Rock of Ages ReviewOmar Elaasar
Sick of his torturous task of endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill only to be struck down when nearing the top, Sisyphus turns his punishment against his captors, using his boulder to crash through the gates of Hades and escape. So begins Rock of Ages, a wonderfully absurd combination of tower defense, bowling, and art history. Carefully crafted by ACE Team, who previously worked on Zeno Clash, it's a small wonder that they bring such a unique art style to Rock of Ages. The game's art design flows through various periods of art history, with characters and environments to match.
The game is full of charm and wit, with amusing Monty Python-esque animated shorts between stages. The humor pervades the atmosphere of the game, whether it is crack at the often parodied film 300, a face off against zombie Plato and Socrates, or a boss battle with Michelangelo's David. Each match is a race to the bottom of your opponent's hill, attempting to strike his or her gate with maximum force. The game occurs in two phases. In the first you will set up various defenses in predefined areas. Each has its own function, such as the catapults, which chip away at the boulder, or the wind which outright knocks them off the stage, making them lose precious time. As you set up these defenses, your boulder will be under construction. When it is ready you can proceed to the aforementioned race to the bottom, either dodging the defenses or running through them, and the construction paper people who man them, to earn cash to buy defenses for the construction phase.
The game however, falls apart as you play through the campaign, in which extended and repetitive play sessions exemplify the game's greatest faults. Despite ACE Team's careful crafting of chokepoints, shortcuts, and level layouts more often than not, winning a game comes down to who gets in the third strike first. While smartly combined defenses can send the opponent's boulder off track and cause major damage (causing them to do less damage upon impact with your gate) more often than not the damage needed to finally knock down the gate will be small enough the a third impact will shatter it. While the longer, more winding stages give an opportunity to outright shatter the opponent's boulder, your chances are usually undone by various shortcuts that allow you to skip chunks of the stage as well as the scarcity of resources. Your time is also limited by the fact that the longer you take to get to your opponent's gate, the better chance they have of striking down yours. In addition to the campaign, there are boss fights, which take place as arena battles and see you using such tactics as firing yourself through cannons to "break the balls" of Michelangelo's David. The animation here is similarly excellent and humorous, but these provide nothing but short distractions from the campaign.
Rock of Ages' faults are an error of balance. The "right" balance is dependent on the different tactics that players will take, and it is possible that a player who spends enough time studying the maps and shortcuts may be able to stop an opponent dead in his tracks. As such, the game is best enjoyed with a friend, as the inevitable mistakes will throw games into desperate showdowns, with last minute races to each others gate.
With this in mind, Rock of Ages feels most natural in its competitive Skeeball mode, which sees you and your opponent racing to land into a large skeeball target for multipliers, destroying objects on the way down for points.
As it stands, Rock of Ages is a glorious misstep, best enjoyed with a friend, and taken with a good sense of humor.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Omar Elaasar is an hobbyist artist, writer, and game developer, and is dedicated to playing obscure games in order to maintain his status as a most pretentious hipster.
About the Author: Omar Elaasar
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