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Rocking Pilot | A Blast From The Past Built To Last

Gungrounds bring you Rocking Pilots - a twin-stick shooter inspired by arcade classics. Shoot, blast, slice and mow down wave after wave of...
  1. Aidan O'Sullivan
    Rocking Pilot is a new twin-stick shooter indie game on Steam, only released on May 15, selling for €5.99. It is available for both Windows PC and Mac. Set in a world where war is live-streamed by news broadcasters, Rocking Pilot brings a modern feel to the old twin-stick classic, and it works wonders.

    Take control of a deadly helicopter as you shoot, blast and slash at countless foes while simultaneously having to dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge from their own attacks. Your wings aren’t just simple propellers, but are themselves sharp and deadly rotor blades, which can mow down enemies like blades of grass. For the bigger and tougher guys, Rocking Pilot provides you with a diverse and wonderful pool of weaponry to wreak havoc with, ranging from missiles and lasers to nukes. It also features an Overdrive mechanic, which renders your death machine immortal for a very brief period of time. This not only prevent you from receiving damage (turning you into an invincible lawnmower), but it also reflects all bullets away back towards the enemy.

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    My first thought when I booted up the game was that the music is badass! It got me really pumped up and excited - and the game didn’t disappoint. From start to finish this game is an adrenaline rush, pure chaos and mayhem with a hint of strategy as you desperately try to eye up your next escape route in what is a relatively small and very clustered map. It’s not for the eyes of the claustrophobic. There are four worlds which each bring a different backdrop which do little-to-nothing other than make it obvious that you’re somewhere else. Setting the scene is a job best done by the game’s soundtrack and gameplay - you just want to dive in.

    The missions are challenging to a degree. The developer Gungrounds does a good job of mixing it up with the limited number of mechanics. With basic missions like survive, get X amount of points and kill all enemies to missions that make you have to think like ‘destroy enemies using only your propellers’. Missions have three requirements for you complete in order to progress, and the rotation of the aforementioned requirement doesn’t get stale - which is mainly a tribute to the gameplay. The enemies are for the most part simple creatures. Foot soldiers (a.k.a propeller fodder), armoured tanks, etc, etc … the standard enemies you’d expect to find in an Arcade shooter. The enemies that you’ll find that give you the most difficulty are the Kamikaze Pilots. They track you down, which can be pretty daunting whilst avoiding a sea of bullets. If they miss you, they simply pop off-screen to loop back around and track you again. These off-screen shenanigans are where the problem is, because these turns can be sharp and immediate, or they can loop up over the corner of the map and almost flank you. Seeing one of those things disappear is like losing the spider under your bed - you know the next time you see it that it will already be too late.

    The game forces you to be aware, in a different way than most other games. In each mission you’re only given three lives. The map is quite small, so you’re reaction time has got to be sharp - but if it’s too sharp you’ve gone and thrown yourself into a crowd. Overdrive’s invincibility is a great tool for these circumstances, but you need to respect is as more of a failsafe than a style manoeuvre. You should use it to manoeuvres to the next item drop or safe corner. Dying in this game makes you feel stupid rather than angry, which is nice. You want to keep going back to the game, you know you can beat it - it’s just about execution, and you feel over chuffed when you pull it off.

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    There is a multiplayer element to this game - the dreaded leaderboard. However, this game brings an interesting approach to it. You’re set a series of targets as you scale the table. ‘Get to X place by getting Y amount of points’. In these online score missions you basically have one life to complete rounds, each greatly increasing in difficulty, and rocketing you up to the top. This round system is where my only issue with the game lies. It acts as an autosave feature. So if you rank from no.286 to no.219 in the first round, your score and position are saved. Every time you die, which is a lot, you simply pick up at your last checkpoint and retry until you reach the next checkpoint. It makes it too easy to climb, and doesn’t reward a great run as your gameplay is stopped once you reach the required amount of points. Having said that, it does create a tense race to the finish line scenario, but I feel the old fashioned your best performance is your best ranking kind of ranking to this building block system. It feels more like grinding for levels than scaling a leaderboard.

    The game’s plot doesn’t leave much of a mark with the player, even though the devs do a great job in creating a witty parody of the news world. The game is filled with the ‘run-em and gun-em’ hero, and a flurry of cliched villains. While the Gungrounds do a great job of creating a parody, the game still seems to fall under the genre of a plotless masterpiece, akin to Bro-Force and Helldivers, where I just wanna skip straight into the action. There were times, I admit, I started skipping through dialogue. This isn’t because of any weakness in the dialogue - in fact I’m a big fan of the satire, cynicism and wit in this game’s script. It’s just the gameplay definitely steals the show and renders any plot slightly irrelevant.

    I still love the scene where the newscaster outright breaks the fourth wall and destroys modern subscription packages: “We’re bringing his demise to you dear viewers, live in glorious Ultra-HD-16K detail for premium viewers and ad-supported 480p for everyone else!”. There are multiple little moments like this where the game can give you that sensible chuckle, like referencing the loud music, and offering to use the bad keyboard with the soda spilled all over it. The writing is good, and perfectly suits the over the top theme the game has going, it’s just I feel the dialogue scenes will go over the top of may people’s heads.

    Final verdict - I enjoyed the sh*t out of this game, and you should definitely give it a chance too. As games of pure gameplay go, I find it to be more addicting than Helldivers and the other games of this genre. It is an excellent homage to the classics, and for only €5.99 it should have a spot in every arcade lover’s library.

    Rocking Pilots
    Rating : 2

    You'll like if...

    • You're looking for some mindless carnage.
    • You like games with a challenge.
    • You miss the simpler days where gameplay drove the game, not graphics the size of the world.
    You won't like if...
    • You require a more intellectual stimulation, or a game with a captivating plot.

    Don't understand the review score? Look it up, dummy!

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