Rock of Ages Review
Originality can be highly amusing. It can make you smile and scratch your head. When it comes to Rock of Ages, you just have to accept that you’re playing a game that magically combines racing elements with real-time strategy mechanics, and drops it all into a comedic historical setting with nods to historical figures like Cronos, Napolean, Vlad the Impaler, and zombie versions of Plato and Aristotle. That alone should intrigue you. Wackiness is nigh.
The graphics are simple without being stark; it’s not about flashy effects are picture-perfect clarity, and the presentation excels in other areas. The detail isn’t exactly supreme and the backdrops seem oddly colored to me, but there’s so much creativity and imagination involved that it’s tough to criticize. The cut-scenes are basically just animated storyboards that can be downright hilarious, and the in-game visuals are competent although not exactly crisp. It really is a mixed bag but at the very least, the aforementioned creativity wins out.
The sound is a bit of a disappointment, as there isn’t much in the way of a compelling soundtrack, and there are no voice performances. There are just a few humorous exclamations (similar to the LEGO games) during the cut-scenes, and that’s about it. The gameplay effects aren’t bad, though, as crashing into structures with your boulder is always satisfying, and the audio has a way of making you laugh. There just isn’t enough of it; there needed to be more music and more effects so as to give the experience a more intense and dynamic feel.
When describing the gameplay, I feel like I’m either drunk or I’ve got Turrets. Just when you think you’ve seen every possible blending of genres, something like Rock of Ages comes along and goes, “nope, check this out.” First, let’s start with the back story: You will play as Sisyphus (even if you don’t ever literally control a character besides the boulder), who was a Greek king sentenced to an eternity of pain and frustration in the realm of Hades. Yes, Sisyphus is the dude who has to roll the boulder up the hill.
He’s never allowed to make it and yet, he has to keep trying. Finally, one day, he realizes that when the boulder inevitably rolls back down the hill, it could smash the gates of Hades and set him free. He just has to be strategic about it. Strangely enough, after accomplishing this relatively easy feat in a pair of tutorials, Sisyphus clashes with other historical characters who, coincidentally, also have gates to be broken. …it’s a strange little parallel universe, isn’t it? You will go from the Middle Ages to the Romantic era and face down all sorts of rolling challenges.
Thing is, it’s part rolling/racing and part strategy. During the strategy part, you get a bird’s-eye view of the map (or course) along which your enemy’s ball will be rolling in an attempt to smash your gate. You must put any number of defense units in its path, including towers, catapults, and even cattle and big ol’ monsters that will actually chase the boulder around. The second part happens when your loyal comrades have built a giant rock; then you control it with the analog stick as it flies towards your target. Later levels feature longer, more complex courses, as you might expect.
There are quite a few defensive units to unlock and utilize, and even your boulder gets some extra love. It can earn some armor so it doesn’t break down as easily, and you can even set it on fire to enhance its damage-dealing capability. As you roll around, you will earn gold (which is in turn used to purchase units) for smashing enemy structures but at the same time, you lose some mass with every strike. And you will deal more damage to the gate if the boulder is bigger and traveling at a higher velocity. So it’s a cool trade-off: Do you avoid the structures and give yourself the best shot at the gate, or go for money so you can play more defense?
It really is a fantastically unique premise, and it can be very entertaining. However, there are a few obvious issues that plague the game from the get-go. Firstly, the physics are a little screwy, so while the momentum feels accurate, the collisions don’t. I mean, sometimes they do but other times, you’re flying across the screen because you got bounced by a cow…and that’s just silly. Later in the game, when the courses really get jammed with stuff, rolling becomes less fun and more an exercise in frustration and, in some cases, flat-out futility.
Plus, the strategy aspect really feels a little thin. There’s a fair variety of defensive units but there are only so many places you can put them, and luck seems to play too big of a role. It really all depends on how the enemy rolls that boulder, which makes setting up the defenses seem – although not quite futile – somewhat hit-or-miss. It’s not like you’re creating this grand defensive strategy, regardless of the units and amount of gold you have, and that’s due to the total unknown: Where’s the boulder gonna go?
That being said, the game is really a lot of fun, and the originality is so impressive that you find yourself smiling at just about everything on the screen, whether it’s gameplay or another funny cut-scene. Sadly, many players have been complaining about the multiplayer issues facing PSN users, and I encountered the same issues. Crashing, inability to connect, and few players is a problem. Hopefully, though, ACE Team fixes this because the game is a total blast if you can involve human players. It can really shine provided it works.
All in all, Rock of Ages is a really cool downloadable game. It has a lot going for it; first and foremost is that unbelievable innovation and blending of genres. The combination works surprisingly well and the control is fine, even if the physics and collision detection is a little off. The experience as a whole is too erratic, in that the defensive aspect doesn’t take much thought, and rolling the boulder through mounting obstacles can be daunting and annoying. But for what it is, this one should at least be attempted.
The Good: Appealing palette and presentation. Genuinely goofy and amusing. Interesting blend of two very different gameplay mechanics. Decent control and pacing. Totally unique.
The Bad: Iffy physics. Frustration can mount in later levels. Luck impacts strategy element too often. Significant multiplayer issues.
The Ugly: “So I got flung off the course by…what? Something else that couldn’t possibly budge a gigantic boulder?”
5/30/2012 Ben Dutka