One of the video game medium’s greatest assets is its ability to convey power. Whether you’re taking control of a superhero or an everyman with regenerating health, the industry rarely fails in its pursuit to provide you with unreasonable strength. But while potent protagonists are nothing new – almost all would succumb to the omniscience of the Lord himself, God.
Babel Rising is built around an undeniably brilliant concept. Taking inspiration from the Bible, it plays like a tongue-in-cheek anti-tower defence action game, which sees you assuming the role of God and attempting to thwart the construction of the infamous Tower of Babel on Earth. Stopping the sinful peasants is simple, as you’re augmented with all manner of elemental attacks. The immoral wrongdoers can be zapped with lighting, drenched with rain or eliminated with great balls of fire. That ought to teach them.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. While you’ll almost always feel extremely powerful playing God’s role, there’s only so long you’ll be able to hold out before the offenders build their so-called stairway to Heaven. Being a video game, there has to be a fail-state – and in Babel Rising that point comes when you’re utterly overwhelmed and unable to contain the construction of the tower anymore.
The game is divided into two primary single-player modes, Survival and Campaign. The latter consists of 15 different gameplay objectives built around the title’s core idea, while the former is fairly self-explanatory. Despite the bulk of the game’s content residing in the campaign, it’s with Survival mode that you’ll spend the majority of your time. As with similar titles, bettering your high score becomes a compelling proposition, and with successful runs lasting anywhere up to an hour, Babel Rising can become seriously time consuming. But while you’ll invest heavily in the title at first, it does quickly begin to run out of ideas.
Part of the problem is that there’s so little variety in the attacks available. At the start of each round you’re given the opportunity to select two elemental powers from a list of Earth, Fire, Wind and Water. Each option has different attributes, allowing you to develop your own personal strategies. Earth attacks, for example, can be launched in rapid succession at the expense of power, while Wind abilities do more damage, but can be used less often. Finding the right balance is imperative, and you’ll quickly settle upon favourites.
The gameplay itself is fairly simple to describe. Depending on the stage – of which there are three in total – the foundations of the tower reside in the middle of the level. Workers approach from multiple angles, and you must smite them by controlling a cursor on the screen. Should an offender slip through your attacks, they’ll sacrifice their body to the cause, and advance the construction of the sinful structure.
It’s an interesting idea, but while at first it feels like you have plenty of options to deal with the blasphemers on the ground, the reality is much less enticing. Each elemental category has just two attack types: Standard and Trail. The former is used to launch an assault in the place of your cursor’s position, while the latter can be used to drag across the screen and cause a pathway of damage. These range from walls of fire, to hurricanes and earthquakes, depending on your desired augmentation. But while the sense of power is undeniably enjoyable at first, you’ll have tired of the limited roster of moves after little more than an hour with the game.
Most frustratingly, it’s easy to imagine how the title could have eschewed this complaint. An RPG-like progression, for example, could have allowed you to improve each of the four elemental mechanics as you progress. Sadly, the developer opted to present all of the game’s ideas up front, and that’s to the detriment of the experience’s longevity.
To its credit, the single-player campaign does force you to experiment. Here the core gameplay is split into 15 very specific objectives, which restrict the elemental powers you can choose. This encourages you to step outside of your comfort zone and explore different attack strategies that you might not otherwise have attempted, and it’s enough to extend the novelty of the combat for longer than it arguably deserves.
But, ultimately, repetition is an issue that encompasses every element of Babel Rising’s presentation. The soundtrack, for example, consists of a single, looped chant that will make you want to plead respite from the heavens just minutes after starting the game. Thankfully the music can be turned down (or, in our case, off) in the options menu, allowing you to regain your sanity before your mind is lost to the underworld. That’s not to say the rest of the audio presentation is especially engaging either, though. The screams of fallen civilians are similarly amateurish, making the game embarrassing to play when others are nearby.
Unsurprisingly, the game looks poor too. There’s some nice visual effects applied to the elemental attacks, but other than that it looks flat. The majority of the on-screen peasants look exactly the same, and even the backdrops of the different towers share artistic traits. The game manages to maintain the intensity of the action well, even though it's not the hardest task the PS3's ever faced.
Ultimately, it’s the special attacks which have the greatest impact on the presentation. These are unlocked once you have effectively used a standard ability frequently enough, and allow you to launch a game-changing assault upon the tower and its constructors. Fire, for example, turns the sky a deadly shade of black, before an asteroid shower rains in on the stage. Similarly, Water allows you to flood the people and their sinful creation, giving you a few moments to gather your breath before the onslaught starts again.
All of this can be controlled using PlayStation Move, but it’s not recommended. Given the cursor-based nature of the gameplay, you’d be forgiven for assuming the motion controller would be the optimal input method, but it actually becomes a hindrance rather than an advantage. When using the DualShock 3, each of your four primary attacks are individually mapped to the immediacy of the controller’s face buttons. However, this isn’t the case with the motion wand. Instead you need to manually switch between element types, before launching attacks with the primary Move button. It sounds minor, but it has a huge impact on your ability to master the game. Babel Rising is a hectic title, and thus the lack of immediacy when playing with the motion controller adds an unnecessary challenge.
Whichever method you choose, Babel Rising boasts a fairly robust multiplayer suite. Split-screen gameplay is favoured ahead of online connectivity, with a handful of modes to explore. The most prominent is score attack, which allows you to cycle through a predefined list of time limits and compete for the best score against your friends. The scoring system actually makes this an engaging distraction, because the game is designed around maintaining a chain of kills. If you’re skilled enough to keep your streak alive, you’ll increase an overall multiplier, allowing you to reap greater benefits from each and every kill. As such, you need to be aware of more than just your overall murder tally.
A similar mechanic is used in the game’s most enjoyable competitive multiplayer mode, God vs. God. Here the mechanics play similarly to Puzzle Fighter, with fallen civilians sent over to your opponent’s side. Forming chains allows you to increase the number of enemies passed over, creating a risk/reward dynamic as you seek to overwhelm your opponent while also keeping your tower under control.
And, finally, if you don’t fancy playing competitively, there’s also a co-operative mode included. Here you’re able to play the previously described Survival mode in split-screen with the added support of a friend, giving you access to all four of the title’s elemental powers at once.
Babel Rising is an intriguing game, but it never comes close to scaling the heights of its inspirational tower. A dull single-player campaign and poor presentation take away from the appeal of the concept, and while the well integrated multiplayer adds some replayability to experience, it’s not enough to prevent the flaky fortification from ultimately falling to the floor.