After a journey into the abyss of the human mind with no hope left, at least for a young boy, in Limbo, we have a more colorful, but not less violent indie game.
Animals in games are typically used for comedic effect. How satire and bloody fights amalgate can be seen in Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken.
I’ll be back…with a satire
The story itself wouldn’t be much more than 80ies action-movie-clichés, but with the characters being animals, it doesn’t only have its funny moments, but works as a satire or parable just like Orwell’s Animal Farm. Despite the cartoon graphics, there is quite a grim undertone with many cutscenes showing how a militaristic regime transforms the individual into nothing more than means to an end.
Make my day…with stereotypes and clichés which work
But even without going into social criticism, the story works quite well as a simple action movie where the hero goes against all odds and penguins with his weapons and doesn’t hold back some one-liners which Sly Stallone or Arnie Schwarzenegger would have loved to speak.
The bad guys are just like that, with no other personal traits, and overall the plot doesn’t hold many surprises or twists as it’s a straightforward revenge story, just like in the Shank games.
Back to the comics
Similarities to the aforementioned run-and-gun game series don’t only show in the story, but also the presentation. Reminiscent of the art style of Afro Samurai, the cutscenes are highly stylized and beautifully drawn. Even with few character animations not unlike the South Park series, they tell the story and give background information without a lot of exposition. Some scenes and images are actually quite touching, powerful and above all brutal.
What makes the presentation even more surrealistic and in a way unique is the rock soundtrack by New World Revolution (NWR) which brings with it many emotions and unlike the expected military orchestral music, it sets the game apart from so many other games. It’s also interesting to note that during the game, only few sounds are predominant to create a rather realistic atmosphere, only temporarily interspersed with snippets of the band’s songs.
The overall graphics are really good and especially the detailed environments impress. Lights and shadows are also put to good use, so do the fluent character animations. The world comes alive with moving objects in the background and how some enemies are talking about their boring jobs, which makes the game not only a 1:1 adaptation of Rambo or other 80ies action movies, but pays tribute to them with an ironic undertone (not to mention the satirical elements).
Bloody brutal fun
The Shank series indulged itself in its depiction of graphic violence, and even with animals as characters, Rocketbirds offers quite a lot of blood and death scenes, although it never goes to extremes and exaggerations. The violence and brutality are actually implemented quite well in the story and overall presentation. Enemies are killed with blood splattering against the walls but also feathers flying, headshots are quite shocking, so are some implied torture scenes. Still the game never falls into the trap of being tasteless, rather it uses some simplistic storytelling and presentation devices to great effect to give an 80ies-action-movie-aesthetics mixed with social criticism and black humor.
The exterminator likes hot chicken…or more dead penguins
The gameplay itself is an amalgamation of different genres. Not only does the heroic chicken collect weapons and blasts his way through enemy lines, but he also has to solve some puzzles. These are usually of the get-the-right-keycard-for-this-door or move-this-box-here-to-get-up-there variety.
Besides the different weapons the player laters gets a sort of mind-controlling bug which is reminiscent of Abe’s Exoddus or Abe’s Oddysee where enemies can be used to move around, shoot, open doors etc.. If the player makes a mistake, he can easily dispose of the enemy by making him commit suicide (a rather brutal scene; but then again another identikit penguin shows up at the same spot for another try).
Let’s do the time warp with same-old game mechanics
The problem the game faces is that the mechanics repeat themselves too often and routine sets in. It’s therefore a good thing playtime is not more than 4 hours, otherwise it would definitely have outstayed its welcome. Other issues arise with certain jetpack scenes: As the title indicates, the hero can fly around with a jetpack-rocket-device. Unfortunately as much fun as it is the first time, camera and character control are in the way of enjoying these segments. With many enemies flying off-screen and turning-around-with-no-auto-aiming, it’s difficult to hit the targets. Granted, the player can also use the enemies’ rockets in guiding them against them, but usually it has more to do with luck than with skills navigating through these sections.
The game also gets unfair a bit too often: Being hit by enemies on one side, being thrown back and not being able to get up and shoot back while being constantly launched into the air with other deadly projectiles is something which doesn’t even give skilled players a chance to get out of their predicament. Add some enemies which can spawn out of doors or which are pretty close to the player in the next screen, and gameplay can become quite frustrating. Checkpoints are usually well-placed, but some set the player back to make him go through some tedious sections again.
With a rather short playtime of the single-player campaign, the game is still not over as an excellent co-op play is included which introduces new characters who have to work together in order to progress. It doesn’t need a lot of cerebral work in the first levels (pushing buttons to open doors among other things), but it’s nice to have a completely different story (rescue a general’s daughter), and jumping on your friend’s head in the game with one firing to the right and the other to the left does not only look funny, but is just fun to play (even if jumping sections which require this stacking device are not so much fun).
Now in 3D with 2D graphics
Another fun bonus is the 3D-mode which works with anaglyph glasses (one can even select the different colors) on the PC or stereoscopic ones on the PS3. Unlike a game like Limbo, the level of depth looks pretty amazing and having the full-colors-version on a 3D-HDTV should be even better.
We have a winner (chicken) and a loser (penguins)
Having chickens engaged in a bloody and brutal fight with penguins is already a winner, even if the gameplay doesn’t offer anything original in the platformer-cum-shoot’em-up-genre and becomes a bit unfair at certain points. Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken is still a unique title with its presentation and storytelling. It might not be the longest game, but while it lasts, it’s a fun experience not to be missed.
And if you’re wondering how the gameplay works, check out this fun trailer: