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Review: Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break

26 Jul 2020

The Rock of Ages franchise is already a pretty creative mashup. Blending Super Monkey Ball-esque action and tower defense, it’s hard not to use the work “unique” when describing it.

Once a game is on its third iteration, though, that’s about time the developer needs to consider adding something new and fresh. But what exactly can they add a premise that was already interesting and off-the-wall? Why, another layer of creativity, of course!

This time, though, the creativity comes from the player.

Developed by ACE Team and published by Modus Games, Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break was released on July 21st, 2020, for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. The PC version was played for this review.

You Can Roll Your Own Way

Rock of Ages 3 follows Elpenor, a sidekick of Odysseus in Greek mythology. Having had a curse cast on him by Poseidon, Elpenor is launched into a journey through time, bumbling his way across famous figures (both real and mythical) throughout history.

There really isn’t a plot in this game – it’s more a series of vignettes turning famous mythical and historical moments into comedy. Rock of Ages 3 has a very slapstick sense of humor, which did manage to elicit some regular chuckles from me.

As far as gameplay, this new entry is very much the same as past games in the series. The core game is, as mentioned, a blend of Monkey Ball ball-rolling and tower defense. Battles against AI or human players take place in two phases: building defenses along the path from your opponent’s ball-launch point to your castle, and then guiding your ball through the obstacles your opponent laid down to attack their castle. Repeat until one player manages to break the other’s castle gate.

I’ll admit – tower defense is one of my least favorite gaming genres. However, I didn’t really mind the way it was implemented in Rock of Ages for the most part. Knowing the work I was putting in laying down traps was creating a level for my opponent to play through made these moments feel rewarding.

Playing against AI opponents, though, is…extremely easy. Piling obstacles at choke points (narrow platforms or near jumps) was all I needed to do to throw them off and ensure my victory most of the time. Hell, during a fight against Moctezuma, the AI hit one of my obstacle piles and straight glitched out, started rolling in the wrong direction and repeatedly just stopping in place.

The single player campaign involves playing through a series of these battles (simply called “Wars”) against historical figures to collect stars. Each historical period, though, also includes a number of side challenges to earn more stars, putting more focus on one of the halves that make up Rock of Ages.

Ever wanted to play a giant game of skeeball against Genghis Khan? Well, that’s one of the side challenges available, and easily my favorite one. Obstacle course runs and time trials are also available in different time periods, all based around the ball-rolling gameplay half. These can offer up some decent challenges (especially the time trials if you’re trying to get every star available).

As far as side challenges I actively avoided, there are a couple of challenges based entirely around the tower defense aspect of the game. These were decidedly not fun, being that they were, well, straight-up tower defense games. Just not my cup of tea.

Despite the various side challenges available, Rock of Ages 3 does start to get repetitive about halfway through the campaign. It’s not a particularly long one, only lasting a few hours. I fell into a rut of repetition with it though – unlock a new time period, run the ball-rolling challenges, do the main War challenge, move to the next one. There’s just not much variety here.

However, that’s where the “Make” park of Rock of Ages 3‘s subtitle comes in. This entry in the franchise comes with a full level editor, allowing anyone to craft their own levels, ranging from simple skeeball and obstacle courses to full War stages.

The level editor is fairly intuitive to use, although I would highly recommend using mouse and keyboard rather than a gamepad for it. There’s full control of start and end points, how you want the track to twist, bank, and break, and what obstacles and environmental items you want to add.

My only real complaint here are the radial menus used to adjust track length and positioning. When the mouse cursor is held over a point of the track that can be manipulated, a menu pops up around it with options that can be clicked on. Said menu vanishes, though, if the mouse pointer is moved even just slightly outside of the icons. I would often have to call up the menu multiple times to manipulate the track, simply because it kept disappearing after I made too big of a mouse movement.

I will admit, I didn’t spend a ton of time experimenting with it. I did end up creating a few interesting skeeball and War layouts, though. I can imagine that dedicated players will manage to whip up some truly creative stages…and I also expect a flood of troll stages and layouts that look like genitalia as well.

Rolling With the Oldies

The Rock of Ages franchise prides itself on its art style, particularly in the animations that tell the “story” of each game. These moments are clearly inspired by the work of Monty Python, and I admit that ACE Team cribs that style well.

These weird, surreal, slapstick animations are easily the best part of Rock of Ages 3. They were the reason I continued to push my way through the campaign after it got repetitive, as I looked forward to unlocking a new historical period and seeing just how weird the introduction of the next character would be.

Stage design isn’t as memorable, but it isn’t a slouch either. Every historical period has its own theme, which differ enough that at least the style never really gets repetitive. Queen Elizabeth’s stages stood out to me in particular, with massive fire tornadoes spinning in the skybox.

The soundtrack, apropos for the game’s historical trappings, is made up mostly of remixes of classical music pieces. Many of these are instantly recognizable, but they can also get just as…weird…as the rest of the game.

Teetering on the Precipice

Overall, while the core of Rock of Ages 3 is solid, and it got me to kind of enjoy some moments of tower defense gameplay, repetition set in quickly. While I haven’t played the past two entries, they appear to be extremely similar to this release, so if I was finding things getting dull and samey over the course of one game, I imagine that feeling will be tenfold for series vets.

The level editor may prove to be a saving grace, allowing (in premise) near infinite content and creativity for players. However, only time will tell what will actually come with it, as it relies on the player base to provide said content.

At the very least, the game has style in spades. It was absolutely the ridiculous animations during the campaign that kept me going. The variety of environments for the different historical periods also assisted me in pushing through the grind as well.

Rock of Ages 3 appears to be more of the same. It’s crafted well…but it’s just not something that fits in my personal taste. For a tower defense fan whose never tried out the franchise, this is likely a good starting point. Otherwise, only hardcore fans need apply.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Modus Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Modus Games.