The genre of ‘God Games’ that has withered on the vine over the past few years has received a bit of life in the form of Babel Rising, with a bit of a twist. Rather than aiding an early people as a benevolent deity, the latest release from Ubisoft on XBLA and PSN tasks the player to unleash divine fury on heathen Babylonians attempting to erect a tower to heaven.
But is this premise executed well enough to bring something not just a bit different, but worthwhile to gamers? It’s certainly a promising story and structure, but unfortunately, the gameplay rarely meets its potential.
There may be some mobile gamers who are already familiar with the premise, as the game originally launched in a much simpler, 2D version on iOS a few years ago. While the release of Babel Rising for Xbox 360 and PS3 has seen some extremely inspired graphical upgrades, it’s hard to feel that this type of experience isn’t simply more fitting to a mobile platform.
The game itself is built around a varying selection of towers being constructed by villagers a segment at a time, with the player using elemental attacks to take out the characters one by one with directed attacks, or in groups utilizing area-of-effect strikes. Using each element successfully builds toward a much more powerful attack that, in some cases, clears all enemies on screen.
The goals of each stage vary from successfully preventing construction for a set period of time, eliminating a certain number of villagers, or enemy type-specific challenges. While the Babel Rising has some interesting ways of complicating gameplay and adding depth to this simple interaction, each mechanic is not without its shortcomings. For instance, changing a tower from one entry ramp that players will need to manage to two, increases the player’s need for attention and quick thinking, but the transition from slightly monotonous massacre to being overwhelmed often occurs too quickly.
The difficulty isn’t really the issue in this aspect, merely that the ‘sweet spot’ where scrambling to unleash combinations of attacks is truly satisfying is often far too small and easy to fall out of in either direction. Much of the frustration is due to falling behind thanks to a control scheme that seems troubling for the type of interaction required. The graphics are more than up to par for consoles, but a touch interface like that of iOS and Android devices would likely streamline the experience to its benefit.
Some might have already deduced that one of the issues with Babel Rising is its emphasis on ramping up difficulty and intensity, often shrugging off its whimsical and fun-over-complexity premise. The game makes sense on a touch device, since the moment-to-moment attacks and obstacles can often verge on addictive and immediately gratifying – the Floods and Firestorms in particular. But in the shift to consoles, the developers seem to have chosen not to use the console and controller to amplify the fun quotient.
For starters, only two specific elements can be used for each stage from those of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Each one has powers of varying potency and visual results (Creating rifts in the ground that propel villagers skyward is always more satisfying than encasing each one in ice), but the desire to limit the player’s opportunities hampers what should be an expression of fun and creativity. The result is a more challenging experience, but one that more often will have players thinking how much more fun it would be to have all elements at hand. With a controller input, this seems like a lost opportunity.
The result is a ‘God Game’ that ranges widely from monotonously picking off individual villagers with thrown stones to unleashing a lightning storm in tandem with fireballs. While the developers have added multiplayer gameplay to let friends work together or against each other in their efforts, the possible choices given to the player never seem to reach the potential offered by the platform.
Playing cooperatively added to the experience, but it’s constantly apparent that many of the design choices made seem to have limited the ability of the game’s best aspects to shine. The homes of the villagers can be seen, but the player can not rain destruction on their hovels as part of a larger strategy, only attack them once they approach the tower.
There are some fans of tower defense and past ‘God Games’ that will surely enjoy the basic experience and unique challenge enough to overlook the shallower systems, but for ten times the price of the original mobile game, it’s a hard sell. The simpler stages – and Kinect features – may be more compelling to younger gamers… provided they can grasp the concept of a wrathful Judeo-Christian deity.
As it stands, it’s difficult to recommend the game when so many other properties on both downloadable platforms offer much more fine-tuned and satisfying experiences for a similar price. The basics aren’t poorly made or insulting, in fact, the artistic design never becomes unpleasing to look at. But the window for deriving enjoyment out of attacking and managing villager movement only gets smaller as the campaign progresses.
Babel Rising is available now for $9.99 on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for review.
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