Ubisoft’s latest game Babel Rising takes inspiration from the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In this game, you play as God, and you are tasked with preventing the people from finishing the tower, just like the story. The game has an intriguing foundation, and it should be a blast, but sadly it is let down by poor controls that often lead to frustrating moments. The optional Kinect functionality seems like it would add to the atmosphere and make this game more engrossing, but instead, they are poorly implemented and usually fail to work at all.
As mentioned earlier, the story of the Tower of Babel is a biblical story. It takes place right after the Great Flood, and the people were worried that God would send another devastating natural disaster. They decided to build a tower that would stretch to the heavens to avoid the rising water. By doing this, everyone could live on top of the tower, do whatever they wanted, and not drown should God get angry at what they were doing. God was not too fond of this idea, so he cast down the tower and those building it. As punishment, he forced the people to speak a multitude of languages, hence the word babble.
In Babel Rising, it’s your job to make sure the tower is never completed. You rain down lightning bolts, fires, floods, and winds that sweep the builders from the tower. This makes for an exciting game, at least in theory. It’s somewhat like last year’s excellent From Dust, though the goals of the two games are very different. Whereas From Dust granted you the powers necessary to protect your people from the elements, Babel Rising is actually more of a tower-defense affair.
The workers follow set paths, but the idea is to destroy the tower, not save it. You have four main powers: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Each of these elemental attacks has two modes. One of these modes effects a small group of enemies, while the other decimates a much larger part of the gameplay area.
Across the game’s 15 levels, the objectives change, yet most missions essentially revolve around decimating groups of humans with your core powers and using “Ultimate Power” attacks as they become available. These special moves are unlocked by filling a gauge through the use of your basic abilities and can wipe out a large number of human workers. The early missions are easy enough, seeing as how the workers walk in the same repetitive patterns. In later stages, priest units shield the tower’s buildings, forcing you to find the correct attack to overcome their powers. Then there are the urns. In the latter stages of the game, you’ll find a human with an urn. Smash the urn and you’ll be unable to use the power that you used to break it for a while. This can be extremely annoying as they’re very difficult not to break, and the sheer frequency of this occurring makes it feel like a cheap gameplay mechanic.
Throughout your time with the game, you’ll find significant difficulty spikes that all but ruin the game’s pacing. In addition to the difficulty, you can only have two basic powers at any given time. This problem is compounded by the fact that these powers can’t be leveled or upgraded in any way. Babel Rising’s greatest issue is the control scheme, though. Often awkward and unwieldy, it’s really no better whether you’re using the joypad or the Kinect sensor. With these divine powers, motion control should, at least on paper, work quite well, but the execution is more frustrating than anything else. For example, when you want to change powers, you have to clap your hands. It is mechanics like these that are far too similar to natural motions that make the controls difficult to reign in. While accuracy with a controller is twitchy, with the Kinect, it’s simply fuzzy. Using the motion sensor commands are often not picked up on or are misinterpreted, which can be a real pain during one of the aforementioned difficulty spikes. The camera also has a tendency to be inaccurate at times, which just adds to the frustration.
Overall, Babel Rising benefits from a novel concept, yet there is little to appreciate in the execution. A cheery visual design can’t mask the reality that the game quickly becomes repetitive, while the control options simply don’t function as they should. Like the Tower of Babel itself, Babel Rising is something that feels incomplete. There is potential here, but it hasn’t been realized, which makes the user experience suffer.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox Live Arcade version of Babel Rising by Mondo Productions distributed by Ubisoft