Rock of Ages
Poor Sisyphus, doomed to roll a massive boulder up a hill only to watch it roll down again as soon as he nears the top. In Greek mythology, this went on for all eternity, but in Rock of Ages by ACE Team the outcome is a little different. Here we see Sisyphus go on a rampage with his giant boulder by using it to smash everything in his way. After breaking out of Hades, Sisyphus and his boulder tears through Sparta, Wallachia, Rome, Paris, Madrid, and many other locations while stopping occasionally to defeat a boss or two along the way.
Although the campaign mode is about Sisyphus, you are actually in control of his giant boulder. Your goal on each level is to use this boulder and smash down the door to the fort where your opponent is hiding on the opposite side of the map. Meanwhile, they are trying to do the same to you, so the victor is whoever can smash down their opponent’s door and crush them with the boulder. To make things a little more interesting each course is quite twisted and convoluted, so getting to your opponent is not a straightforward process. To complicate matters further, both Sisyphus and his opponents can also place defenses on the course to hinder or even destroy rival boulders. Defenses can only be placed in certain spots and require money to build, so you can’t go wild with them, but they can turn the tide in your favor if you are lucky.
After smashing your boulder into your opponents’ fort door, it takes a short while before it is rebuilt and you can do it again. During this waiting period, you can plunk down more defenses if you have the money or try and take potshots at your opponents’ boulder yourself as it rolls towards your fort. To earn more money you need to smash your opponents’ defenses while later levels allow you to purchase mines that generate income instead of providing defenses. However, as neat as the whole tower defense element of the game is, most of the time levels are won by whoever can reach their opponents fort the fastest. Supposedly the size of your boulder and the speed at which it smashes into the fort door determines how much damage it does to the door. However, the difference in damage appears to be negligible and we completed most levels with only three hits or four at most. The short period of time available to place defenses also makes it hard to come up with strategies other than stacking up whatever you can afford at choke-points. Defenses play even less of a role in early stages as you can simply jump over most of them, but later in the game, it can be very beneficial to slow down your opponent or destroy their boulder outright.
If you prefer offense to defense you can also spend your cash on upgrades for your boulder instead. These supposedly do more damage to enemy structures, but only last for one round and can be lost if you take too much damage, or in the case of the flaming power-up, land up in water. Whichever strategy you choose speed is of the essence and most rounds tend to be won by whichever player dawdled the least on the way to their opponent. In the campaign mode, most levels can be completed in under ten minutes and we usually finished each level on the first attempt. Of course, the game does have some achievements that can extend the playing time, such as collecting the special keys found on each map. Typically you only need to collect enough of these to unlock the next area and getting to them requires a bit more effort.
The campaign is set across five very distinct periods of art, so you can expect to see everything from Ancient Greek to Medieval, Renaissance Rococo, and beyond. The irreverent treatment of the different art styles of these eras is the highlight of the game and we looked forward to each new level just to see who we would be facing. The cut-scenes introducing your opponents, who could be anyone from Leonidas and Leonardo da Vinci to Vlad The Impaler and Napoleon, are laugh out loud funny in a Monty Python kind of way. The game is also packed with pop culture references, with the spoof of Castlevania to introduce Vlad being a highlight. Others, such as the 300, Matrix, and Lord of The Rings ones feel a little more dated. The boss battles use a completely different approach compared to the rest of the game and taxes your platforming skills instead. Since you control massive boulder maneuverability is not exactly its strong point, but some of the fights are funny nonetheless. For example, one of the bosses is a giant David statue and its weak spot is exactly what you would imagine.
The story mode can be completed very quickly, but thankfully there are a few other modes to keep players busy too. Time Trial sees you trying to reach the opposite end of the level as quickly as possible while SkeeBoulder requires you to hit targets on the way down and then try and land in the highest-scoring hole at the bottom. These modes are obviously the most fun in multiplayer, both local and online, but can be played on your own too for practice. War mode, which follows the same formula as the story mode also works better against a real human opponent as they tend to be more unpredictable and challenging than the computer.
Rock of Ages makes use of Unreal Engine 3 and while the visuals are not exactly state of the art they certainly have a lot of charm and character. The 2D paper-dolls used for your opponents are hilarious and the animations have to be seen to be believed. The levels and all obstacles are rendered in 3D, though, and look very decent. There’s even a picture-in-picture view of your opponents’ boulder so you can see what they are up to while you are controlling your boulder. The soundtrack is just as wacky, but it is the sound effects that really steal the show. Once again everything sounds very tongue-in-cheek and Monty Pythonesque, especially the fart sound when you crush an opponent with your boulder. When it comes to steering your boulder a controller with analog sticks feels much more natural, but a mouse is much better for placing defenses in the top-down sections, so we ended up playing the game with a keyboard and mouse combination. If you plan on playing the game in split-screen mode with a friend then two controllers are highly recommended, though.
All in all Rock of Ages is a lot of fun while it lasts, which is unfortunately not that long. The campaign mode is quite funny, but not without its flaws and the concept feels a bit more suited to multiplayer. Instead of coming up with good defense strategies the best way to win is usually just finding the fastest route through the map. It’s nice that new defenses are introduced on almost every level, but most of these are just upgraded versions of older ones that cost more. When falling off the track it is also easy to become disoriented after the giant disembodied hand picks you up and places you back. The handy signs pointing the right way helps in this regard, but they are not always visible depending on where you are placed. Finally, there were a few occasions where the physics felt a bit wonky. Despite these gripes, we had fun with Rock of Ages, and considering the low asking price, it’s a great little game to play when you feel like something that doesn’t require a lot of mental effort.
- OS: Windows XP/Vista/7
- Processor: Dual Core 1.6 GHz or better
- Memory: 1.5 GB or higher
- Graphics: 256mb video ram or better (GeForce 7 series or higher/Radeon HD3000 series or higher)
- DirectX®: 9.0c
- Hard Drive: 1.2 GB
- Sound: Windows supported Sound Card
- Internet: Online play requires Broadband Internet Connection