to talk about the characterizations a bit too. Some of the dialog and banter you will witness is truly dark and funny stuff. The entire game is voice-acted, and the performances, for the most part, are hilarious and right on point. Il Putzki is appropriately skeevy and cowardly while still managing to get maniacal when he thinks things are going his way. His penguin troops are also highlights, with their often inane ramblings about their lives, annoyances, and even calling their boss a “dork” behind his back.
The only character I was lukewarm about, was Hardboiled himself. His short-spoken, blunt dialog felt out of sync with the rest of this bizarre world. He came across as more of a brutish “John Rambo” character when I couldn’t help but feel that the game needed a witty “John McClane” style protagonist. I still found myself sympathizing with Hardboiled’s mission and his reserved feelings as more of the plot became unveiled. The entire story mode wasn’t extremely long (I played for 8 hours, but I died a lot), but with everything else on offer, I wasn’t bothered by the short length.
The story mode is only half of this well-rounded package. An all-new single or multiplayer “Rescue Mode” allows players and their friends to explore randomly-generated environments together to perform a wide variety of rescue missions. This mode is available from the very beginning and has a completely different (albeit simpler) story and different controllable characters. Up to four players can connect locally or over the internet to tackle these rescues. With every successful rescue mission, you will add a new completely customizable soldier to your overall character roster. These troops can be switched as your playable character between missions in your headquarters, which functions as the main hub in this mode. As you attempt to rescue your target, the enemies you eliminate will drop coins and money bags that provide funds to buy more provisions. New weapons, surplus ammunition, even hireable duck mercenaries for support when you next deploy, are all for sale back at your Headquarters. Add to these purchasable upgrades costume pieces you can find in the field, and you have yourself a satisfying reward loop that can keep you hooked for a good amount of time.
Whether playing with friends or mercenary waterfowl, characters are encouraged to stack on top of one another, creating a kind of “Tower of Power” formation, up to four players high. When stacked together, the player at the bottom remains in control of movement and is harder to stagger when under heavy or persistent gunfire. Your totem teammates are free to concentrate on aiming and taking out enemies. A four-man high tower of online teammates, or AI mercenaries, is a real force to be reckoned with. I, unfortunately, had to rely on playing with the AI controlled mercenaries, as I was never able to find another person playing online, and no one ever joined my public games.
I’m coming away from Rocketbirds 2: Evolution no better off, but certainly no worse for wear. I can’t say I know who exactly the audience for this game is supposed to be, but it’s a finely polished game with a strange, humorous world and story. The game’s mechanics are solid even if a bit TOO annoyingly precise and the whole experience is slightly uneven in difficulty, but fans of old school action-platformers will find a lot to love in Hardboiled Chicken’s latest escapade.
Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is available now in all regions as a digital download on PlayStation Network for Vita and PlayStation 4 consoles, with cross-buy support between the two platforms.