By Scott Ramage / August 28th, 2020
|Title||Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break
|Developer||ACE Team, Giant Monkey Robot|
|Publisher||Modus Games, 3goo|
|Release Date||July 21, 2020|
|Genre||Tower Defense, Strategy, Racing|
|Platform||Switch, PS4, XBox1, PC (Steam)|
|Age Rating||T for Teen|
Let’s start with five words that should have prevented me from reviewing this: I hate tower defense games. The only way I could hate them more is if someone added visual novel elements to them. However, ACE Team is not like most developers, and Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is not like most tower defense games, in part because it also incorporates racing elements. Sounds strange, but as is the case with the Rock of Ages series as a whole, strange doesn’t begin to cover what’s at work here.
Story is fairly light in Rock of Ages 3, though it does serve as the framework for the game’s structure. It starts with Greek mythological figure Odysseus and his men getting trapped in a cave with the man-eating giant Polyphemus. One tutorial later, they break out of the cave, blind the giant, and try to sail away. This all follows The Odyssey fairly closely, until Polyphemus throws boulders at the ship, one of them being the game’s namesake, the Rock of Ages. Said rock flattens Odysseus, so the much lesser known Elpenor gets cursed by Polyphemus’ dad, Poseidon, to sail all over the world, encountering various people, animals and entities from various regions, time periods and theologies. Various rock-based shenanigans ensue as Elpenor and his men try to find their way back home.
Describing how Rock of Ages 3 plays is both simple and complicated. It’s simple in that virtually every mode involves rolling a rock down a hill. It’s complicated in that the game has a surprising (and refreshing) number of ways to approach an otherwise simple idea. The primary mode in single player involves two competing armies, both constructing obstacles to stop the other team’s rock from rolling into and destroying their castle’s gate and crushing whomever or whatever is inside. Rocks can be destroyed if they take too many hits or fall off the map too often, forcing the player to either start over or wait until a new rock is ready. Even if not destroyed, they’ll do less damage to the gate by being slowed down or heavily damaged. Outside of that is a number of different takes on the main mode, each varying in how much they lean toward the racing or tower defense aspects of the game. My favorites involved straight up races with other boulders, rolling a bomb with an active fuse through an obstacle course, and playing this game’s equivalent of Skee-Ball. It probably won’t surprise you that my least favorite mode was the one that was no racing and all tower defense, making sure the gate can survive two rounds of a series of rocks rolling down from an opponent’s hill.
All of this is part of the single player campaign for Rock of Ages 3. Elpenor’s ship is dumped on a large world map, with a timeline that leads forward and backward to various points locked by a star count. The idea is to earn enough stars to complete three “boss fights” of sorts, then take on Poseidon to earn a trip back home. Stars are earned by completing various modes at each spot, of which there are usually four or five, each earning anywhere from one to three stars. It’s entirely possible to complete this mode without doing most of the tower defense-focused modes, and I know that because that’s exactly what I did. The “boss fights” aren’t tower defense, but I struggle to describe what they are without spoiling anything because they aren’t quite like anything else in the game. Even if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get this game for the single player, I recommend playing it for these boss fights to see just how creative the developers got with a game about rolling around a rock.
What sorts of obstacles does Rock of Ages 3 have on tap? A surprising amount, actually. It starts with basic stuff like walls and catapults, but as the levels progress and more bizarre worlds open up, all sorts of strangeness gets unlocked. There are giant windmills to blow rocks off ledges, lions dangling from balloons to grab and claw at rocks, Da Vinci-esque tanks, guillotines, springboards, airships, canons, exploding barrels, cows that stick to rocks, whales that suck up and spit rocks away, and a carousel-like contraption with boxing gloves on the ends and morning stars above those, just to name a few. Even though there’s a limit to the number of obstacles that can be used for each stage, it still allows for a lot of creativity (and cruelty) in using different obstacles with each other. Unfortunately, it can also lead to frustration. When a boulder is pushed off the path, it drops back on the hill near where it fell. In later stages where obstacles are packed tightly together, this can mean spawning directly on top of another obstacle and getting destroyed or thrown off the level again. Given the race against the clock going on in nearly every mode, this all but guarantees having to start over.
Obstacles aren’t the only unlockables in Rock of Ages 3. Different “rocks” are unlocked by winning different battles. Each “rock” has different stats for things like weight, damage, durability, top speed and acceleration, in addition to more nuanced abilities like higher jump height or not being affected by ice. I’ve been putting “rocks” in quotations for a reason, because some of these are absolutely not rocks. Things like snowballs, balloons, cows, fists, and giant wheels of cheese can be unlocked and rolled down hills. There are several of these to unlock, but in truth, I only used maybe four or five of them because the slight advantages to most of them were outweighed by way too many drawbacks to be worth using.
Part of the appeal to Rock of Ages 3, and Rock of Ages in general, is its presentation. The music is mostly remixes, incorporating both classical and modern rock instruments for tracks themed around the worlds they play in. I never got tired of hearing them, much like how I never got tired of the visual design. Monty Python is an obvious inspiration, given the mix of period-appropriate art and comic elements at work both mid-game and during cutscenes. The latter also take inspiration from various other media, creating some bizarre yet entertaining pop culture mishmashes. I don’t normally laugh out loud at video games, but when I recognized mythological figures mimicking the intro to one of my favorite 90s cartoons, I completely lost it. There are some minor hiccups here and there, such as on the versus screen before certain single player matches. Restarting would cause one character to face the wrong direction, which sometimes made it look like Elpenor was trying to start a conga line. It’s weird, but nothing that affects the gameplay.
What does affect the gameplay in Rock of Ages 3 are a few annoying little problems, mostly on the technical front. One thing that bothered me was the lack of explanation for how certain things work, particularly one mode where it was never clearly explained that it was possible to double jump. Beyond that, I noticed that the game’s performance seemed to get less and less consistent as time went on. The framerate would drop, blurs would become more prominent and, for reasons I still don’t understand, the camera would abruptly change positions in a single frame, nearly killing my rock. This happened for only a few stages, but always happened around the same place. The only thing that bothered me more than that was the game crashing a couple times. The game has already been patched a few times, but from the looks of it, it could use a couple more.
There’s one thing I’ve glossed over to this point with Rock of Ages 3, and that’s the “Make & Break” part of the name. This game includes a creation suite for building and sharing multiplayer maps. Said maps can be applied to a few different modes, allowing up to four people in a game at a time, or two on local split-screen. I didn’t find many other people online, but I did find a ton of maps that showed off just how ridiculously fast the rocks can move and, on the flip side, just how many obstacles could be crammed into as small a space as possible. Creativity is certainly not in short supply for the custom levels already uploaded.
I have mixed emotions with Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break. There are nagging technical issues and the game design incorporates a game genre I despise, but I can’t deny how much fun I had with most of it. I got about six hours of entertainment out of the single player campaign alone, close to an hour of which was me begrudgingly playing the modes more focused on tower defense. $30 might be a bit much if you’re like me and aren’t as into the tower defense aspects of the game. If it goes on sale though, go right ahead and be prepared to rock and/or roll.
Review copy provided by publisher.
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