Top Line: Rocking Pilot is a fun, fast-paced arcade-style game that’s a rapid-fire blast at its best and a bit of a chore at its worst. 3.5/5.
Rocking Pilot is everything it seems to be at first glance. It’s breakneck, chaotic, difficult, and unique. It has a old-school feel to it, complete with high scores for levels and character upgrades, and it wisely doesn’t focus too much on crafting a narrative, instead focusing on core gameplay mechanics.
The strongest part of Rocking Pilot is the insanity of the game’s levels. The player is given a helicopter that builds up from a simple machine gun to a set of nuclear bombs and superlasers, rendering the most intimidating horde of tanks and planes a smoldering pile of ash. The game then sends wave after wave of enemy ships, soldiers, and tanks after the player in a vain effort to stop dying. Avoiding bullets, running down scores of soldiers with propeller blades, and chaining together devastating combos of rockets, shotguns, lasers, and nuclear blasts makes racking up the score counter as challenging as it is, ultimately, exciting and satisfying.
However, the game gets a little weaker as it goes on. The addition of new elements to the game and enemies that move faster, take more damage, and break the flow of the player’s movements through the map are welcome, but some of the later stages fall back on gimmicks a bit too often. For example, the second stage introduces the concept of saving allied troops, which aren’t fun additions mostly because the AI in control of them is very, very stupid. The AI for these allies seem programmed to run headfirst into their deaths, which makes dealing with them feel more like luck than skill; dependent on where the troops spawn rather than how you get to them. It also takes away from the instinct of self-preservation that makes the game so white-knuckled thrilling. Combining this in later stages with challenges like “save allies without blocking bullets” or “save allies without shooting,” which again feel like artificial gimmicks, makes me feel less like a Apache helicopter and more like an medical helicopter.
I mentioned earlier that the game doesn’t focus on the story much, which is a good thing as the story is weak and ultimately unimportant; as such, the story that the audience is given is comparably weak. Pretty much every character is a stereotype of some sort, but not in a way that makes them endearing. For example, the main character is a snarky wisecracker who is not witty enough to win me over. The game gives the player the option to just click through the dialogue, which I did and which is why it doesn’t have a huge impact on my opinion of the game.
That said, with those being my only gripes with the game, why only a 3.5 out of 5? The answer lies in the brevity of the game. Granted, short games aren’t always a bad thing–just look at Portal. However, a game that short must also be tight. For the 2-5 hour playtime of Rocking Pilot, the faults stand out a bit more than they might in another game. With some more content, more score-blasting goodness, or a tighter story, the game could climb the proverbial ladder to a perfect score.
Bottom Line: I give Rocking Pilot a 3.5/5. It is a quick paced, fun, short action game with challenging and satisfying level. However, it can rely a bit too much on gimmicks in the later stages of the game. The story and characters also feel forced, but don’t detract too much from the overall gameplay.
All images courtesy of Rocking Pilot’s Steam page