Rocket Jockey (PC) review
"The rocket jockey theatrically loses the grip with one arm as the cable disengages, but hangs on valiantly around the improbable turn anyway. How does the rocket not start to rotate and spin out of control, you ask? Well, obviously the guy sits on top of the rocket sled, and it has all these steering fins and stuff, so obviously it's going to zoom at a straight path when it reaches supersonic speeds! Don't ask so many questions!"
Rocket Jockey blues
Is there an inversely proportional relationship between original ideas and publication problems? Perhaps. But what about fantastic concepts of 3d worlds with narratively pleasing physics, set in alternative 1930s realities? With low-flying and slow-turning rocket sleds navigating obstacles by tethering tow-cables to the corners? There's probably a completely unique publisher limbo for that kind of thing.
This is a unique game. The physical and exposed action of high speed racing without windshields or any protection is, obviously, not unique by itself. Whether it is driving a motorbike, imagining fighter pilots in cabins without pressure - or fantasy-variants such as Pod-racing in Star Wars - the mere idea of sitting completely exposed while racing at crazy speeds is exciting.
But Rocket Jockey goes with that, and adds tow-cables into the mix. Want to turn a corner real fast? Shoot a tow-cable at a pylon, hang on around the bend, and then release the cable again. The rocket jockey theatrically loses the grip with one arm as the cable disengages, but hangs on valiantly around the improbable turn anyway. How does the rocket not start to rotate and spin out of control, you ask? Well, obviously the guy sits on top of the rocket sled, and it has all these steering fins and stuff, so obviously it's going to zoom at a straight path when it reaches supersonic speeds! Don't ask so many questions!
But the best moments in the game happen during the races. You can for example sabotage the other riders by tethering their bikes to poles. Or, thanks to the cable connect mechanism, you could set up a cable at neck-height at a gate. Or, if you ride particularly well, set up a cable combo that connects an opponent's back to a fence, and clothesline them briefly out of the race. After successfully completing the combo and receiving a bonus-point reward, your rocket jockey makes an improbable backflip on the bike and yells excitedly. Obviously he's not waving a hat or anything like that - I mean, that would make no sense while riding a rocket, since it would just blow out of your hand, and opening your mouth for too long into the wind would be unpleasant.
There are a bunch of these narrative subtleties that almost obey physics, and they make the gameplay in Rocket Jockey very successful. It places you on the bike, and provides a game-world where it makes absolutely perfect sense to engage the thruster, speed up to a competing rider, and clothesline them with a tow-cable. If you're on the receiving end of a move like that, you need to run across the field until you reach your rocket-sled. And then start it up again before rocketing onwards to catch up. Of course, if you take too much damage - or overheat if braking too much (this is an air-cooled rocket) - you are out of the race for good.
The setting otherwise is a parallel 1930s with impossible and apparently high tech rocket designs (which you can see from all the twiddly knobs on the steering levers). There's also the characteristic pilot flight suits, helmets and googles. The money-shots of the riders in action, typically flying through the air, but with their logo and callsign accidentally exposed in the picture. Nevermind the fantastic photo-op black and white shots, with the riders proudly showing off their rides.
The Dick Dale surf-guitar soundtrack perfectly punctuates it all, giving the game that complete and consistent setting required to make rocket-sled racing appear 100% probable. Not just on the surface, but also after playing the actual game. From the improbable towing wires, to the subtle character and flight-animation - this game achieves what game-designers dream of: to create a believable fantasy world where you do improbable things as if they were absolutely commonplace.
The game came out on one cd-rom - and received lan/ipx support through a patch a couple months after. It's possible to get the game to run on modern computers, but only with custom registry settings and extra library paths. Curiously, a 360 port of the game (with 3d acceleration) does in fact exist - but since the Rocket Jockey license tumbles in legal limbo, as neither Segasoft or Rocket Science exists any more - none of us can play it.
Community review by fleinn (August 16, 2011)
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