Rock of Ages Review
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On 09/19/2011 at 02:44 PM by Stanton Daries
I am more interested in the 'Rock of Ages' than I am in the age of rocks.
For anyone looking for a fun and entertaining story and can put up with some flawed mechanics. Or those who like games where you roll things.
I am always happy when an XBLA game comes out that is more than just a skinned engine or a shooter with no story. Rock of Ages, created by ACE Team, is a memorable game for the unique way in which it recounts various events and persons in history. While it is an enjoyable game, it will quickly wear thin with its incredibly unbalanced game engine.
Despite what the users in the world would have you think, the main character in the story is, well, a rock. But not just any rock, it is THE rock, the one that Sisyphus was forced to roll up the hill for all eternity in Greek mythology. Eventually tiring of this punishment and multiple looking of the pitchfork, he realizes that the best way to escape his predicament is to use the massive boulder as a weapon against the forces of Hades and make a daring escape.
Each level continues the story of the rock as it is used against various historical figures throughout time. The most interesting thing about the game is the way each cutscene is told in an art style that is characteristic of the period in question; for example the entire Greek saga is shown in cutscenes with two dimensional artwork in the style of Greek black-figure. Each era’s artwork is entertaining and crisp and adds enough flavor to make the similar level designs feel different enough to fend off any feelings of monotony.
Rock of Ages has been marketed as a hybrid tower defense game and that is an apt description. Gameplay is usually broken up into two main areas: an attack stage where you roll your boulder into an opposing base’s gate and a building stage where you attempt to build enough obstacles and structures to stop your own opponent’s less famous boulder. While the concept is unique there are some definite gameplay balance issues related to the strength of the boulders that can make the defense phase almost feel pointless.
The boulder controls are similar to something like KatamariDamacy or Super Monkey Ball; at slow speeds you can control it nimbly and with minimal effort. At higher speeds however all of that momentum makes turning a truly difficult task so you better hope you are going in the right direction. Your boulder has a health gauge and along the way you will encounter multiple obstacles to either navigate around or crash through. Each collision costs you health and shrinks your rock, but at the same time gives you money for your own building phase or for upgrades to your boulder, like wings for higher jumps or spikes to cause more damage.
The goal is to eventually crash the enemies' gate which will take damage based on your remaining size and momentum. If you don't totally destroy the base, you will be sent to an overview grid of the map where you work on your defenses while a new rock is built.
These defenses are composed of towers for static road blocks, animals which try to push and prod the boulder off path, and ballista (or similar projectiles) to physically attack the boulder's life. You can also try to time direct attacks against the opponent’s boulder with an aerial weapon drop, though this tends to be very difficult and I have yet to successfully do so.
Both multiplayer and single player follow this same general format as above and I found both experiences to be relatively even, with the human players doing more or less the same strategy as the AI and myself. I think the reason for that has to do with the overpowered boulders themselves.
The defenses, while easily placed in an intuitive fashion, are nearly a non-factor. The boulder is so overwhelmingly strong, especially when it has gained momentum, that it will crash through any obstacle in its path. Your defenses that attack or deflect will affect the boulder but only in the most minor of ways. If you are stuck on a map where there are no choke points or places to let the rock bleed off momentum the game will essentially turn into a race to see who can build and steer their boulder the fastest repeatedly. I tried multiple strategies that ultimately resulted in the same experience of it coming down to who would be first to get their boulder to the enemies' gate three times.
Hopefully ACE Team will release a patch soon to make the tower defense portion of the game more enjoyable but right now it is something really only worth playing for its very fun and entertaining story.