Rock of Ages Review

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Rock of Ages Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Ace Team

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

Sisyphus has escaped Hades. After an eternity of rolling the same boulder up the same hill, and never quite making it, he's devised a scheme to escape his torment. Of course, after spending so long with the same round rock, Sisyphus can't bear to leave it behind as he goes rampaging throughout history, facing other famous figures, each wielding their own enormous round rocks of destruction. In this decidedly surreal, boulder-enabled, castle-smashing simulation complete with cow-powered fans, you can face famous figures in boulder duels, or face off against other human players in boulder-to-boulder combat.

Kyle Ackerman

What is Rock of Ages? There's some racing, a fair amount of physics-based rolling, and a bit of real-time strategy. Rock of Ages is simultaneously bizarre, innovative and amusing. It also refuses to take itself too seriously, throwing in a fart sound every time there's just too much historical portent or gravitas bouncing around with the anthropomorphic boulders. It's all held together by a unique plot and an art style clearly inspired by Terry Gilliam's early animation. Perhaps it could be described as part tower-defense, part Super Monkey Ball and part Monty Python short. But I'm not sure that would do justice to Rock of Ages.

At its core, Rock of Ages is a cleverly conceived, faced-paced competitive game of rolling a giant rock into your opponent's castle. Each battle takes place on a track, split into two halves. Each player launches boulders from the middle, defending on one half and attacking on the other. Typically, you'll build defenses ranging from towers to siege weapons to explosives, while carving a new boulder. Cash to purchase structures (and deadlier boulders) is earned by smashing obstacles and enemy defenses. As soon as your next rock has been readied, you'll steer it downhill to smash down the gate to your opponent's keep and squish him flat. The winner of each match is treated to the loser's frightened squeal and then gets to squash the loser. It's very satisfying.

Matches can be extended slightly, but I like that there's no valid turtle strategy. Building defenses isn't about stopping your enemy's boulder so much as it is about slowing and damaging that rock. Slow the enemy down and you have a hope of smashing in his keep and killing him before he can do the same to yours and you. Damage your foe's boulder, and it won't do as much harm to your gate, possibly requiring your foe to roll more boulders down the hill than you. Still, no matter how much you slow your opponent, play is about gaining seconds, not hours. Matches are over quickly. A shortcut for your own boulder can be more valuable than a hundred defensive towers.

Rock of Ages is from the same developer that made Zeno Clash, and this just confirms that I want to see much more from Ace Team. They have such a marvelous way of looking at the world perpendicular to everyone else. Like it or hate it, it's new and different. And a little bizarre. The world is a richer place because of Rock of Ages. Terry Gilliam's style of animation is updated with tons of new pop culture references, with Sisyphus facing off against jokes from 300 and The Matrix as he herds his boulder through history. In the single-player story mode, Sisyphus meets everyone from the Spartans to Charlemagne and Napoleon as he passes from Ancient Greece through, well... Saturday. It's Ace Team, so while Plato and Aristotle make an appearance, it's only thousands of years after their death... as zombies.

I love the premise, but the game wore a bit thin before I'd finished the story mode and unlocked every variation on every unit. Fortunately, that was still more than long enough to justify the price tag. There's a bit more depth available in multiplayer matches (mine were all split-screen rather than online), in which you combat a real human foe, but if one player knows the map far better, that player will always win. The game also offers "Time Trial" and "SkeeBoulder" modes. The former involves racing through levels at top speed for medals, while the latter involves accurately hitting targets and then landing the boulder in a Skee-Ball like target for a high score multiplier.

One thing that decidedly breaks up the action of the story is the occasional boss battle that is either brilliant or deeply wrong. The fight with Michelangelo's David really has to be seen to be believed. It's sort of a third-person action game experience that really brings home the humor behind America's Funniest Home Videos. I'll also offer as a caveat: while I enjoyed playing, navigating the boulder and camera around a curvy course took me a few tries before I could avoid feeling motion sick, and despite the tutorial, it took me a while to realize how to build upgraded versions of basic defenses.

Far too many reviews say something like, "If you like X, you'll enjoy this game." Frankly, I don't care if you like X. Even if you hate X (or boulders for that matter), you should try out Rock of Ages. It's a fascinating game in itself, but it's worth supporting Ace Team in whatever weirdness they're exploring next.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on August 30, 2011 10:31 PM.

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