I admit, I want to make one Monty Python reference after another, but I'm going to try to refrain from that because it would take me a week to carefully construct a review made up entirely of famous quotes from the comedy troupe, restructured and modified to fit the motif of the game. Instead, allow me just this one:
What... is my name? My name is Sisyphus, and I was forced to heave a massive boulder up the side of a mountain, only to do it over and over again for eternity. What... is my quest? I'm going to knock down the doors of all who oppose me in my noble quest for revenge! What is my favorite color? Blue - no... AAAAAHHHH!
And that's all for Monty Python. Moving onto the actual game, I have to say my feelings are a touch mixed. Yeah, the art direction is quirky and hilarious, but in the end it's just another tower defence game with a great style that sadly isn't even its own. You are Sisyphus, that king who was punished and forced to push a boulder up a hill for eternity, and for some reason you are going to use this boulder to break down the homes of various historical figures. You and your boulder will be travelling throughout time, starting in ancient Greece and ending up in middle ages Spain; if there's a story beyond that, I didn't pick up on it. I do admit that the little animated cutscenes that explain who you're fighting next that serve as loading screens were honestly hilarious. There were references to 300 (in the Sparta level), and even jokes about The Matrix, where your character is told he's just a character in a videogame! Say what you will, I thought it was brilliant!
Well, you don't actually play as Sisyphus, you control the boulder he was carrying. You're being rolled down a hill so you can crash down your enemy's gate at the bottom. Along the way you're going to be dealing with the natural terrain, the winding road, cliffs, various civilian buildings, and the many traps your opponent sets. In between runs down the hill, as you wait for another rock to be created, you can also set up your own defences to combat your enemy's boulder.
There aren't too many different units to choose from - about eight in total. Each one of the different units has three upgrades that you unlock as the game progresses, which cost more. To get gold to buy units, you have to destroy random buildings, people, and enemy traps along the way. You also get money for hitting the enemy's gate, for some reason. The eight units are as follows: beasts that push the enemy's boulder around, towers that impede their speed, catapults that attack, a manually controlled mortar, floating automated mortars, fans that blow their rock around, explosives that blow up when hit, and miners that automatically get you more gold. It's pretty simple, but the size and shape of the maps really allows for some interesting strategy to evolve. While rolling down the hill, however, you have to avoid losing too much health, because if your rock breaks you have to build another one, which loses you precious time.
After you're done with each time period, you're treated to a boss battle. Well, 'treated' isn't really the world since they're all simple, and as far as I could tell they were nearly impossible to lose. Each boss had a very simple mechanic to utilize, but they all consist of “ram headfirst into their weak point”. It's not all that bad, but I do consider it a missed opportunity for real innovation.
While the gameplay is solid, the story mode is really short. I was able to beat the entire singleplayer campaign in an afternoon while doing my various chores. In between bouts of Rock of Ages, I baked a homemade apple pie, made dinner for my family, fed our pets, did loads of laundry, checked my e-mail, and went on about a half dozen errands to the store to get supplies or coffee, and still had this game done before dinner. When it was all said and done, I spent about three hours on the entire story mode, and once I beat the final boss I was thinking to myself, “really? That's honestly it?”. Sure, some of the levels can get kind of tough, but none ever actually gave me much challenge and I never had to play any individual level more than three or four times. If you're looking to expand your play time, you can search for all three hidden keys in each level, but since you can easily get about two thirds of them in a casual play-through, I doubt it'll keep you busy for long.
At least there are other modes, however. The game offers time trial mode on all of the levels, each of which has its own online leaderboard, as well as skeeball. Yes, you can play skeeball and it's actually kind of fun! Skeeball mode has the same basic idea as the main game: you go down a hill destroying as much random stuff as you can for points, but once you hit the end it's a giant skeeball target instead of a castle door that you need to break down, and the hole you get your ball in dictates what your multiplier is. It's fun, but I really saw no reason to go back to it since it's actually really easy to cheat: keep jumping at the wall until you get in the 6x multiplier hole.
But that's okay, since the game is clearly meant to focus on the multiplayer. You can play local split screen or on Xbox Live, and the gameplay is nearly identical to the story mode, but playing against human opponents is honestly much more fun than playing against an admittedly poor AI opponent, since as far as I can tell there are no difficulty settings. I played a few rounds with a friend of mine and I have to say, I imagine the multiplayer having much more longevity than the story mode, though it still won't last long until we get some DLC down the line.
I'm rather torn about this game. It had fantastic production value for a £10 (800 MSP) game; its graphics, art direction, and score (comprised of classical tunes) were all exemplary, but beyond that, there is little to recommend it. The campaign was fun but short, even with all the collectibles and time trial mode; skeeball mode is a fun distraction but has no replay value since it's so easy to cheat; and multiplayer is plenty of fun but lacks longevity. Rock of Ages is indeed a good game, but there's just not enough content to it. Give me another 25 levels and call me back.