Rock of Ages II: Bigger & Boulder review

When I encounter a really outlandish game like Rock of Ages 2: Bigger & Boulder, I like to imagine the elevator pitch that started it all. See, Rock of Ages 2 is an action game wherein you roll a boulder through obstacle courses in levels based on famous artworks, music, folklore, and historical battles in an effort to smash your enemy’s castle, while your enemy tries to do the same.  Meanwhile, the game also features tower defense and really weird cut-scenes that feel just like Monty Python skits.

If that was Rock of Ages 2‘s elevator pitch, it makes me think its developers must work in a really tall building.

Game info
Genre: Racing / tower defense
Platform/s: PC / PS4 / XBO
Reviewed on: PC
Developer: ACE Team
Publisher: Atlus USA
Distributor: Digital

You might’ve gathered by now that Rock of Ages 2 is a really, really weird game. The story follows Atlas, who has fallen into the world he was supposed to be holding, as he rocks and rolls through famous events and artworks. Each level pits Atlas against either a famous military figure (like William Wallace or Joan of Arc), or someone from the art world – like Vincent van Gogh or The Scream.

It’s divided into two parts. There’s the boulder-rolling, action-racing segment that sees you smashing castles, and there’s the tower defense segment where you must prevent the enemy from doing the same. Levels are comprised of two identical tracks for you and your opponent, and the game quickly becomes a desperate race to assault and fortify.

The boulder-rolling is the game’s stronger side. It’s wacky, and the boulder’s sense of weight and momentum makes it immensely satisfying to smash through walls and catapults. The controls take a lot of practise, and the game’s early hours involve a considerable amount of frustration as your boulder goes veering off the track again and again. There’s a variety of boulders to choose from, each with different stats and some with unique abilities – like better jumping, or the ability to prevent areas of the track from being fortified.

Unfortunately, it’s let down by its tower defense gameplay. There are numerous issues that strip away the value of proper strategic defense, making essentially half of the game mostly meaningless. Resources required to build defenses accumulate too slowly, so you’ll quickly find yourself defending small parts of the track instead of building maddening obstacle courses like the AI does. There’s a variety of traps and defenses, but nothing ever feels particularly powerful or useful. Enemies will always seem to be far better at the game than you, able to easily breeze through your elaborately designed defenses.

The game also feels painfully slow in areas. Once your boulder is rolling it’s fast and exciting, but there’s a long delay as your next boulder is being prepared. This is when you get to build defenses, but given the aforementioned issue of slow resource gathering, you’ll often find yourself strapped for cash and twiddling your thumbs for a while. The boss battles suffer from this slow pace as well – which is a shame, because fighting a massive sea monster or The Thinker could’ve been fun. Instead, you roll around an arena in which you can’t actually die while waiting for an obvious opening to attack.

Despite all that, Rock of Ages 2 is fun to play. It’s delightfully silly, has a unique art style, and will be unlike anything else you’ve played (besides its predecessor). It also has numerous competitive modes for both online and local play, and there are several customisation options for dressing up your boulder. Given that the game’s just gotten fresh Halloween content, it’s likely that it’ll continue to be supported in future.

70Rock of Ages 2 is an odd game, one that’s both amusing and frustrating. No part of it is downright bad, just misdirected and underutilised. Its art, humour, visuals, and destructive boulder-rolling make up for its negatives, resulting in one of the most unusual and memorable games of the year.

Here be dragons