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Rocketbirds 2: Evolution Review

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I’m not sure what’s creepier, a penguin with teeth or a talking pigeon. You might find yourself wondering the same thing once you jump into Ratloop’s new action platformer Rocketbirds 2: Evolution. You’ll be fed stranger and stranger scenes of anthropomorphism as this action-packed journey takes you from a poultry packing plant freezer all the way to the decks of a space-faring Owl-ian UFO. And its bird jokes all the way.

Stallone-like frontman Hardboiled sets out to kill the fez and goatee toting penguin Putzki for a second time, only to discover a martian plan to resurrect him everytime he falls. And so, Hardboiled sets his sights on the culprit Space Owls, pummeling his way through geese in black, the penguin SS, and scuba outfitted pigeons in an attempt to put down the warmongering penguin for good.

Rocketbirds 2 may be best summarized as an action-driven Oddworld or a puzzle-infused Metal Slug. It certainly borrows enough design, thematic, and mechanical elements from both – sometimes even too much. Sadly, Rockbirds 2 doesn’t seem to do much more than hand Abe an Uzi or Marco a crossword. Standard gunplay is fast, feels great, and gets better once the game introduces new mechanical components into the mix. For instance, your sidekick Metal can ride on your back and supplement your fire with his own shotgun. It’s a simple concept that makes gunfights incredibly satisfying to play, thanks to responsive controls and hard-hitting weapon sounds. However, like many other of its mechanics, the sidekick mechanic doesn’t travel far, as the game quickly proceeds on to a jetpack and scuba sequence before rapidly returning to standard gunplay for the majority of the story. The campaign is short and doesn’t take enough time to make the most of its mechanics before end-game.

Some puzzles are just too simple. For example, one obstacle has you leave Metal standing on a button to deactivate a laser system blocking a doorway so you may push forward. Easy. The game doesn’t then turn it around and require that you figure out a way to get Metal across the laser system as well. It just moves on. Many of these moments felt like missed opportunities for clever puzzle design and weakened the sidekick mechanic – which to me was the most enjoyable game mechanic – into more of a one-off gimmick.

Oddworld’s possession mechanic is also borrowed and turned into a cell-phone hacking device that gives players partial control of enemies and later a all-out mind control device that grants players full control. To hack an enemy, players must aim then precisely ricochet their device’s signal against wall after wall until it finally reaches its target. The mechanic was employed nicely though its inclusion did feel like a lack of originality rather than a nod to a predecessor.

Navigating the map could be challenging as some moments had you backtracking to look for secrets, keys, and switches. While I did at times feel lost, the game’s approach to navigation felt like an old-school touch that encouraged exploration and use of the map, sort of like a navigation puzzle. The map clearly demarcates areas you have yet to access and features color-coded doorways and labels, challenging players to work out their routes and rewarding cleverness.

Rescue Mode is a fully fleshed out mode in itself which allows players to create a character and join up with three other players to take on rescue operations. While most levels are made up of campaign level assets and at time mirrored areas, they’re markedly easier to navigate than the story environments, as they eliminate most backtracking thus overall feeling like a streamlined experience. Players can stack on each other, much like Metal was able to with Hard Boiled, and fire their weapons while riding piggy-back or use their partners as jump points to reach higher platforms. As players perform rescue operations, they unlock new playable characters and earn cash they can spend on ammunition, weapons, and more. It’s an extremely cohesive part of the game that often plays better than the campaign.

If it hadn’t been for a miserable online community, I would’ve considered Rescue Mode a major selling point for Rocketbirds 2. I never found more than two joinable public games in my time with it. Furthermore, every time I tried to join either of the two public matches, I’d receive a notification that the host had ignored my join request. I was left to couch co-op with a buddy, which proved incredibly fun but never got to experience the max of four players within a single session.

Hardboiled is well-voiced but lacks the one-liners you’d expect from this tongue-in-cheek action hero. The same goes for the game’s bumbling enemies. Stronger and better paced dialogue might’ve helped usher me through the strange story by way of humor and rewarding exchanges. While the mystery of the cooked chickens felt eerily familiar – a possible tribute to Mudokon Pops, it wasn’t structured in any sort of way to get me to care about who the perpetrator might be. Luckily, the game’s visual aesthetic was strong, reminiscent of Chicken Run in a creepy-but-full-of-character way, and sold the game’s bizarre setting of bird-on-bird warfare extremely well. Furthermore, the whole premise of pigeons and penguins acting as soldiers and chicken genocide was freaky but extremely memorable, at times taking me back to the likes of Feathers McGraw and Howard the Duck.

The 2.5D environment is nicely detailed throughout but features a dramatic shifting perspective that follows you as you navigate each room horizontally – i.e. the camera slightly leans against your movements to pronounce the depth of the environment – that may nauseate some. Mechanically it’s totally unnecessary, as you never interact with your environment depth-wise, and perhaps a simple gimmick intended for the PSVITA version of the game. One would think the “3D Effect” slider in the video options menu could at least taper the drama of the shift though it didn’t seem to affect my visuals on PS4 in any way.

I generally adore soundtracks that feature lyricized vocals. A few boss battles feature driving pop-punk, semi-industrial, and alt rock tunes performed by New World Revolution. While I didn’t know the artist before playing, I must say the selections were appropriately heavy, amping up the action when it mattered most, and featured top shelf production and songwriting. I’d love to see more of these kinds of collaborative soundtracks in games. Just saying.

I’m not so sure of what got Ratloop to bring chickens and Kalashnikovs together and I’m not sure most players will either. Penguins are evil – that makes sense, but how about the rest? Premise aside, Rocketbirds 2: Evolution is great fun for what it is but doesn’t accomplish much beyond competence. It’s a great addition to the PS4’s couch co-op library but should’ve been much more.

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