If Monty Python made a game today, it would probably be terrible. It’d probably sink into the pit of unimaginative cooperative FPS malarkey, filled with outdated references, terrible puns, and abysmal mechanics, and the gaming community would look on, and be sad.
Now, Rock of Ages isn’t a Monty Python game, but it draws fantastically well on their quirky humour, and tops it off with being a rather fun little game that stands perfectly well on its own.
In ancient Greece, Sisyphus was cursed to eternally roll a boulder up a hill. Every time he reached the cusp of the hill, the boulder would slip, and Sisyphus would start afresh, forever doomed to be rolling his boulder up an eternal hill. We Greeks have evil minds.
In Rock of Age’s not-entirely-correct backstory, Sisyphus, in frustration, decided not only to escape his endless torment, but to roll his boulder down the hill, out of hell, and into the maw of history, crushing whoever got in his way. Think Marble Madness, but while crushing most of history, and with more flatulence.
How this actually plays out is that you roll your boulder down a surprisingly intricate series of historically-themed race courses, aiming to crash into your enemy’s gate at the bottom with as much momentum as possible. It’s simplistic, but I found grasping how to control the boulder was about as intuitive as you can get when discussing controlling rocks, and soon enough was crashing my rocks into the gates of history with gusto. It’s silly fun, but catapulting yourself into an elephant at high speed and watching it barrel into the void never quite gets old.
Yes, there are elephants in Rock of Ages, but there’s also lots of other stuff to go along with them that mean there’s more here than just rolling. The courses are mirrored, and while you try to crush your foes into stony pulp, so will your competition, and to stop that happening, you can stick elephants in their way. Not just elephants, towers, dynamite, helicopters and cow-catapults are also available to try and deviate your foe from his deadly course. Hit their boulder hard enough, and it’ll fly off your track, gaining you momentary respite. Do that enough times, and it’ll shatter entirely. It’s strangely reminiscent of tower defense, but lacks something of that genre’s addictive flow – you can only place defenses at predetermined points, and it generally doesn’t quite work out as you’d hoped it would. Still, what would have just been a game of “rolling down the hill quite fast” can quite quickly become a rocky duel to the death.
While the gameplay may be fun, the cutscenes are bordering on stellar. Before each story mission, you’re treated to a paper-cutout movie telling more of Sisyphus’ tale, and they’re often really, really funny. I’ve rarely giggled so much over so short a story, and some are strangely historically accurate – while Sysiphus never really crushed Napoleon at the gate’s of Madrid, the entire story still remains a rather pleasant gander through my memories of primary school history, except with a lot more silly voices.
Once you’re tired of the story mode, there is always more to push on for: split-screen multiplayer, time trials, and enough achievements to keep you busy for awhile. Still, at this price point, the story itself is exceedingly good value for money, and the entire package is practically essential. It’s hardly going to shape the path of gaming history, but Rock of Ages is still without a doubt one of the best ways to spend a fiver on Steam or XBLA. Go forth and buy.
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