September 13, 2011
Rock of Ages starts out with a humorous cut-scene that involves the Greek mythological figure Sisyphus. For those who haven't brushed up on their Greek mythology recently the legend goes that he was forced to push a boulder up a hill by hand only to see it roll back down again and again in an endless process for all eternity. Of course this would make for an incredibly boring premise for a video game so ACE Team have shaken it up by having Sisyphus decide to use the giant rock against, well, everyone. This decision is incredibly amusing as the player is pitted up against numerous historical and artistic greats.
To play up the historical angle the developers created a unique 3D world that has the non-playable characters appear as 2D cutouts. The game also includes some incredibly amusing cut-scenes between each stage which appear in a pop-up storybook like format, with some even referencing common Internet jokes such as the Sparta scene from 300. All in all it's an amusing take on classical art history that keeps the premise but modifies it for a video game and really helps to keep the player entertained. Not to mention, the Rock of Ages doesn't just stay in the classical Greek period as it switches between multiple classical time periods throughout the length of the game's single player story mode.
Each level in Rock of Ages is split into two continuous phases: offense and defense. During the offensive phase you guide your boulder towards your opponent's castle gate while keeping it on the track and evading the traps your laid down by the enemy – unless you want to destroy them, of course. During the defensive phase in which your workers are creating a new boulder you set the same traps your enemy set for you in an attempt to keep them from hitting your castle's gate. These phases occur in real-time so if you want you can stay in the defensive phase while your opponent's boulder is traveling towards your gate to stop them in their tracks or you can immediately go into the offensive phase and forgo setting up elaborate traps in an attempt to crush your opponent's gate early on in the match. It's a great design choice that lets the player decide how they want to play the game instead of forcing them to bend to the developer's whim.
With the player "playing" as a boulder one would think the controls would be a bit clunky, but they control surprisingly well. For those who have played any of the games in the Super Monkey Ball series think that but with the boulder having a little bit more weight and oomph to it along with the ability to perform short jumps. As stated earlier the end goal for each offensive run is to ram the boulder at the fastest speed possible into your opponent's castle gate in an attempt to break it down while avoiding falling off the map's edges. And as previously stated both you and your opponent can set traps and objects such as towers and catapults on the map. Every object destroyed nets you some additional gold which can be used to purchase new traps and objects but at the cost of decreasing your boulder's overall health, knocking off layers from the boulder making it smaller and eventually leading to the complete crumbling of the boulder if its health fully depletes. Money can also be used to purchase better boulders such as one that can fly for a short period of time and one that is retrofitted with deadly spikes, just to name a few.
One major flaw in the defensive phase is that due to the sprawling maps each stage takes place in, the opponent often times will take another route instead of the one that you laid all of your traps on. Rock of Ages does have a rear-view mirror of sorts that shows the movement of your opponent but unless you carefully study the map it isn't of much help. The game doesn't show the last path your opponent took either which is a glaring omission for a game which requires players to switch their viewpoint depending on the current phase. Thus most of the time the game devolves into a match of who can ram their boulder into their opponent's gate the fastest or use cheap traps such as a wind maker which often times blows the AI opponents off course.
Spread throughout the story mode are a few boss battles to liven up the string of 1-on-1 matches. Sadly outside of their unique designs thanks to the game's unique art style none of them are that challenging or memorable as each one boils down into the standard "hit the enemy's weak point a few times". While it's not a bad idea it doesn't really add much to the game in an overall sense. If ACE Team had crafted more varied bosses it could have been a nice reprieve but as it stands it feels like a way to extend the mode's length.
In regards to extras Rock of Ages has a nice variety to keep the player occupied. The staple multiplayer modes function exactly like the story mode matches except for the fact that you are playing against a human opponent instead of an AI opponent. The time trial mode is the exact same stages featured in the game but with the goal of trying to defeat the computer in the fastest time possible. The last mode, Skeeboulder, as you would imagine from the name plays like Skee ball but with a boulder instead of a ball. Save for Skeeboulder most of the modes are expected but it's nice to see a well-rounded set of modes in a digital download title.
Even though Rock of Ages can be easily completed in a few afternoons and most of the matches usually boil down to the same series of motions the game delivers more than its fair share of laughs, a great sense of art direction and spot-on controls. While it's not a game for everyone due to its unique mix of genres anyone on the fence should try out the demo and decide for themselves. Those that can look beyond the game's minor flaws will find a incredibly amusing and rewarding trip through the ages.
Rock of Ages was reviewed on the PlayStation Network. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.