Tuesday, September 13, 2011

-REVIEW: Rock Of Ages-
killer curves and a fiery red heat

Title: Rock of Ages
Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Atlus USA, Inc.
Price: $9.99 on Steam

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, rolling to time’s destiny / while I draw this fleeting breath, when thy rocks may smash to death / Rock of Ages, cleft for me, still I find no time for thee

eccentric boogaloo
Electricity and Eccentricity: two things I love. Both are invaluable when well-controlled; they make dreams come true and awkward moments magical. They add spice to life and humor to death. They question sanity and open doors to the unknown. Unfortunately, leave them to their own devices and what you inevitably end up with are exploding human parts and lots of uncomfortable pauses. I imagine ACE Team is full of little more than unadulterated electric eccentric, and whose ever job it is to lead this raggle-taggle gaggle of eccentrics simply does his (or her) darndest to distill this indecipherable whirlwind of electric eccentricity into playable games.

Rock of Ages is one such attempt.
 dancing with the devil

Rock of Ages is pure fun. I don’t mean this in a subjective, “Good lawd Jeezus I had sech a goode time with this ‘ah one” but rather in a more objective “the thermometer reads 99.9% fun, sir. Shall we start recording?” Rock of Ages takes nothing seriously but its gameplay, which is admittedly unserious in every way. In whatever world where being arbitrary is the status quo and being normal is only known to those who are dead and gone, Rock of Ages looks like any other game. In this world, it’s a clear attempt at making fun of everything anyone has held dear for whatever eschatologically arbitrary reasons they may choose to adhere to. But, the game itself is nothing more than an old friend with a devilishly delightful reputation.
For all its eccentricity, all ACE Team has really done here is crush Marble Madness, kart racing, and tower defense into their respective sniffables, tossed them about together, and added the incomparably viscous goop of two-player competitive play in a surprisingly palatable slurry of slippery-sliding third-person control, twitch-governed clickmania, and careful resource planning. Regardless of whatever else may have been sprinkled on top of this, it would be a rather fun game.

And yet, ACE Team’s choice to begin the game in the Greek Mythos still serves them well. Their irreverent treatment of characters throughout philosophical and classical history not only adds some honest-to-goodness humor to the game, but also solves the problem of boring loading screens, which seems to be an impossibility for so many other, larger games. The various backdrops based upon the time period you happen to be rolling through are also oxymoronically raucous and faithful to their foundation.
Despite having little to nothing to do with the actual gameplay, words must be written about how well ACE Team knows its mythos and history-related stuff, and how this knowsiness is used to great effect in each cutscene and character. I usually don’t gush about this kind of stuff, but here I think it’s worth talking about because it really adds something unique and fun to the game.

crashin’em and smash’nem and have’nem

The game is great largely due to its ease-of-use, and is as addictive in kind. The rolling rock is wily but not entirely of its own mind, providing an adequate sense of both control and uncontrollable kinesthesia. The rock barrels down steep slopes at predictably uncontrollable speeds, so despite not having control there is no frustration, while at other times it glides easily along mild grades, allowing itself to be quickly and easily turned. All this focus on creating a reasonable, even if not entirely realistic rock-motility (rocktility?) means the fun is never hindered by the controls.
All the same, many of the computer-related elements like the AI and UI and all other “I” words are somewhat lacking in complexity and perhaps equal attention to detail. The AI for each level is practically scripted, which makes each encounter much more like a puzzle than an encounter, and the defense phase is somewhat haphazard to begin with, until you’ve figured out a particular build order that then works for a majority of scenarios. While many of these problems are presumably avoided with the use of human opponents, they’re still obvious enough to throw a kink in the cogs of an otherwise well-run machine. Though if I may, a bitter, edgewise word (how about: bollocks) about uncharacteristic boss battles is also warranted here.

rock of ages, clefts and leaves

Rock of Ages is a rather rowdy good time that can be had an equally good price. Despite having some obvious shortcomings, it’s overall a well-packaged, well-executed piece of work. Customization choices in the multiplayer department that don’t require any unlocking also make it easy to purchase for only one reason or the other, though I’m almost suretain that the competitive itch is best served with a huge helping of human. Even so, the singleplayer experience is full of comedic, historically essential depictions that may leave you stuck with a chuckle or two in your gullet.
My recommendation is to pick it up and enjoy it, because there’s not much else out there like it right now.