Going into the first-person-shooter genre as an id Software game is rather like going into physics with the surname Einstein. There’s an expectation that ingrained in your DNA is the kind of revolutionary thinking that will automatically produce something that redefines life, the universe and everything as we know it.
Certainly, the pre-release clamour surrounding Rage’s creative open-world first-person-shooter design and visually stunning post-apocalyptic wasteland suggested it possessed the technical invention and ambition necessary to succeed to the throne previously occupied by its lauded forefathers, Doom and Quake. It had even been ordained with the prerequisite monosyllabic title to guarantee it success. So is Rage another great id title that redraws the gaming landscape as we know it? In order, the answers to the two parts of that question are ‘Yes’, and ‘No’.
Perhaps Rage’s biggest issue, is one of unfortunate timing. The last few years have seen such a glut of titles superficially similar in terms of both set up and setting, that when the giant asteroid collides with the earth at the end of the game’s opening gambit, you can’t help feeling that, in one sense at least, it doesn’t quite have the impact it should.
With that said, however, when your character emerges from his cryogenic cocoon known as an Ark – which is to a Fallout vault what an iPod is to a Walkman – he does so into the brilliant light and brave new world of the id Tech 5 engine, which gives Rage an immediate graphical superiority over its rivals.
Running at a ridiculously smooth 60 frames-per-second, id Tech 5 seems to be powered by a combination of pure silk and surplus rocket fuel from John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace program. It’s an engine that’s allowed Rage’s artists and programmers to create an arid, smouldering and hostile steam-punk world that’s sumptuously rich in character.
Whether it’s the sanctuary of the frontier settlements of Wellspring and Subway Town, the steely totalitarian strongholds of the pseudo-governmental Authority, the twisted, crumbling remains of Dead City or the expanses of bandit-filled wasteland that link places together, Rage’s beauty lies in its range of imaginative, coherent environments and its meticulous eye for detail. While the post-apocalypse may now be slightly passé, it’s never looked prettier.
Despite some consistently noticeable pop-in and muddy textures, Rage is easily the prom queen of post-apocalypse games. In contrast to its great looks though, it’s extremely disappointing that a world with so much depth and personality has been populated with personalities with so little depth. Beyond your mute, nameless protagonist, the supporting cast of characters are different and unique enough to have the potential for RPG levels of complexity, but, instead, they never go beyond being a collection of quest-givers, service providers and extras. As a result, neither they, nor Rage’s plot can be considered compelling, and this lack of interest certainly isn’t help by the way the game revisits some of its FPS sections, repurposing them like tracks in a racing game by altering sections or making you run them backwards.
As storytellers, then, id still don’t seem to have the passion they do for other areas of game design, but then again, Rage is a title focused on firefights rather than fiction. The speed and savagery of the game’s first-person-shooter sections is consistently impressive and the oppressive environments frequently make battles suffocating tense. AI enemies are either of the charge-straight-at-you or shoot-from-behind-cover varieties, but the game works hard to make both allusive. Those who run are quick and nimble, dashing towards you swinging, stabbing and spitting dementedly, while those that hide often retreat and reposition intelligently and are also annoyingly adept at tossing a grenade.
While the various weapon types in Rage are as vanilla as you’ll find – a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a couple of assault rifles etc. – id have cleverly added strategy as well as lasting novelty and satisfaction to its shootouts through different ammo types. Many of these can be brought and found throughout the world, while engineering recipes you acquire allow you to combine items you collect on your travels to meld a range of incredibly useful and entertaining self-made munitions such as mind control bolts for your crossbow. The recipes also enable you to create other special items such as sentry turrets, antiseptic bandages and lock grinders, and these, along with your skills in ammo alchemy, come in increasingly handy later on in the game against Rage’s tougher adversaries.
In keeping with open-world convention, Rage supplements its main activity with a range of smaller, optional ones such as parcel delivery missions and fetch quests. After the shooting, however, the majority of your time in Rage will be spent behind the wheel of your very own off-road vehicle either battling it out in organised races (think Mario Kart does Mad Max and you’re pretty close) or sprinting through the twisting wasteland canyons, on your way from one location to another, turbo boost firing, machine guns rattling away at pursuing bandit cars.
These automotive escapades inject a nice change of pace into Rage’s action, and there’s ample opportunity to use the cash and certificates you’ve acquired from success in races to repair, upgrade, armour and weaponize your vehicle. The most interesting thing about them, however, is that id (remember, that’s id Software, grandfathers of the mass-appeal online first-person-shooter) have fleshed them out to make up the entirety of Rage’s competitive online content – no deathmatch, no capture the flag, no FPS shooting of any kind.
It’s a bold and intriguing decision on id’s behalf. But while the tight and responsive arcade-style driving model, the inherent variety to the different race types and the expanded list of components for vehicle armament make for a fun extension to the driving in the single player campaign, it’s disposable fair. It isn’t developed enough to rival the best of the dedicated arcade racing games or have the hook and lasting appeal of a decent, completive online FPS.
It’s a not dissimilar story with Rage’s, Legends of the Wasteland two-player co-op mode as well. These nine standalone missions provide a pleasant enough distraction for some casual action with a friend, but the neat way they hint at expanding on Rage’s wider fiction can’t help leaving your feeling at least a little regret that they are more substantive.
For a game that does so much so well, it’s strange to be spending so much time talking about what Rage is missing. But, because of its similarity to certain other games, there’s a distinct temptation to come to Rage burdened with unfair expectations. While the extremities of Rage’s world aren’t nearly as distant as its beautifully detailed backdrops would suggest, and you do, in reality, spend most of your time driving your way down one corridor to shoot your way down another, if you come to Rage looking for an impeccably well designed and deep first-person-shooter, you’ll be thoroughly entertained. If, alternatively, you come looking to satiate your Borderlands loot-lust, scratch that Fallout RPG itch or satisfy a Doom multiplayer addiction, then you may find your time searching Rage’s wastelands rather wasted.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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