Three quarters of an hour into my first game in Babel Rising’s ‘Survival’ mode on the first tower, I realised that I wasn’t going to fail unless I did so on purpose. I’d steered clear of the ‘Easy’ option; having thus far found the campaign a bit dull, I was looking for something a bit more stimulating. I did not find it. Getting a high score on this, the first of three towers, was clearly going to be a case of endurance rather than skill. The other two unlockable towers are certainly more difficult to defend, but spending what turned out to be a full hour straight on the Ziggurat was a great way to come to grips with the game’s misguidedness.
You play a vengeful god in Babel Rising, a tower defence game that takes the term extremely literally. You’re smiting corrupted priests and worshippers who are trying to build towers to, we assume, get all up in your heavenly grill. Your foes trek up winding structures, building them higher if they get far enough up without you stopping them, while you shoot at them with the elemental powers you’ve equipped yourself with beforehand. There are earth, fire, wind and water powers (although no heart power, unfortunately – sorry Ma-Ti). You pick two elements before each level, and are assigned the three powers connected to them. They’re all pretty similar, coming with a directed attack, a wider area-of-effect attack, and a super attack that needs to be charged up by using the other two, capable of killing a great many little dudes at once. You can play with either a controller or Kinect, but after a single game with Kinect you’re more likely to unplug the sensor and hurl it into the nearest available fire than continue on.
Coming back to my earlier dalliance into ‘Survival’ mode – the first half hour was solid, albeit unspectacular, fun. The continued grind, however, was enough to make me realise that I wasn’t particularly keen to ever play the game again. Once things ramp up a bit you’re bombarded with little guys keen to finish building the tower, many of whom project auras that prevent you from using certain powers on them. Since you’re only managing a few powers there’s very little variety to how you go about killing these guys. Others are holding cursed jars, capable of temporarily blocking you from using the power they’re killed with. You’re meant to leave these guys alone, but actually picking out which one is letting off all the purple gas in a group of the little guys is difficult, especially in the campaign mission that explicitly demands that you avoid destroying 25 of the damn things.
Speaking of the campaign, the mission designs display the troubling paucity of the developer’s ideas for these mechanics. Babel Rising is, unfortunately, quite tedious, because all your objectives boil down to doing the same thing over and over and over again. If a level is focused on killing priests, it’s focused on killing a lot of them. If you’re to simply survive until time runs out, time won’t be running out any time soon. This is the sort of game where you’re always craving something new and interesting, hoping that the game will surprise you on its next level or zip you between a lot of short, cool levels that play around with the numerous powers the game has given you. This never happens, and the campaign wraps up after very little play time.
There’s multiplayer too, although it’s not the sort of thing that you’re likely to spend much time on. The co-op is a nice idea, in that it allows you and a friend to wield all four elemental powers at once, but there’s no online option and we can’t envision any scenario in which Babel Rising is going to look like an enticing prospect in a social situation.
Babel Rising is an unfortunate mix of interesting mechanics and poor design. It’s fun in fits and starts, but finishing a level yields a sense of relief rather than achievement. Count us among the non-believers.