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June 2021

Rock of Ages III: Make & Break

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Modus Games
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: July 21, 2020


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PS4 Review - 'Rock of Ages III: Make & Break'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 27, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

A blend of tower defense strategy and bursts of arcade action, Rock of Ages III: Make & Break sees opponents rolling massive boulders toward each other’s castles while building defenses to protect their own.

Buy Rock of Ages III: Make & Break

Created by ACE Team, the developers behind the similarly bizarre Zeno Clash, 2011's Rock of Ages mixed elements of tower defense with Super Monkey Ball gameplay and wrapped it up in Monty Python humor. It had flaws, but it worked. Six years later, Rock of Ages II: Bigger and Boulder arrived, and while it can be considered more of the same, the game remained just as funny and ridiculous as the first title. We now have the third game in the series, Rock of Ages III: Make & Break, this time with ACE Team getting some help from Giant Monkey Robot.

You take on the role of Elpenor, companion to Odysseus. On their journey back home to Greece, they come across the lair of Cyclops, and after making a daring escape that leads to Cyclops' blindness, they sail away in their ship. Unfortunately, Cyclops' father is the god Poseidon, who places a curse on the crew and forces them to sail through time instead of making it back home.

The story is as nonsensical as it was in previous games, though one can also criticize it for being too similar. This is another jaunt through time where you take on historical figures and a few other cameos in war using a giant boulder as your main weapon. The cut scenes are absurd, and the same can be said for the humor, which is heavily inspired by the Monty Python comedy style. While a few jokes may miss, enough of them land to give you a reason to continue just to see where it all goes.

There are two main core mechanics in Rock of Ages III. The first is the act of rolling your rock down the path toward the enemy's castle gates. The strength of the impact is determined by your speed and mass, but while going fast may be your optimal strategy, it isn't so easy since there are many obstacles along the way. You can crash through most of them to take them out, but doing so reduces your ball's mass, making each run an exercise in balancing how much mass you're willing to sacrifice should you be unable to cleanly navigate the twisting path. It's adrenaline-pumping stuff, but it's also forgiving most of the time; falling into pits and off cliffs makes you respawn with no speed, but your mass is intact. This works against you if you respawn immediately before some dangerous obstacles that you've already bypassed, but that was a rare occurrence during our multiple runs through various levels.

The second core mechanic is tower defense, which makes sense when you realize that the enemy has their own boulder that they're rolling to hit your castle gate. Your defense units range wildly from the sensible stuff, like putting down war elephants and actual towers to more ingenious stuff, like spring traps that launch the rocks when triggered to the more absurd stuff, like giant frogs that can kick rocks backward.

A currency system is in place so you can't flood the screen with obstacles. You can also get coins faster if you build storehouses near gold mines, giving the game some RTS flavor. The one complaint that people may have is that the game does a terrible job of explaining what each defensive unit does. That adds to the fun of some units, like discovering that you can have balloons that contain giant claws to scratch rocks that travel underneath, but it also leads to frustration when you find out that you can drag them in any direction before finalizing their placement to create stone walls.

The two mechanics come together to create a fun — albeit uneven — experience across several different modes that can be played both offline and online. War mixes in both the rock rolling and tower defense portions; you start with the defense portions while waiting for your rock to get constructed. You can launch the rock at any time, which emphasizes strategy. This is also the main mode of the series, and while you'll find the experience to be a challenge when playing against others, it varies wildly in the actual campaign since your enemy fluctuates between being braindead in defense to being the equivalent of a boss fight.

There are two variations to the War formula that have become their own modes with varying degrees of success. Time Trials mode adds a timer to the game, but that small addition is enough of a reason for those who want to master the game and to entice speedrunners to keep coming back. Unit Challenge limits you to one or two predetermined defensive units; it works decently until you get a set that feels impossible to work with. Then there's Avalanche, one of the new modes, which does away with the rock-rolling aspect and has you focused on tower defense against an onslaught of enemy rocks. It works if you've mastered the mechanics, but it's challenging if you go in without a full arsenal, since some defense units do too well at slowing down or obliterating the incoming rocks.

For those who enjoy the rock-rolling portion of Rock of Ages III, there are other modes that emphasize that mechanic — with mixed results. Obstacle Course sees you in a race where you must reach the finish line first while trying to navigate through the defense-filled course. Skee Boulder is practically the same, but it's more focused on score since the obstacles are gone and replaced with point targets. Both are enjoyable, but some will dislike that the game immediately ends once a person's rock crosses the finish line. For those who want something more harrowing, there's Humpty Dumpty, which is similar to Obstacle Course except your rock is replaced with a giant egg. Your high level of fragility means that near-perfect runs are required for success, but that high degree of difficulty also makes for some exciting and memorable moments.

Breaking off from what the previous games did, the campaign in Rock of Ages III is structured very differently. The stars gained from levels unlock new areas, and unlocking new areas unlocks a plethora of different game modes, so you can play the events you want in any order. This is a great move because it gives players the chance to customize the campaign and play all of the modes that they enjoy the most before being forced to tackle some of their least favorite ones when they need the stars.

Thus far, most of what you'll experience in Rock of Ages III is the same as what you'd get in the series' second title. The main difference this time is the inclusion of the level creation tool, which sees you crafting courses that are usable with every game mode either for local or online play. Level creation is much easier than expected, since your goal is to craft a pathway for your boulder between a starting and end position. Adding decorations and changing land elevation is simple to the point where even those who usually struggle with level creation systems will find this one easy to work with. The online community has flooded the servers with a ton of levels, and the game's breezy loading times mean that it's easy to browse the offerings. The object placement isn't as exhaustive as the terrain editor, since the former only allows for objects to be placed facing one of the four cardinal directions, while the latter allows for terrain modifications with more degrees of freedom.

The presentation is in line with previous entries, so much so that you can place this game alongside its predecessors and struggle to find any differences. That means cut scenes done in the Monty Python style, where animation is purposefully stilted while the main game looks on par with a typical modern game. It looks fine and runs well, so don't expect any frame rate drops. Sound-wise, the remixing of classic tunes is a nice touch, and the sound effects play out well since they utilize surround sound to hear walls breaking all around you as your boulder zips by. Voice work is hit and miss, as the grunts from some characters emphasize the game's silliness, while the parts spoken in English don't fare as well because the voices sounding amateurish.

Rock of Ages III: Make & Break is fine. The campaign allows for more flexibility in how you approach the game, but its absurdity works best if you haven't experienced the two prior titles. The core gameplay remains fun and frustrating, with the ball-rolling mechanics providing the bulk of the enjoyment while the defense elements do the same after loads of trial and error. The level creation tool's ease of use gives the game legs, and the busy community has provided a vast library. Overall, Rock of Ages III is a good time as long as you don't expect major improvements over the formula compared to the prior titles.

Score: 7.0/10

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