Rocketmen Review

Publisher: Capcom
Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games

Platform: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Reviewed on PlayStation 3

Join the Alliance of Free Planets in a battle to free the Solar System from The Axis of Evil (including the Legion of Terra and the Martians) in this action game by shooting as many minions of Lord Invictus as you can!

Kyle Ackerman

It's hard to believe that this science-fiction themed action game owes its existence to pirates. Yes, rum-swilling privateers with a penchant for treasure. WizKids' collectible and constructible tabletop strategy game Pirates (later brought online) caught on quickly, convincing hobby gamers to purchase collectible packs that could be built into pirate ships that would race to battle one another and collect treasure. Pirates was successful enough that it led WizKids to try a different take on the formula, a constructible game it called Rocketmen.

Rocketmen had players building tiny spaceships to pilot around a table and do battle in an Edgar Rice Burroughs-ish future where the Legion of Terra and Martians are The Axis of Evil, battling Terran rebels, Venusians and Mercurians. While the hobby game hasn't caught on as hotly as WizKids might have hoped, in the build-up to the games, WizKids released a slick set of animated shorts featuring heartthrob rebel Nick Sion and the Alliance of Free Planets in their battle against the Axis of Evil. With the downloadable game Rocketmen, developer A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. brings the story and marquee characters from the hobby game to a Robotron-style shooter.

That description doesn't quite do justice to Rocketmen. The game is filled with huge levels, an interactive environment and a vast assortment of primary and secondary weapons. There are heavily customizable characters with the ability to improve skills, weapons and even join up to three other players in saving the solar system from tyranny. You start by choosing a planet of origin (Mercury, Venus or Earth rebel) and a class (warrior, engineer or outcast), each of which starts you off with certain skills. From there on, experience improves your abilities, while collected carbon purchases better armor, titanium buys better guns and Newtonium allows you to purchase more secondary weapons (something that I often found unnecessary).

If the game's cut-scenes even approached the production values of the short animations used to advertise WizKids' collectible game, Rocketmen would be a much more enjoyable experience. There is a story, following your character as he (or she) goes on a series of missions to combat The Axis of Evil. While the cut scenes follow a comic-book style, with a series of (mostly still images), when the 3D models are shown close-up and posed, the cel-shading falls short and the product isn't nearly as compelling as a quick, hand-drawn sketch. The voice acting ranges from poor to abysmal and in many cases the panels use onomatopoeic words to represent sounds rather than actually recording a noise (it would work best if the cut-scenes did both). All together, the cut scenes come off less as a comic book and more like a low-rent spaghetti western. And the ending is so anti-climactic that I found myself searching the menus for the end of the game.

When you do get into gameplay, you are assaulted by waves of enemies that focus on overwhelming you rather than fighting strategically. One analog stick moves your character, while the other determines the direction in which you shoot (hence, the Robotron comparison). The excitement comes from the vast array of weapons you can pick up, and the plentiful special armaments that let you really destroy waves of enemies. When the screen isn't scrolling, the action can be a lot of fun. I really enjoyed scrambling around to avoid enemy shots, blasting big groups of cannon fodder and taking out more sophisticated bosses. Yet, I didn't like the way the game scrolls.

Rocketmen is built on the Torque engine, and feels almost as half-baked when the game is scrolling as the cut-scenes feel. When the camera moves well, Rocketmen feels like a great side-scrolling shooter. But often, the camera movement is jerky and sometimes more of an obstacle than the enemies. In particular, there are a lot of interactive objects around the levels. Some are simply worth bonus resources, others are objectives (like freeing prisoners on the second level). Often, these are on the edge of the screen and quickly scroll to a point where they are visible, but inaccessible. Since the screen inexorably follows a preset path, there are a lot of times when objects are tantalizingly close, and frustratingly forever out of reach. Along with the camera, there are occasional issues with the positional sound, in which voices or other effects fade to near inaudibility while pervasive background noises stay loud and strong.

The game is a lot better with multiple players, and can be played cooperatively on one console or with the help of other people online. The levels are easy (unless, as I initially did, you forget to upgrade your character), and the difficulty doesn't really increase substantially from level to level (you need to upgrade to the next difficulty level). As a result, I found level two (of 10) to be the longest and hardest. Then I replayed it later and found it a rapid cinch. If you do die, you'll suffer an experience loss that will slow your character advancement. Completing certain goals (like killing a certain number of enemies or finishing the level fast) will earn medals that also earn the character "bling" that slightly enhance your statistics.

Rocketmen moves a long way from the strategic underpinnings of the tabletop game, using the characters to create an entirely new experience. And Rocketmen answers the question that so many Sci-Fi television series have asked: "Can cartoonishly hot chicks save you from bad production values?" The answer is, they're not enough, but together with enough explosions, you just might squeak by. If, as a gamer, you don't care for plot and skip cut scenes, you'll probably be able to overlook the scrolling issues and have some fun with Rocketmen. But there are plenty of better options on the PlayStation Network.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 3, 2008 2:39 PM.

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