It's rare that you see a game this brassy, or this classy – a bold genre fusion plastered with the fine art of antiquity. Rock of Ages dumps you straight into world of ancient mythology, where we find Sisyphus is getting a tad frustrated with the terms of his custodial sentence: Cronus is forcing him to push a boulder up a mountain over and over for all eternity. Sisyphus soon hits on the idea of using said boulder to squash his demonic oppressors, and bash an escape route through the gates of the underworld. So begins an oddball epic, with the ultimate underdog blazing a trail to freedom by confronting the great heroes of myth, and squashing them flat.
The game mechanics are a brazen mash-up, combining RTS, puzzle, and racing elements with a sizeable helping of Super Monkey Ball. Each level pits two opposing armies against each other on a narrow race track which, gold permitting, the rival generals can dot with myriad fortifications and siege engines. Each human or CPU player also commands a giant boulder, which they control from a third-person perspective; the objective is to weave through the enemy's defences, bash against the gates of his fortress, and crush the general inside.
It takes around three blows to destroy those gates, and once you hit them with your rock you're subjected to an interminable recharge time while your masons carve a fresh one. During these little breathers you can survey the map, place new turrets and battle cows, and take control of siege weaponry to slow or destroy incoming enemy boulders.
It's also a chance to soak up the ambiance. All the little figures that dance around on the HUD and populate the map are 2D sprites that look like they've peeled straight off of ancient Greek urns and medieval tapestries and come to life. The cut scenes in particular look like they're straight out of Monty Python, and when you roll your boulder off the track it's the hand of God from the Sistine Chapel that plonks it back into place.
The attention to detail is amazing, and the whole warped experience is moulded by a twisted sense of humour; this is the latest game from the quirky Chilean developer Ace Team, the same indie outfit that created the bat poop-insane action/adventure Zeno Clash.
Rock of Ages is refreshing, and fun in small doses, but its Frankenstein nature keeps it a tier or two below the true classics of gaming. The tower defence aspects feel fiddly and imprecise. Your God's Eye-view reveals hundreds of little map tiles where you can plonk your defences, and the expansive, three-dimensional maps make this process is about ten times as complicated as the tower placement in, say, Plants Versus Zombies.
Likewise, when in control of your battering ball it's difficult to weave through enemy forces that race to meet your with giddying speed – fail a track a hundred times, and you might just build up enough of a picture in your mind to divine an optimal route. Thus the single player campaign is an exercise in banging your head against brick walls until they break. Depending on the quality of your friends list, the long-term value of Rock of Ages probably lies in the chaotically level playing field of human-versus-human multi-player.