by Vincent Chandler
reviewed on PC
Contra... But With Birds?
In Rocketbirds 2: Evolution we once again assume the role of the hyper masculine army chicken known only by his military moniker - ‘Hardboiled Chicken’. He is all that stands between the fascist penguin army and their plots for world domination and chicken decimation.
You run, shoot and occasionally stop for light puzzle elements. For those of you that had played the quaint first instalment in the series, this will feel familiar. However, the combat has been given an overhaul with the ability to free aim a full 360 degrees - making the whole system a little more engaging - adding elements of verticality to the gameplay and easing up on the stiffness of the original.
The basics involve swapping between any two currently equipped weapons, moving about an environment and dispatching bird combatants as they come for you. The gun-combat is intuitive and relatively standard fare; you manage reloads, gain bonus damage from headshots and collect more and more powerful weaponry as the game progresses. You are limited on ammunition, although the ability to carry 1000 shotgun rounds from the outset and every enemy dropping ammunition means that this is hardly ever a concern.
Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is at its best when it indulges in its action tropes, and provides huge boss fights, the titular rocket jet pack sections or scores of enemies on screen to decimate. When the pace is upped, the gameplay shines as straightforward run and gun fun. It is surprisingly violent, considering its overall cartoon tone. I was genuinely surprised the first time I decapitated a pigeon with a flurry of buckshot, and eventually took great pleasure in disintegrating penguins with the flamethrower. Even more satisfying is the ability to juggle the bodies of enemies with a stream of gunfire, which throws a cloud of blood and feathers into the air. This juggling is a key mechanic and an important part of your skillset when it comes to combatting multiple birds at once, or disrupting the powerful attacks of larger foes.
However, this is not your traditional side scrolling ‘shoot em up’; Rocketbirds 2 very rarely embraces this action sentiment and instead looks to mix up the gameplay with different tasks between battles. Aside from the mini-bosses, wave survival and protect-a-dude-who-is-hacking-a-terminal style combat encounters, there are mini-puzzles to be solved. These range from moving allies on to weight sensitive pressure pads to open doors, to mind-controlling enemy penguins and pigeons to kill off hard to reach enemies or push buttons that would be inaccessible otherwise. Although I welcome an attempt to innovate on the existing formula, these elements are awfully disruptive of the game’s pacing. A handful of times it wasn’t exactly clear what I was supposed to do to complete these puzzles, which left me backtracking in fear that I had missed something. On two separate occasions I had to reload a checkpoint to get an AI character to complete his scripted task, which all further exacerbates a problem with the game’s flow.
Soylent Green is Chicken
Despite the obvious material a ‘military side-scrolling shooter... but with birds’ motif provides, the humour is never overbearing. The fact that everyone is some breed of bird is pretty much taken as a given, and never played up as a joke. This understated approach really helps to add a charm to the whole affair; with comedic accents and silly dialogue feeling like a regular part of the cohesive cartoon world on offer here. Even more admirably, there isn’t a single pun about a ‘hard cock’ anywhere to be found within the game. Although the same can’t be said about its trailers.
Hardboiled Chicken is a straight laced, no-nonsense protagonist who says very little aside from the occasional pun. He is a bird of action, rather than words; an obvious riff on the ever-popular Rambo-type, complete with a bandana. However, just like the bird-motif, references to influential material and pop-culture are minimal. Instead, the game presents itself in a very matter of fact way, with the main source of humour being the comic ineptitude of the fascist Penguin army and its leaders.
It lends the game a charming novelty that doesn’t feel forced, overbearing or smug like that found in indie titles like Retro Rampage or Broforce. The plot for this game gives us some humorous backstory for Hardboiled Chicken and escalates the previous games proceedings by introducing ‘Space Owls’ and their taste for Chicken flesh.
Bizarrely, I wasn’t quite sure if the game was drawing influence from Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey; the central plot has Chickens being abducted and being made into a food source, alongside the mechanic of being able to take over the minds of enemies (albeit through a mobile phone). All this is quite similar to the early plot details and central mechanics of Abe’s Odyssey. In addition, when exiting the minds of enemies you end up physically blowing them up, which in itself is strangely similar to how Abe exits the minds of others. This all takes place in a meat processing plant much like the earliest parts of Abe’s adventure, so the similarities can’t be ignored. It made me consider if there were other pop culture references hidden in the secret cults and space faring owls that were simply so obscure I wasn’t able to notice, understand or decipher them.
Although quaint and charming, Rocketbirds 2 is an odd collection of influences that always seem ever so slightly at odds with itself – as if something were lost in translation from its development team’s native language.
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner?
I enjoyed my short stint with Rocketbirds 2: Evolution, clocking in around 6 hours for the main campaign. It didn’t overstay its welcome and provided an experience that was entertaining, if a little unremarkable.
Aside from the campaign the game offers replay value in a second co-op campaign in which you can replay re-mixed procedurally generated versions of the campaign’s levels looking to rescue bird hostages. This offers both local couch co-op and online multiplayer, although there was no-one on the servers at time of writing. Local co-op is a huge bonus for me, with not enough titles offering this, especially on the PC.
Pacing issues aside, Rocketbirds 2 provides a fun experience that I wish spent more of its time focusing on the action, instead of mundane and rudimentary puzzling elements. Fans of the original will love this, and those looking for a throw-away action fix could do a lot worse than give Rocketbirds 2: Evolution a shot.
Fun, fast gameplay for the most part. Unique sense of character. Local and online co-op.
It’s an odd duck. Puzzle elements are dull.