Make & Break isn’t just a subtitle for Rock of Ages 3. When you start the game, the first menu you’re presented with asks you to choose between “Make” or “Break”. Choose Break and those familiar with this series will find comfortably well travelled territory (maybe even a little too well travelled…). Choose Make and you’ll find the newest and most requested feature for Rock of Ages 3 – A creation suite. ACE Team heard our pleas and they have delivered.
If you’ve not dabbled in this series yet, Rock of Ages 3 is part arcade physics game where you control the spin and momentum of a giant rock and part tower defence game where you build obstacles and dangers to stop an opposing giant rock (or rocks). In some game modes, you’ll only do one of these elements and in others, you’ll do both simultaneously. All of this is to the backdrop of irreverent and light hearted takes on famous historical locations and art work. A formula that ACE Team concocted almost a decade ago and damn near perfected a few years later, Rock of Ages 3 is more of an iteration with more of what worked in 2: Bigger and Boulder.
The game play and feel of the game itself has hardly changed since the last installation. When controlling a boulder, you use the thumb sticks to control the direction, spin and momentum of your rock. For the most part, the aim of these sections is to reach a location quickly without losing too many slabs of health along the way. That’s often easier said than done because the path to the end point is packed with elephants, walls, oil dropping towers, guillotines, cattle that’ll stick to your surfaces, trebuchet and much more. Falling off a track and getting hit by the traps or dangers will all chip away at the health bar which will force a restart if you’re careless enough to empty it entirely.
On the other side of the game, you’ll play as an omnipresent floating commander that’s looking down upon the track on which you can place defences. Played like a tower defence game, you move the camera and cursor around the map to place down defences you choose and can afford. The idea here is to stop the opposition boulder from making it to the destination you’re attempting to protect by lacing the track with dangers.
As for the content, let’s start by taking a look at the “Break” part of Make & Break. Here you’ll find a structure similar to Rock of Ages 2 – a hilarious story on a timeline – and a new addition. Community Levels.
The story is linked by an over world which is a literal timeline. As you travel down this timeline, time advances from the begining of time right through to 2,020 AD. Along the line are nodes which can be unlocked with stars you’re won at previously unlocked nodes. Each of these nodes represents a time, location and thematic feel to the area’s you’ll be rolling through/defending. Greece in 802BC, fighting against the Cyclops. Rome in 40 BC facing off against Ceasar. 586AD in India facing off against dieties that are introduced in an X-Men cartoon parody. 1820 AD and that Jesus painting restoration that was totally botched into an evergreen meme which represents “The Planet of the Monkeys” here. The locations and times are various and hilarious and while not a vast amount changes between each location (the intro video, the background, hue of the world and destructible scenery on the track), they’re just different enough to give them individuality.
Each node, when unlocked, provides a number of events to participate in, each of which can award you up to 3 stars. Each location has a “War” event which has both you and your opponent attempting to defend their own castle gate while also trying to destroy the opponent’s one. Your boulder takes time to carve and in that time, you can spend gold on defences along your opponents version of the track. Of course, while you’re building walls and turrets, the AI opponent is doing the same. Once your boulders are ready, you get to take on whatever traps have been laid before you in the hopes of crashing into the castle gate at the end. Do this repeatedly and the castle gate will open and you can squish the leader of the area with a very satisfying squelch noise. As you complete these events, you’ll be rewarded with new Boulders to use each of which has unique shapes, stats and abilities. While many are returning, there’s some new additions to – a cheese wheel that gets bigger the more damage it takes and a hand boulder that’ll slam if the fist points down among them.
Other events that at each node could be an obstacle course, a straight 2 round race to the end against an AI opponent over a dangerous track, and Unit challenges, which are basically a “war” event but you’re only allowed to use 1 or 2 specific units, success on which adds these units to your inventory for use in the game from that moment on. Then there’s Skee Boulder which is almost identical to an obstacle course but at the end of the track is a Skee ball board with holes which represent different scores. Coming first here doesn’t mean much if you don’t score high enough. Across 3 rounds, it’s possible to lose if you only hit low numbers on the first 2 and then the AI hits a 6 on the last. There’s also the new Avalanche mode which has you solely in defensive mode, trying to defend your castle gate against a steady stream of boulders from your opponent. Strategy is key here as you try to gauge where best to build and when because if one of these boulders trashes one of your defences when it’s part built, it’s wasted gold and land (as you can only build on any part of the ground once). This is a nice addition to Rock of Ages 3 as it adds a little more emphasis on defence as part of the whole package.
Then there’s ‘time trials’ and here’s my first bug bear with Rock of Ages 3 – these events are only playable with an internet connection. Each time you arrive at a time trial location, the game attempts to update the leaderboards and while doing so, your ship (the cursor that you use to navigate the game map) continues to travel in whatever direction you were going at the time. By the time the Switch has determined that you have no internet connection because you’re in a caravan in Wales or a train with awful Wifi, the ship is at the edge of the map and continually pulls in that direction even after you’ve taken back control of it. This is a touch irritating as the time trial events, while incredibly difficult, award you with up to 3 stars the same as any other event in the game. When you’re trying to eek out a few stars in order to unlock the next location, it can feel like a big disadvantage not having these events available because you’re in a car with no internet connection.
Boss battles make a return for Rock of Ages 3 and they’re as joyful to play as they were in Bigger and Boulder. I won’t spoil them as I think part of the magic of this series is how it takes highly regarded and important art work and gives it that Monty Python-esque ludacris spin but needless to say, they deliver in the laugh department once again. Gameplay wise, these are open arena battles that test you in a way the rest of the game doesn’t. They’re a highlight of the game.
The last thing I need to mention from the Story mode is the Humpty Dumpty mode. Set in “the game of wonder”, here you play as the clumsy egg man himself with the aim of rolling him to the castle while avoiding falling off a wall. Or a cliff. Or from getting squashed by an elephant. With a fragile shell and limited respawns, this mode is a real test of your thumb dexterity and understanding of the game mechanics. The design of a few of these maps – there’s 5 in total – is a little odd. There’s one where a cannon fires you out onto a blanket of clouds which you can roll across but for whatever reason, you die randomly while on them. Otherwise, these are a delightful little addition that takes advantage of the physics based game play to provide something totally different.
From beginning to end the story mode of Rock of Ages 3 is fun, cathartic and occasionally challenging. It’s not perfect – the hand of god that drops the ball back on the track will occasionally do so with you facing the wrong way – but they’re small niggles. The variety of events is pitched just right and the ever evolving list of boulders and defensive units means it stays fresh throughout. The backing to the action – the tongue in cheek, irreverent take on important art and the fun covers of historical music – is just as funny as it was in the previous 2 installments and it had me literally laughing out loud at times.
There is however an argument to be made that the source material chosen this time around isn’t as iconic as that in the original or Bigger and Boulder. The second game took on most of the instantly recognisable artwork and characters and while those in Rock of Ages 3 are still worth exploring, they feel less grandiose and a little forced at times.
The other element of the “Break” section of this game is the community creations. Unfortunately, aside from the one I made myself, there weren’t any for me to download during my review period.
Which brings us to the biggest new addition to the formula in Rock of Ages 3 – Make. An extensive creation suite that allows you to make your own tracks, alter its elevations and structures and then cover it in obstacles, traps and dangers, this game finally delivers on the most requested feature for Bigger and Boulder. The tools here take a little getting used too and it’s a shame that the game doesn’t make use of the Switch’s touch screen at all but making and sharing your own tracks are a doddle.
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is more of what worked in the previous games with a handful of new modes and a creation suite. A tactical tower defence game that’ll have you scratching your head combined with an arcade physics derby that’ll have you grinning over the destruction left in your wake, it’s a lot of fun to play. It’s still not perfect but for those who’ve had fun with the previous 2 games, this instalment builds on that formula in the right places.
Rock of Ages 3: Make & Break is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch (review version), PS4 and Xbox One. The game will be launching on Stadia on August 14th.
Developer: Giant Monkey Robot / ACE Team
Publisher: Modus Games / 3goo
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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