There’ll be no Limp Bizkit here
Rock of Ages 3 finds itself rolling down the same hill as Rock of Ages 2, which followed the original Rock of Ages after it got the ball rolling in 2011. It is, for the most part, the exact same premise as those two entries, a fact that likely isn’t lost on the joke-heavy nature of the game’s universe.
So, for those who haven’t been here before; Rock of Ages is a competitive hybridization of tower defence and Marble Madness-style arcade platforming. Think Kingdom Rush combined with Super Monkey Ball, with fewer chimps and more talus. Each player is provided with a boulder and a castle, with the winner being the first person to crash through the gates and squash the opposing commander with their spherical artillery.
It’s a game you’ll find few equals to, which in part excuses the fact that this is another kindred entry in the franchise — if 2K sports games can continue to release every year, Ace Team can absolutely send the boulders rolling for a third time.
Between a Rock and Another Rock
There’s a new story-mode this time around, including new cutscene animations which are worth the price of admission alone. These are alt-history Pythonesque cut-out animations, with farcical scenarios and absurdist humour that make unlocking new time periods a highlight. The game’s tutorial retells the myth of Odysseus and Polyphemus, where before tying themselves to the underbelly of sheep to escape, Odysseus and his men first entangle the herd together into a sheep-boulder to open the cave’s exit.
The game’s presentation as a whole is endlessly entertaining, from the course designs you’ll uncover to the goofy fighting-game motions each commander performs before each battle. The story mode then consists of various standalone missions with a star system; you’ll be racing your boulder, skee-balling your boulder or engaging in boulder-on-boulder combat. There are boss encounters here too but, though slightly improved on previous efforts, they’re largely more frustrating than engaging.
War missions still make up the crux of the experience. They vary from a stand-off with the Hindu goddess Kali and her molten stone to rolling against the Giant Spaghetti Monster, who’s slippery meatball and propensity for guillotines make for a brutal battle. Controlling your boulder can be tricky at first; momentum plays a greater part here than in other more forgiving ball-rolling games, but it becomes incredibly satisfying to hop over whole portions of a track once you get the hang of it.
The gameplay itself hasn’t changed a great deal between entries, and it isn’t full of enough depth to warrant several hours of play, but then it isn’t necessarily trying to provide that kind of experience. It’s a surreal diversion, best engaged with in small bursts, or in multiplayer where the insanity really shines. Ace Team, and their partner developers Giant Monkey Robot, have packed more imagination into some of the track hazards — a lion strapped to a hot air balloon and the imposing whale are particular highlights — than most games manage in 20+ hour campaigns, and their continued efforts to provide something different demands appreciation.
Making Before Breaking
The major new inclusion in Rock of Ages 3, as found in its title, is in the ability to create your own tracks and share them with the community. This is a novel idea that I, unfortunately, found lacking. The tools available in the creator are fairly sparse; you are, after all, making a mostly downhill track each time, it can’t hope to compete with vaster city-building sims or more comprehensive track builders of years gone by.
It’s a nice addition, but it doesn’t feel worthy of naming the entire game after the mode. But I am notoriously bad when it comes to most game creation tools, so that might be more personal opinion. It feels unfair to critique this aspect of the game when it should be judged by what players conjure up whilst using it, and at the moment, there aren’t enough community-created levels to say definitively.
There are a few other additions that freshen the experience for longtime boulder-bowlers. The Humpty Dumpty mode shifts focus onto protecting the fragile egg against a gauntlet of enemies that want him cracked. It’s a subtle playstyle tweak that’s welcome in a game so reliant on its simplicity.
If you’ve played Rock of Ages before and enjoyed it, Rock of Ages 3 is worth picking up for these additions, and in particular, for the new eras explored in the story. If you’ve never tried it before, you should, if only because of how different of an experience it is to any other game you’ll find. Where else will you hear the high-pitched squeal of Genghis Khan, helpless in defeat, the Mongol Empire’s fall signed and sealed by the deadliest of weapons, now rolling casually towards him; the swollen mass of an inflated cow?
[Reviewed on PC]