The latest iteration of this quirky “saga” is here: Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is truly something unique and different. This is a tower defense game combined with a kind of racing aspect that, in a first look, takes the genre and spins it around. The developers at ACE Team call it “arcade action” – driving a boulder over a twisty track filled with obstacles and traps. This aspect, combined with the funny Monty Python style of its presentation and brand new course creator feature work together to put a comedic spin on human history through the most peculiar of protagonists: rocks.
From the main menu, we’ll start by choosing “break” which starts the original story mode. Here, you must escape from Polyphemus’ cave (which works as a tutorial of sorts). After that, the player (and the stones) embark on a fantastical journey through time, dealing with the most uncanny situations in different periods of human history. Each of them requires the player to reach a set number of stars to unlock new levels. Not a lot of innovation here: you have a bit of freedom to choose which level you want to play after unlocking the last, but you’ll need to unlock as many stars as possible if you want to progress forward.
Gameplay is divided in two very specific types: assault and defense. In the first one, you are tasked to guide a huge rock through a winding path at the highest speed possible, avoiding many obstacles and carefully placed traps meant to slow your rock to a crawl, making it impossible to ram the castle doors at the end of the path. The rocks you can choose have many different characteristics that can be beneficial or detrimental to your progress. They can be lighter or have smaller (or slimmer) shapes that helps with speed and trap avoidance, but are harder to guide through sharper turns on the tracks. Bigger rocks are better to turn, but their heavier weight make them harder to avoid traps and obstacles. Each level must be studied in order to choose the best rock to the job. Traps also deal damage to your rock, making it weaker when you reach the final stretch of the path and must ram the castle doors at the maximum speed possible.
The second type of gameplay is defense itself. Here, you have a set time to explore the entire path, from the opponent’s start zone to the door of your castle and place a certain number of traps on the way so the enemy’s rock can’t reach the doors of your own castle (or do it in the worst conditions possible). Each of these traps has a cost, so you must place your towers, catapults, walls and elephants in the way with extreme caution not to run out of coins. After the countdown ends, everything happens in real time and you must balance a lot of variables simultaneously, which can be a bit overwhelming for novice players. This could be bothersome for some, since there’s not a tutorial on each of the traps strengths and weaknesses and, sometimes, their placement can be confusing. Playing on a console is also a huge disadvantage: joystick controls really slow down your actions, while playing on a PC with keyboard and mouse helps a lot.
The best part of Rock of Ages 3 is how each of these two playstyles complement each other. I personally dislike some of the defense levels as their pace and difficulty can be frustrating at times, but when combined with the rock racing levels, there’s a certain sense of balance and variety that creates a nice sense of accomplishment. This is even more true during some “boss battles”, when you and a historical character have the same goal: invade each other’s castle. On these, the gameplay switches between both assault and defense sections and you must place your traps and guide your rocks while the boss does the same. The winner is the one that can invade the castle first… and it’s not an easy job.
As stated before, playing on a console using just a joystick can be bothersome on the defense stages, but during the assault ones, it becomes a pleasure. Besides the tower defense levels, the game has a number of other challenges that can be played in order to get more stars and open new stages. These are time trials, in which the rock is changed in favour of a bomb that must reach the castle before it explodes or Humpty Dumpty, where you must control… you guessed it, an egg. So very delicate inputs are essential. These challenges can also be played in multiplayer mode. These missions are quite fun and really show the use of Unreal Engine 4’s physics. You must calculate speed and angles carefully and constantly correct the direction of the rocks to avoid explosive barrels or other obstacles.
The main inclusion to this third installment of Rock of Ages is certainly its track builder (the ‘Make’ mode). Fans of the series must be delighted with this option that adds a fairly robust and easy-to-use tool to create and share new levels. Anyone can quickly create a new level by drawing its path, adding decorations, doing a few test runs and making it available for friends and other players. This game mode is truly the big star of this edition and will certainly be taken to the extreme by the community, like what happened in games like the Trials franchise, with TONS of user-created motocross tracks available.
Rock of Ages III uses a very specific and pleasing graphical style, using palettes and themes that match each era of human history present in its levels. It combines 2D elements (like cutouts of the game characters and bosses) with 3D scenery inspired by many past cultures (like Hindu, Greek and Roman). During the defense stages, the top-down view is very functional, but when the screen is filled with many different elements, graphical performance can be a bit compromised, although it never reaches unplayable levels. This kind of situation is more prevalent in current gen consoles.
The audio selection is composed of modern rock & roll and pop adaptations of classical themes and some songs based on each ambient of the game. Unfortunately, some are a bit short and repetitive, making them a bit annoying when played “ad nauseam” while retrying some levels and challenges. Sound effects on the other hand are nice and the “simlish” language spoken by the characters is quite funny.
To sum it up, Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is the definitive version of this saga. It doesn’t break new ground nor reinvent itself as it suffers from some of its previous shortcomings like its repeatability. But this can be alleviated by its multiplayer mode and user-created tracks or your own routes. This is the best title for new players interested in this franchise and there isn’t anything like it on the market. It’s a bit of a gem, really.