Rock of Ages Hands-On First Look PreviewBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Mar 25, 2011
It’s no secret that kids are suckers for Greek mythology, and the only thing they’re bigger suckers for is the chance to step into the shoes of mythical figures. Enter Atlus’ tower defense, Marble Madness-inspired, action strategy title Rock of Ages, in which players assume the role of the legendary fallen king Sisyphus, who was famously banished to hell and doomed to push a massive boulder up and down a mountain for all of eternity. I know, it’s not the most obvious choice, and God of War fans won’t be looking over their shoulders anytime soon, but as we learned in our first hands-on look at the game, in practice, this set up provides a quirky and unique backdrop against which to set one of the year’s most original titles.
Like I said, the game loosely based on the legend of Sisyphus, but rather than actually seeing Sisyphus, the game just puts you in control of a boulder, Katamari Damacy style. We couldn’t glean too much storywise from the couple of unfinished cutscenes we were shown, but the scenes did show off the game’s spectacular, Terry Gilliam-inspired animation style, which had us chuckling, even without any dialogue.
The game is set across five different periods: Ancient Greece, Medieval, Renaissance, Rococo, and Romanticism, each of which carries a decidedly unique art design. Each of the levels takes place in a different Mediterranean city, and each ends with a boss battle. The boss list hasn’t been revealed yet, but we did get to see one in action, a towering, goofily evil version of Michelangelo’s David, which sported a fig leaf to cover his naughty bits, in case you were worried.
Gameplay in Rock of Ages is a mixture of tower defense (or more like tower offense) and real-time strategy play styles. While the game features a full single-player campaign, our hands-on time was limited to two multiplayer modes: War and SkeeBoulder.
In War, each player starts on an opposite end of a map. The object of the game is to break into the opposing player’s castle by bashing in their front gate and crush their leader. You can only hit the gate once at a time, so you want to make each one count (i.e. be sure you have as much momentum as possible). And every time you take damage, your boulder chips away and gets smaller and, more importantly, weaker.
When a match starts, you have the option of either jumping into boulder mode, or taking some time to build up your defenses. You can swap between the two modes at will throughout the match, which creates a nice balance of attack and defend ala a typical RTS. The map is divided into sections, some that you control, some that your opponent controls, some that you can build on, and some that you can’t. If one of your buildings gets destroyed, your opponent gains control of that plot.
Some of the installations available to you are deterrents such as catapults, dynamite, towers, and, obviously, cows. You can also plant cash farms, which are particularly useful as they generate money for you throughout the battle, allowing you to build bigger and better defenses or spawn stronger boulders. The farms take up quite a bit of real estate though, so, again, strategy is crucial.
There’s also an aerial attack that you can buy for $25 or $50 a pop depending on how much you want to spend. This bring up a giant red target that you can then guide around the map in attempt to blast your foe’s boulder to pebbles. It’s a bit like Missile Command meets Marble Madness, and it’s just another way the game eliminates the sit-back-and-watch design of traditional tower defense games.
The other mode we checked out was SkeeBoulder, which is basically a large scale version of Skeeball, in which both players try to rack up multipliers by smashing through wooden targets on their way towards the finish line. The couple matches we played were fast and fun, but it’s hard to see it having the legs that the other modes have.
For a game in which you are just rolling a rock down a hill towards a castle, we had a surprisingly heart-pounding time during our demo, and can’t wait to see and play more in the coming months as we get closer to the game's release on PC, Xbox Live Arcade, and PlayStation Network.