Perhaps the most bizarre combination of genres we’ve seen on the digital market this year, Rock of Ages is just as quirky as Ace Team’s first-person brawler, Zeno Clash, but is much more of an acquired taste.
The premise is as follows: players adopt the role of a boulder who accompanies the tormented tyrant Sisyphus (of ancient Greek mythology) in his bid to get one over on Cronus, the titan who imprisoned him to an afterlife of perpetual agony. However, this isn’t a romp through Grecian locales of ancient beauty; instead (for reasons that elude us) Sisyphus and his stony sidekick must travel to the future in order to rid themselves of their nemesis, stumbling upon a number of historic set-pieces and iconic figures along the way.
Split into 23 stages, Rock of Ages’ singleplayer campaign revolves around its primary game mode, War. Whether facing off against King Leonidas, Leonardo Da Vinci, or even the zombified forms of Aristotle and Plato, the same objective always applies; navigate your boulder into the enemy’s castle gates. The speed at which you collide with the gates and other modifiers (such as which boulder you use) will determine how much damage is doled out. Once the gate has been reduced to nothing but splinters, you are then free to roll over your petrified, defenseless opponent and win the match.
Requiring only two controller inputs (one stick to steer, one button to jump) directing the boulder doesn’t seem like much of a challenge at first. However, shift focus away from the physics-based platforming to the other half of the game and things start to get a little more complex. Instead of competing side-by-side on the same track, opponents race on separate albeit identical versions of the map, each half governed by the enemy player.
Using the money generated from destroying obstacles and other sources, you and your opponent can purchase units to hinder each other’s progress. Each unit is available in three flavours, the most powerful commanding the highest prices, and can only be stationed in specific areas.[drop2]Static structures such as towers and bomb barrels can be placed in order to seal off shortcuts whereas cows, wind turbines, and catapults are used to knock the enemy’s boulder off-course. After a little experimentation, you’ll begin to adopt specific strategies, knowing which units complement each other and where best to erect them.
It’s an interesting mix of genres, though one that isn’t executed to perfection. There will be the occasional scenario in which units can effectively incapacitate (or even destroy) a boulder, though these are rare in comparison to the number of times a player will be able to use dexterous platforming to skip the enemy’s defences entirely.
A similar effect can also be achieved when gambling with the in-game physics; depending on how they are arranged, bombs, cows, turbines, cannons, and catapults can sometimes propel a boulder forward instead of obstructing it. Though effectively made of two parts, Rock of Ages definitely leans more towards its platforming side, despite the amount of focus dedicated to its tower defence mechanics.
Time Trials, Obstacle Course, and SkeeBoulder modes are also available, and like War, can be played online or locally against a real opponent. Despite giving Rock of Ages the presence of full-fat digital gaming experience, players will have to stomach a reduced frame rate during couch play.
Facing more exigent problems is the online multiplayer however; even the slightest falter in your net connection can result in delayed input-to-screen actions. It may sound fairly insignificant but precision and the need to retain momentum are vital when it comes to securing victory.
- Strong concept that is delivered well.
- Platforming is smooth, boulder physics are easy to read.
- Environmental back-drops look great.
- Goofy humour.
- With enough skill, you won’t even need to use the game’s tower defence mechanics.
- Unit selection and placement can be finicky using a gamepad.
- Attempts to inject replay value aren’t substantive enough.
Being such a unique game, Rock of Ages has very few contemporaries (if any at all) and is therefore difficult to compare with what’s currently on the market. It’s aesthetic character is certainly a highlight and, for the most part, gameplay is fun and increasingly challenging.
With that said it’s far from rock solid; the lack of balance between platforming and tower defence coupled with a handful of under-featured game modes and unstable online multiplayer prevent it from being a “must have.” Still, at £6.49, or free on PlayStation Plus currently, it’s a guilt-free option for those seeking a late-summer palette cleanser before strapping on their bandoleers for the upcoming barrage of gaming blockbusters.