A Ton of Bricks
It mightn’t be totally fair to outright pan Babel Rising just based on the fact that it’s essentially the same game that was released three years ago by White Birds across iOS platforms. After all, it did make its way to the top of the app charts in early 2010, earning the distinction of being the #1 app in multiple countries! Bringing such an experience to major home consoles in its original form can’t be a bad thing. Right?
Developed by Mando Productions for consoles, Babel Rising is by all rights a tower defense game, but not one in which you use your towers to defend against an incoming horde of enemies, or even one where you must stop your adversaries from damaging your tower. The interesting twist of Babel Rising is that you’re actually the only one who doesn’t want the tower to exist. As an unseen deity, God, you control the four elements – fire, earth, water, and wind – and must use various elemental powers to stop the ancient Babylonians from completing the construction of their famed Tower of Babel.
The Babylonians will come in droves to advance their structure to reaching up into the Heavens. As they scale the partially completed tower, it is up to you to put to work your mastery of the elements to smite the sinners; each elemental affinity has two basic forms of attack: a small, localized strike, typically against a single human, and a wider-range area of effect attack that can take out multitudes of humans but also takes longer to charge and re-use. Kill enough humans with a particular elemental type and you’ll gain access to that element’s ultimate attack, letting you call forth a raging gale-force sandstorm, a meteor shower, or even a flood of Biblical proportions, wiping out all life in plain view.
Meanwhile, worker drones will continuously charge toward their tower, running up as high as the construction will allow. Each one that reaches the top will erect the tower a little further, until, piece by piece, it eventually pierces the Heavens and the game is lost. As the game progresses, the humans will adapt better strategies, coming up the tower from various directions, and bringing with them new unit types that must be dealt with in unique and challenging ways, such as Priests who cast a protective shield around any humans close by that is immune to certain elements, and bearers of cursed jars that will disable some of your divine powers if destroyed.
When compared to its iOS precursor, Babel Rising‘s console excursion is surprisingly similar, adding only the barest minimum of additional features. Campaign and Survival mode have both been carried over from the original game, the former pitting you against various challenges as you advance through numerous levels, while the latter is an endurance round that asks the question: “How long can you keep the tower from being completed?” I found that the campaign levels scaled up in challenge nicely, throwing new caveats at me that upped the difficulty of reaching a particular goal in several levels. Survival mode, on the other hand, had the same early progression of difficulty, but eventually seemed to plateau for me; by the time my very first foray into Survival had reached an hour and a half (all in the same round!), and the difficulty from one wave of enemies to the next wasn’t going up anymore, I lost heart and let the little pests run to the top just to finally end the round. There is an unlockable alternate difficulty setting, but it doesn’t provide anything new in terms of experience, and the rewards for sticking it out for 90 minutes before throwing in the towel were equally worthless (there weren’t any).
The only new game mode added to the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network versions of Babel Rising is the Multiplayer mode. While it could have been fun to challenge other would-be gods online, sending them waves of enemies whenever you spectacularly eliminate them on your own turf (think clearing a full Tetris in 2-player mode), the multiplayer has exasperatingly been restricted to local matches only. This means that if you don’t have enough additional controllers (or not enough friends, you poor bastard!), you’re doomed to stick to Babel Rising‘s regrettably repetitive single-player mode.
In terms of presentation, the game has received a notable facelift in the graphics department. Though the original game was by no means hard to look at, a few extra years have made textures a lot easier on the eyes; characters are more detailed, Priest shields actually cover the area they’re meant to, and raining death and destruction upon the infidels has just become a whole lot prettier. Sadly, the upgrades stop just short of reaching the game’s audio, which adds in many ways to its repetitiveness. Apart from menus, in-game music primarily consists of rhythmic slow-paced drums with tribal chanting by the Babylonians. But this is ever-present. It. Doesn’t. Stop. By Zeus’s beard, it doesn’t take long before ramming a blunt Mesopotamian rock chisel clean through your eardrums just to stop the endless inanity seems like a preferable alternative! Oh, and the garbled gobbledygook spouted by some of the Babylonians as they enter the game doesn’t help either.
The Final Verdict
All in all, Babel Rising isn’t necessarily a broken game. Its graphics please, its gameplay is easy to pick up, and there’s even some challenge to be found…for a while. The problem lies in the longevity of the experience. Exacting divine retribution with elemental wrath is fun at first, but when the game fails to switch up the action, the music drones on and on in the same ten-second chanting loop, you’re stuck cycling through the same four powers against unending waves of humans in an hour-and-a-half stalemate, and with no viable online gameplay, Babel Rising loses its charm, teeters, and comes crashing to Earth in a broken heap of rubble.