After Rocket Science's great promises in '94 and poor delivery in '95, many gamers are somewhat skeptical about the company's upcoming release lineup. The thing is, looking at the newest titles, it's obvious that the harried development house has learned quite a bit in the past year about what PC fanatics really expect for their software dollar. With Rocket Jockey, Rocket Science is trying to create a title that is not only good looking and novel, but also delivers the most important element of all: good gameplay.
While Rocket Jockey is at its core a combat racing game, it bears almost no resemblance to anything that has come before. In each of the three different modes - Rocket Racing, Rocket War, and Rocket Ball - players strap themselves onto huge engines and fly around a large arena. What makes this tricky is that these engines have almost no maneuverability, and so players must fire cables at passing objects: poles, walls, etc., and use centrifugal force to steer themselves around the course. The end result is captivating, and delivers a completely different challenge than most players are used to. Even more exciting is that drivers can (and will, again and again) fire these cables at opponents and their rockets as well.
The combat aspect of Rocket Jockey is surprisingly addictive. Not only can players shoot lines at an enemy rocket and pull it off course, but they can also latch on to drivers who have been unfortunate enough to fall off their vehicles and drag them behind their rocket, or if feeling particularly nasty, sling them off in the direction of a nearby wall. Clever players will discover that by shooting each end of a cable to a different pole and then releasing that line, they can leave behind a trap that will clothesline any of their foes who aren't careful about where they're headed.
Each of the three different modes offers a distinct challenge. Rocket Racing emphasizes speed and careful maneuvering, Rocket War is a last-man-standing contest that rewards the aggressive contestant, and Rocket Ball is a bizarre challenge in which racers attempt to latch on to huge balls and throw them into goals at either end of the field while trying to prevent their opponents from doing the same. All of these competitions are to be networkable, with Rocket Science promising up to six-player simultaneous competition.
Will Rocket Jockey make everyone forget Rocket Science's arrogant entry into the games market two years ago? Probably not. But Rocket Jockey shows that the company is ready to settle down and start making quality titles that place more emphasis on gameplay than on slick graphics or catchy marketing. And let's face it, a company that's willing to listen to the gamers can't be all that bad.