The history of the arts, according to one bright spark, is also the history of ideas; that to create brilliance, one must have a brilliant idea and then re-enforce it with further spectacular innovations. Mondo Productions, the developers of Babel Rising, have got this concept half right; the idea of a tower defense game based on the biblical story of the tower of Babel is ingenious, but unfortunately Babel Rising is let down by a complete failure to follow-up this promising concept with anything vaguely interesting or invigorating, forcing tedium on the gamer faster than a Simply Red album.
Anyone who doesn't know the story of the tower of Babel really should; it is one of the more interesting bible stories outside the book of revelations. After the great flood, the descendants of Noah sought to build a tower city high enough to protect themselves from further catastrophe (despite God's promise to the contrary), and carried on despite arousing the displeasure of God, who destroyed the highest scaffolds with lightening as a warning. With this warning struck on deaf ears, God scrambled the workers' speech-patterns, ruining their communication and forcing them to stop their work. One supposed moral, that one may be silenced if they veer too close to the realm of God - as opposed to the mortal world where they belong - was apparently lost on Christopher Hitchens, who, as he got the closer to the vicinity of God, managed to find more words than ever.
Although that last nugget has little to do directly with the tower of Babel, the great dissenter’s fire and brimstone approach has been wholly embraced by Mondo, who have taken certain liberties with Babel Rising (thankfully; a speech impediment game probably wouldn't sell too well). Instead of the ability to muddle speech, one is given the power of fire, water, earth and lightening to stop those pesky workers from completing their task. In effect, it is a strategy tower defense game, with you as God utilising your powers to stop the workers, who use various means to achieve their goal, including siege towers, priests (who are immune to certain types of attacks) and pot-carriers, whose purple gas can stop you using your powers; a potential game-changer. Sounds promising, doesn't it?
This promise, and any enjoyment of the game, is disappointingly short-lived. The camera, which focuses on the tower itself and revolves around it is incredibly awkward, niggly and flighty, meaning that you continuously lose track of the often frantic gameplay; having your view-point spin like a drunk whirling dervish does not make for a satisfying and enjoyable experience, but then neither does the rest of the game. The gameplay described above? That's pretty much the entire game, just repeated for five horribly tedious hours. Attempts have been made to spice up the experience (naval warfare, for example), but even these barely depart from the core gameplay. It is fair to say that Babel Rising starts to drag pretty quickly; it may have a multiplayer mode, but I defy any player to sit down with Babel Rising for more than two hours before reaching for the amphetamines and a carving knife.
In terms of presentation, Babel Rising is like your mate's new partner who, despite being reasonably easy on the eye and boasting some nice features, really has very little interesting about them. Although the workers are well animated and clearly formed, the punishments suitably brutal and the tower itself nicely cel-shaded, the graphics somewhat fall into the general mire that plagues the rest of the game. Likewise, the music, although suitably cheery, grows repetitive pretty quickly and soon is fazed out by your brain as it desperately tries to form some sort of interest in what is happening on screen.
I know, I know, it does look interesting, and it is a great concept, but that is all it is. It is as though Mondo, realising that they had a brilliant idea, then simply sought to create a game around this idea without actually thinking to the potential results of this focus. Who cares that it is horrifically repetitive? It has the tower of Babel in it. Who cares that it is a shallow experience featuring very little interesting gameplay? It has the tower of Babel in it. Who cares that the camera floats around with the awkwardness of a girl who thinks you look like Justin Bieber but is pretty convinced you are not? It has the tower of Babel in it. Well, I care, and so should you. If you want to buy into an expensive idea go acquire some Facebook shares; watching your fortune diminish will be more gratifying than any time spent on Babel Rising.
This review is based on an Xbox Live Arcade version of Babel Rising, provided by the publisher. Babel Rising is also available on the Playstation Network.