Last year Ubisoft released its first Xbox game for Windows Phone, Babel Rising 3D. Mando Productions created the original game while Advanced Mobile Applications ported it to Windows platforms. Babel Rising arrived just a month before Windows Phone 8. Once the new mobile OS launched, the game turned out to be Windows Phone 8-incompatible.
Luckily for Windows Phone gamers, Ubisoft did the right thing and brought Babel Rising 3D back as a new, separate Windows Phone 8 version earlier this month. Not only that, they also published a Windows 8 version. All three versions are content identical, with the Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 versions naturally running smoother and in higher resolutions. It’s high time for our full review.
Mankind should know its place, says God
All screenshots from Windows Phone 8 version.
In Populous, the original god game, players took on the role of a god tasked with protecting his people against those of an invading god. Babel Rising ditches the protection aspect, instead casting players as an angry god.
This particular god does stuff like killing people for cutting their hair, looking backwards, or being the children of a really pious guy. Yep, Babel Rising is about that god. Specifically, the premise comes from the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, in which the humans who dared to build history’s first skyscraper met with divine punishment.
In each level, humans will flock towards the tower base at the center. Each one who reaches the top of the current structure adds a bit of height to the structure. Once the tower is completed, you’ll get a game over. To delay or stop that from happening, you’ll call on divine powers.
Powers that be
There are four sets of powers to unlock: earth, fire, wind, and water. Each power set offers three types of powers:
- Drop: Tap the screen to drop an object on enemies’ heads. The most rapidly usable power
Drag: Hold a finger on one side of the screen and drag with the other finger to create a line of fire, etc. that destroys multiple enemies.
Drag powers don’t work all that great in practice. The path of destruction often goes through a wall of background element, partially or completely missing nearby enemies. It would be far better if the path automatically stuck to whatever pathways enemies use. Additionally, the path of destruction often cuts off instantly or much shorter than its maximum length for no good reason, wasting the power’s use.
- Ultimate: These powers slowly charge as you play and can’t be used frequently. Tap the screen with three fingers or shake the device to activate them. You’ll unleash an attack that kills large numbers of enemies, including a Bible-style flood.
The drop and drag powers take a shorter time to fill up and become usable than ultimate powers, but you still can’t just activate a single power as much as you want. The idea is to switch back and forth between both sets of powers in order to keep your offense going.
To toggle power sets, players have to select the opposite set from one of the top corners of the screen. I find jumping back and forth on the touch screen cumbersome, especially given how quickly the enemies advance on harder levels.
Some powers need to be unlocked, and all of them can be upgraded multiple times. You’ll buy them in the shop using coins earned from gameplay. Everything costs ways too much relative to how few coins you earn, almost as if Babel Rising was designed to be a free to play game. And the not-free iOS version does sell coins as In-App Purchasess, but the mobile Windows versions lack IAPs.
Campaign and Survival
The game offers both a 15-stage Campaign and an endless Survival mode, also referred to as Quick Play. Oddly, the campaign isn’t designed to be played from start to finish in a single setting. The difficulty ramps up so quickly that just a few levels in you’ll find it impossible to advance. The solution is to jump into Survival and grind for coins.
Survival mode isn’t a bad experience, but the coin payouts are beyond miserly on the default stage. You’ll play for 10 minutes without earning enough to upgrade even a single power. What the game doesn’t tell you is that higher survival stages pay better than the starting one. You can buy the highest stage and just die straight away to earn 70-100 coins with minimal effort. Do that repeatedly and you’ll amass a healthy cache of coins to spend on upgrades.
Forcing players to grind Survival before they can make any real progress in Campaign is an unfair way of artificially lengthening the game. Powers take way too long to charge and lack decent killing power until they’re fully upgraded. Even at maximum upgrade, everything takes too long to recharge for my liking. Essentially, the developers built in a lengthy period of unfun before players can get to the properly fun part of the game.
Even once you’ve upgraded everything and returned to Campaign, it’s no walk in the park. Campaign difficulty just gets too brutal. I struggled with the tenth stage repeatedly before giving up. In the past, readers claimed that the Windows Phone 7 version is impossible to beat. Well, people have beaten every version, but I can see why you’d think it was impossible. The unfriendly difficulty is another a way of lengthening the game without adding new content.
Windows 8 Controls
Between waves you can sometimes play this ship-sinking minigame.
The Windows 8 version offers the same touch controls as the phone game. It also adds two more control options: mouse and keyboard or Xbox 360 controller.
The mouse and keyboard option allows players to switch between both sets of powers instantly via the scroll wheel or CTRL key. That makes juggling powers so much easier. Clicking the left mouse button uses the ‘drop’ power, clicking and dragging activates the ‘drag’ power, and space bar unleashes the Ultimate power.
Like the mouse option, the Xbox 360 controller generally works better than touch controls. The left stick moves the cursor, while the right stick changes the camera angle. Instead of toggling between both power sets, all six powers get their own button. A, X, and Left Trigger control one set of powers while B, Y, and Right Trigger use the other set.
Menu navigation is where both additional control styles have problems. The mouse pointer is way too small during menus and easily gets lost. But it could be worse...
Worse indeed, the Xbox 360 controller can’t control the menus at all! Press Start to pause and you can’t even return to the game without using a mouse or touch screen – Start really should unpause as well. The lack of menu navigation with the controller makes no sense because the game already has mouse cursor-style control during gameplay. It would take minimal development effort to enable menu navigation with the controller.
All three mobile versions of Babel Rising have the same 12 Achievements. Each version has its own list however, meaning a player who owns multiple platforms can buy and run through the game on each one for more GamerScore.
The game has a grinding Achievement for killing 10,000 workers that should take several hours to get. Luckily you can track kills from the Stats screen under Help & Options.
One of the phone versions (not sure which) has a glitchy Achievement for using each passive power and scroll once. According to Arsenic 17’s Achievement Guide, users who experience trouble unlocking it will need to reinstall and go after it before completing the campaign.
The concept behind Babel Rising holds a lot of promise. Playing as a god and taking down hapless homo sapiens should make for a wickedly good time. But the actual implementation here needs some work. Constantly toggling between powers and waiting for those powers to refill is none too satisfying (though better on Windows 8 with mouse or controller). I’d much prefer being able to spam the drop and drag powers as quickly as I like.
Besides, Babel Rising is too hard for its own good. A game like this should be aimed at casual audiences, making them feel powerful as they strike down hordes of weakling humans. Instead, it puts the player god at the mercy of his or her creations. How is that godlike?
Difficulty issues aside, let’s hope that Ubisoft enables Xbox controller support in the Windows 8 version’s menus soon. If I had to play only one version of the game, it’s definitely the one that works with mouse and keyboard or controller.
- Babel Rising 3D – Windows Phone 8 (No trial) – 41 MB – $2.99 – Store Link
- Babel Rising 3D – Windows 8 and RT – 130 MB – $3.49 – Store Link
- Babel Rising 3D – Windows Phone 7 – 72 MB – $2.99 – Store Link