In 2011 ACE Team, fresh off their debut game Zeno Clash, developed a weird tower defense/racing hybrid known as Rock of Ages. The game saw you building up defenses to try and stop an enemy boulder from rolling down a hill all while trying to get your own boulder down the hill. It was clever, fun, and sort of hilarious. Now they're back with Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder, and it tries to be bigger and... bolder. Does it manage to succeed, or should this rock just roll away?
The plot of the game sees you playing as Atlas. He's expected to hold the world up while God plans new creatures but accidentally drops it after getting tired. Running away from God, Atlas picks up a giant rock with a face and begins killing historical figures all across Europe randomly. It's not really much of a plot, but it is hilarious. As you travel across Europe and some neighboring areas you'll run into historical figures like Joan of Arc, Vincent van Gogh, King Henry VIII, along with some fictional characters like Don Quixote and Medusa. Each character is introduced in a goofy cutscene that looks like it was ripped right from an old Monty Python sketch. It gives a basic idea on who each character is and a brief overview of their histories while being quite funny.
Atlas is able to roll his rock all over a world map, only stopped by towers occupied by enemies. Once you reach a tower, you fight the enemy within, which is where the real meat of the gameplay is. In the first of two distinct halves of combat, you'll be placing units along a course, like a tower defense game. Your goal is to stop the enemy boulder from rolling down the hill and into your fort. It's very rare to actually completely stop the enemy boulder, but if you at least damage it and slow it down, you can lessen the damage it does to your door when it hits.
There are a variety of weapons and tools to assist in breaking the boulder, but I found many of them to be rather useless. Walls often crumbled as if they were made of cardboard, and springboard traps seemed like a nice idea before proving time and again to be easily dodgeable. On the other hand, a line of ballista made short order of an enemy boulder, and I could sometimes get them stuck in an infinite loop of spawning and being blown off the edge of a map by windmills. The enemy AI feels a bit all over the place with its ability to actually act against you, with the line of extreme competence and extreme stupidity constantly being crossed again and again.
As you build your defenses your boulder will be constructed. You can choose before the battle which boulder you want your men to build, and each boulder has different stats and advantages. A boulder made out of paint does little damage, but any spot it rolls over can't be built in. Another boulder has a cross on it which makes it slightly unwieldy but gives you extra money for taking out enemy structures. One I found particularly hilarious was the "Block of Ages", which is actually just a big cube. It's very awkward and more 'flings' itself than rolls, but it always does max damage once you make it to the enemy castle's gate. Your goal is to get past the enemy traps and smash into their gate as fast as possible while keeping as much of your health as possible. The more health you have, and the faster you go, the more damage you do to the enemy gate when you hit it.
Navigating around traps feels appropriately tough, with the boulder being just difficult enough to control to add challenge without being annoying. Keeping control over your momentum is important, and you can't just speed down hills as fast as possible as you won't be able to turn without flinging yourself off a cliff. It's not just enemy traps you need to watch out for, as there are also hazards built into each map. One map (based on the book The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha) has jumps with giants swinging their arms around to try to block them. Get close and the giants become windmills, a neat feature which doubles as a reference to the book. Another level is based on Van Gogh's famous The Starry Night piece while also featuring Baba Yaga's house wandering around and kicking boulders that get too close to it.
You'll continue switching between these two modes until someone breaks down the castle doors and squishes the other team's leader. Win, and you'll take down the tower, allowing you to continue moving across the world map and grab new defensive items. You can also revisit towers you take down, letting you replay maps in the new obstacle course mode. Here, you'll roll down the hill in a race against another boulder, having to reach the finish line before they do while avoiding traps. You can earn a star for beating the owner of the tower and a second star for winning the obstacle course race, and you use these stars to open up gates that unlock boss fights.
Unfortunately, each of the game's three boss fights never really felt that great to play. You'll get a chance to take on art pieces like The Thinker and the Sphinx, along with a totally random sea dragon, but none of them are that fun. The Thinker and The Sphinx both play pretty similarly, having you trick the boss into revealing its weakness so you can slam it, while the sea dragon plays more like a weird game of Frogger by having you platform to its location. These fights put the game's weakest elements front and center, which only serves to drag the experience down and make me wish I could skip past them. The only good side is that the bosses are almost overwhelmingly easy, so you don't have to put much effort into beating them.
Once you're done with the campaign there are some extra modes you can dive into. You can play levels co-op with your friends. As with any game, playing with multiple people only serves to make it more fun. There's also time trials that have you racing down hills without traps and trying to beat the posted times for medals. An online mode allows you to play a 2v2 match with other players. Since this avoids the problems of the AI's variable competence, I felt like I could get way more creative with the traps and have more fun with the game. It's the most fun I had with Rock of Ages 2 at least, and I'd suggest giving it a shot with some friends if you can.
At the end of the day, there's not much of a difference between Rock of Ages and Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder. However, that's not quite a bad thing. The racing and tower defense hybrid is still unique and fun at its best, even if the boss fights and AI let the game down some. If you enjoyed the original then you can safely hop in here and enjoy it again, though if you weren't a fan then Rock of Ages 2 won't do much to change your mind.
Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder just feels like more Rock of Ages. That's not bad, since Rock of Ages was rather unique and fun, but it's not going to win over anyone who didn't care for the first game.
- Hilarious Cutscenes
- Clever Gameplay
- Really Fun Online
- AI is All Over the Place
- Terrible Boss Fights