Rock of Ages is a one of a kind combination of racing and tower defense encased within a bizarre and humorous alternate historical take on the world. The result is something that is both absurd and original.
In Rock of Ages players take control of a boulder in order to smash down an opponent’s castle gates. Once broken down, the helpless opponent screams in terror as you move in for the kill by smashing them with the boulder. In between being able to attack an opponent’s gate your followers have to rebuild the boulder for the next run. This gives the player a chance to put down towers, catapults, fans, and even angry livestock to prevent, hinder, and even, in some later stages, destroy an enemy’s boulder before it can reach the player’s gates. Of course the opponents are gunning for the player’s gates too and can also put down their own set of elaborate traps in order to lengthen your path through the level or chip away at your incoming boulder.
As the boulder takes damage, its healthbar will deplete and as it goes down the boulder will break apart. When the boulder breaks up it loses mass and limits the amount of damage that can be done to a rival’s gate. There are also special boulder specific power-ups that can be applied such as iron armor which makes the boulder invincible for a short amount of time, or even fire which gives the boulder an increase in damage. Of course, destroying obstacles or an opponent’s weaponry does grant gold rewards so there is an interesting risk-reward balance to the offensive and defensive strategies. The levels are also built high in the sky, so falling off an edge while racing to an opponent’s castle is a very real possibility. Luckily, the game does not penalize the player for falling off an edge with respect to the health of a boulder. Rather, the amount of time to reset the boulder onto the level’s terrain can mean the difference between winning and losing in a very close match. Of course, these game mechanics would mean nothing without the incredibly absurd, but hilarious plot setup of Rock of Ages.
For the course of the single player campaign, players take on the role of Sisyphus. For the uninitiated, Sisyphus was a Greek king who was sentenced to eternal torment in the realm of Hades. His punishment was to roll a boulder up a hill, but as he was about to reach the top, the boulder would slip from his grasp and roll back to the the bottom. He would then have to go back down and try it all over again. During the course of this punishment, Sisyphus has had enough and realizes that if he lets the boulder roll back down the hill he can break down the gates of Hades, and escape into the mortal realm.
Upon his escape from the underworld, Sisyphus and his boulder companion (which for reasons unexplained by the game is strangely sentient) embark on a journey through not just different geographical locations, but also different time periods. Starting in ancient Greece, players move through the Middle Ages, the Rococo period, and all the way to the Romantic period. Throughout each age various historical figures are the AI opponents for each of the levels and each figure is introduced in a cutscene that aesthetically pays homage to Monty Python. Some of the historical figures include Vlad the Impaler (who’s introduction includes a wink and nod to Castlevania), Zombie Plato and Zombie Aristotle, and Napoleon. There are loads more characters and rather than spoil them all I will say that there are some really brilliant standouts as far as the humor is concerned. Indeed, the introductory cutscenes are probably my favorite part of the game primarily for their shear nonsensical nature.
At the end of each age (save for the first one) there is also a boss battle. The boss battles aren’t really tough and follow the standard rule of three. This means that an enemy’s weakpoint has to be hit 3 times in order to win. The intro cutscenes to these moments point out where the weakpoints are on the bosses so that you aren’t rolling around without a clue as to what to do. Of course, there are moments were the hit detection on the bosses can be a problem. In fact, collision detection overall is a problem within the entirety of the game especially around the edges of the level geometries. So don’t be too surprised to see a catapult shot send your boulder way, way off course in a clear violation of the rules of physics. However, while this problem can be a bit of a nuisance it doesn’t happen with enough regularity to be game breaking.
Another aspect of the single player campaign that tends to be a bit lackluster are the RTS elements. While the units provided are weird and quirky in line with the rest of the game, the units provided in the early levels might as well be non-existent as they can break very easily and don’t tend to hinder or damage the enemy to any large extent. Also the game’s camera doesn’t pan across the span of the level fast enough to get to a strategically important spot. This becomes less of a problem as levels get longer later on and have more places to set up good choke points. When combined with better unit types the tower defense elements begin to feel fairly competent, but even so it takes a while to really get going.
Rock of Ages also features a Time Trial mode where you race from the start of a level to the end attempting to get the fastest time possible. There’s also a Skeeball Training mode where the end of the level has a skeeball target setup. Knocking down structures nets you points, and getting the boulder into specific holes on the skeeball ramp provide different multipliers. In single player this is offered as a training mode for the multiplayer suite. New to the PSN version there’s also an Obstacle Course mode where the player goes head-to-head in a best of three series of races against an AI opponent. However, there are also obstacles that get progressively worse which will slow down you and your opponent in successive rounds. There are also power-ups to pick up along the way to help you get an edge through some of the trickier defenses.
Which brings us to the the multiplayer. Sadly the multiplayer in the PSN release of Rock of Ages is completely broken. Quick matching and custom game setup don’t work at all, and while it was possible to see games being hosted I could not connect to anything. There’s a forum that has been started on the ACE Team support forums for the game, but there has not been any response from Atlus or ACE Team regarding when, or even if, they are going to patch the game. For my money, I imagine that they will patch the game, but when we can expect it is still up in the air. For now though it sadly counts as a major strike against a game that otherwise is pretty fun. Rest assured though that when the online does become available I will update this review accordingly.
From a creative standpoint it’s an absolute miracle that Rock of Ages even exists. I’m flabbergasted that no suited executive in a board room at Atlus said “This game is absurd and crazy! There’s no way anyone would buy it.” Luckily for ACE Team that did not occur, and instead the incredibly quirky game has now finally made its way to PSN. To put the game into perspective, it’s like Monty Python got together and said “Let’s make a video game.” They brought together the animators and writers from Flying Circus and Holy Grail and created a game that crossed the NES classic Marble Madness with a tower defense game. They packed in about 20 plus weird looking levels, a bunch of historical figures as enemies, and an absurd premise involving Sisyphus to create a game that’s bold, original, and downright crazy. While it’s a tragedy that the online components aren’t working, the single player is robust enough to keep players engaged for around 5 hours in terms of content. Plus the local multiplayer does work, so if you have a friend and an extra controller that is an option. Moreover, it’s tough to be too hard on the game since Plus members will get it for free this month. However, the rest of you will want to hold off until a patch is issued to fix the game. But if you’re in the market for something completely different and totally original (and don’t care too much for playing multiplayer), Rock of Ages has quite a bit to offer.
PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score
+ Bizarre story with a great sense of humor.
+ The most original game to come along in a long time.
– Online suite is currently broken.