Much 2009's Zeno Clash, ACE Team's first effort, Rock of Ages is a game which marries a strikingly unique and lushly crafted aesthetic direction with hybrid gameplay that could charitably be described as monotonously clunky. But while the genre melange may have changed (Zeno Clash being a first person brawler/shooter whereas Rock of Ages is a marble madness and tower defence mashup), Rock of Ages is just as vivid and flawed as its predecessor.
This isn't to say Rock of Ages isn't functional; just that it's far too unbalanced and repetitive to offer a rewarding gameplay experience. Its controls and camera are stilted and its strategic predilections aren't fully realized, to name but a couple of issues. Yet these flaws might well be worth nothing, depending on the effectiveness of its peculiar charms.
On the surface, Rock of Ages is a terribly silly game with a puerile sense of humour that only the Internet could love. The title screen, with its whizzing woodwind melodies and its 2D renditions of medieval folk jerkily dancing around a massive dopey faced stone, effectively establishes the sort of anarchic fun to be had. The plot? Bowling through art history as Sisyphus' infernal boulder.
And yet there's a distinct thread of thoughtful deliberation throughout the gleeful inanity. One scene in particular, in which Leonardo Da Vinci introduces himself to Sisyphus as “The Architect” in a sterile Mona Lisa papered room, goes further than just overt parody of The Matrix into an unprecedented annihilation of the fourth wall. “We are just part of an illusion,” he says. “Your sole purpose is to entertain people outside our world, in a deranged activity they call 'video games.'” In equal measure, both you and Sisyphus are floored. How significant is the individual – even a legendary one – in the grand canon of artistic accomplishment?
Time, or rather its deific characterization, hounds Sisyphus, from his initial escape of Cronus' punishment up to his final battle against Goya's adaptation of him from “Saturn Devouring His Son.” It's a cleverly appropriate way for a game about bowling through eras of human triumph to end with the conquest of time itself. In fact I'd say it begs the question of what exactly our artistic achievements would mean in a world without it.
Rock of Ages was released earlier this month and is currently available for download on Xbox 360 and Steam, a PC digital distribution platform, for $10.