Published on August 2nd, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
RAGE: The First Three Hours
Developer: id Software
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Release: October 4, 2011
What is the Wasteland?
In the year 2029 our planet will be visited by 99942 Apophis, a meteor a quarter of a mile in diameter. This is not a tale of fiction, this is scientific fact – the meteor will come close to striking Earth. Luckily for all living creatures on our small blue planet, scientists have determined it will only have a low percent chance of doing just that. In the world of RAGE, we are not as lucky, and the meteor does not miss. What is the Wasteland? It is the result of what happens when the world’s most powerful people are unable to prevent a catastrophe the likes of which could not be halted. The Wasteland is the remains of what was once a living world now destroyed. It is miles and miles of ruined earth, dotted by pillars of cement which were once mighty skyscrapers; a land where people can barely scrape by; a place scarce of food and fresh water; a reality where being a community means constant harassment by bandits and mutants – humans that live outside civilized society with the same needs and desires, but are more prone to use force over diplomacy in order to satisfy them. But not all hope is lost.
Before the meteor struck, the government put a plan in motion to secure mankind’s dominance over the planet even after most of life is wiped off it. Chosen humans, cybernetically augmented and injected with nanobots, were buried underground in Arks and put under suspended animation until a time which they can be awakened and reclaim the planet. Unfortunately, not every natural disaster goes according to plan. Many years after the impact, mankind has crawled out of its caves and hiding spots and rebuilt some of what was lost. The Ark that held the player’s character malfunctions and releases him into the wild. He finds himself alone, the only survivor among many others he was buried with, and steps out into the light.
Can’t see the desert for all the sand
The Wasteland is a dangerous place to be in, let alone a man who finds himself in a world vastly different from the one left behind. But even though danger lies out in the sands, there also exists allies. The first of which takes the form of a man named Dan Hagar, voiced by John Goodman, who helps the player survive a welcoming party of bandits from the Ghost clan. In RAGE, bandits are more than just badguys in a cave players have to go shoot, they are a constant threat to the people who take residence in the wastes, as Dan points out. Passing by a bandit patrol, it becomes clear that this won’t be the last time these bandits will be seen, especially once they find the unfortunate heap Dan and the player left behind in the dust. Dan takes the player to the Hagar compound where his family lives and operates. This is the first of several compounds which the player can receive quests and supplies from the many various personalities that run them.
Dan makes it a point that a man from the stupid ages wearing an Ark suit will attract a lot of attention, especially from a group called the Authority. The Authority come up a lot in early conversations of RAGE, quickly setting it as a kind of boogieman of the Wasteland. They’re not the biggest threat so early in the game, and Dan is quick to note that the biggest worry now comes from the bandit clan that is most likely a little pissed off that he killed two of their own before making off with the prize. He said the bandits will most likely retaliate, and gives the first mission of the game: kill them first. Probably not the wisest thing to place on a man who had been frozen for decades, but Ark survivors are “special” in a way. How? They might be the only ones that can take on an entire clan of bandits with a pistol and live. Well, mostly.
The unheroic killers, the unkillable hero
The enemies in RAGE are designed to scale upwards in difficulty. Starting at the bottom is the Ghost clan, which prizes knives and agility over guns and heavy armor. But just going in unprepared, say with only a pistol, is dangerous. The Ghost bandits are not equipped with projectile weapons, so their best bet to take the player down is to rush in quickly brandishing blades. They can go down quickly, but they often travel in groups and can use hanging pipes to swing and launch themselves at the player. Another group which appeared early was the Wasted bandits. These guys prefer to use guns and most of them like wearing armor, so going in with something bigger than a pistol goes highly recommended. But evolution and adaption is the name of the game in RAGE, and more powerful weapons and ammo types are presented to the player to match up against the greater challenges. With the Wasted come a shotgun and Fatboy bullets to give the pistol a meaner bite.
In this first mission, however, I learned that the pistol simply wasn’t enough. The Ghost bandits may not be the brightest, but they know how to handle predators, and the player character’s capture proved. They brought him to the “kill room”, a name that couldn’t have been more unsettling. As a bandit pulled out a blade that looked more like a jagged piece of metal, he said “this is going to hurt.” After he jammed the blade in, a guttural scream pierced the air before blackness enveloped the screen. The id team has taken a different approach to death in RAGE. Instead of the usual reload to a previous save, “death” becomes an opportunity. As an Ark survivor, the main character is equipped with a defibrillator that can be activated after the player presses a series of buttons. These are not QTE moments, as (on the Xbox 360 version) the twin sticks need to be positioned in different places before pulling both triggers on the remote in order to build up a charge meter. Once full, the defibrillator brings the character back to life and fires off a charge of high-voltage electricity that can kill nearby enemies, granting players a short grace period to get their bearings. The game can get challenging over time. I actually saw the death screen several times during my short time with the game. During intense adrenaline-fueled firefights, I could almost swear that timer was getting shorter. I realize that some may see this as “cheapening” the game but I think differently. It keeps the player in the game and transforms the concept of dying into another challenge to overcome. Plus it can’t be any cheaper than simply having to reload a quick save.
A story-driven shooter …
It would be a mistake to compare RAGE to that of an RPG. It is a shooter that is designed to feel like an RPG, not to confuse people, but to grant it depth of story. It’s a new step for the team that has focused so long on linear shooters, but it’s an important one. RAGE represents the new face of id Software, which sees the game as an evolution of the first-person shooter genre the company created many years ago. Because the game is not an RPG, the entire Wasteland won’t be open for exploration. When starting out, only a small section of the game is immediately available. All other routes are cut off and are opened as more missions are completed. You start off small, completing quests and finding parts to make your first buggy. Later, missions become more in-depth once the large town of Wellspring becomes available. It is here the player can start taking the really tough missions, or stock up on supplies such as weapons, ammo, buggy parts or miscellaneous items. The rotund Mayor Clayton helps to try and keep the story missions moving forward. Sheriff Black, who looks suspiciously like Daniel Craig, provides missions that better equip the player for the increasingly harsh Wasteland. I was impressed by how unique each primary character in RAGE is. Every one had a personality that was both functional to the design and interesting to interact with. Clayton is completely round and speaks with an air of authority and old-fashioned class. Kinda reminded me of Theodore Roosevelt too. Black looked like he walked straight out of a Spaghetti Western film and had a no nonsense way of getting to the point. The id team put a lot of work into creating personalities throughout the game that players can enjoy or even attached to. I can only imagine the rest of the important members of the Wasteland to be just as memorable.
Wellspring also lets players take their newly-fixed buggy out onto the race track. Racing is fast and fun in RAGE. The controls are designed with and arcade-feel to them which makes hitting corners easy, and the recharging booster that provides an enormous boost in speed. Winning races grants a special type of currency that can be used solely to upgrade the buggy. In one of many available garages, parts such as the booster, shocks or the frame can be upgraded, or if the player is interested, it can also be weaponized with Gatling guns or rockets, purchased at the appropriate vendor. Useable items can also be purchased such as a shield generator which provides temporary invulnerability to flying bullets. Players can also take up side missions via a Job Board while in Wellspring. These are missions outside of the main storyline and can be completed for weapons, cash or parts.
The only thing that was remotely “RPG-like” was the ability to pick a class soon after entering Wellspring. Three classes become available and each one provides a different attribute. One class provides extra protection, another increased weapon damage while the third provided better proficiency with engineered items. Speaking of which, some items can be created with the right parts and a set of blueprints. From something simple such as new wingsticks, to more complicated weaponry such as turrets, engineering new items is an integral part to success in RAGE. Creating lock grinders to open locked doors can yield hard-to-find items and a mechanized spider turret could mean the difference in a close battle.
… but a shooter nonetheless
With no experience points to earn weapon strength comes from the ammo used. For the pistol, regular bullets can do fine against weak enemies, but Fatboys, which hold less per clip, are far more able to take down armored bandits such as the Wasted. The Crossbow, a weapon that becomes available after a few missions from Wellspring, can fire several different types of bolts beyond the standard ones. Electrified bolts paralyze enemies, invoking massive amounts of damage. It can also be used in environmental situations such as frying a few bandits that are wading in ankle-deep water. There aren’t many different ammo types to choose from so early in the game, but I picked up word on armor piercing rounds, explosive shells and even ammo for the pistol that releases lead shot (like a handheld shotgun) when fired.
Of course, just because id Software is putting more stock into story, doesn’t mean that the “shooter” part has taken any hits. RAGE represents some of the finest shooting I’ve had in a long time. If id Software knows anything, it’s how to make shooting stuff feel just right. The main reason behind this isn’t chalked up to shooting at enemies, but how the they react. The enemies aren’t typical in RAGE. The id Software team designed each group’s AI with unique personality which influences how they react to the player and to situations, making an encounter with one bandit clan feel far different from the next. Enemies are programmed to behave a certain way when shot. I saw some lose whatever brazen courage they had after a put a couple slugs into them. Some would hide and call out for help, others would react by realistically clutching the wound or stumbling before being put down for good. As I played I felt like I was fighting something more than waves of braindead goons, which made every won battle a rewarding experience that felt earned. Switching weapons and ammo types is also very easy to do on the fly, which allows players to adapt to changing situations as quickly as they come.
Since June I have been given two chances to try my hand at id’s comeback shooter, and every time I play it I seem to find something else that I like. I have always been a fan of id games and the quality that name brings, but even I am surprised by how enjoyable and how very playable RAGE is. The game is not only shaping up nicely, but has the potential to push the shooter genre back in the right direction. There are plenty of intriguing characters, powerful weapons, and car combat work together to provide a game that, at first glance, refuses to be boring. The id Software team told me that things begin to change dramatically after the first half of the game. No doubt some major plot points will be revealed, but whatever that may be we won’t know until the game hits early October. I got only a taste of what RAGE has to offer, and all I know is that I can’t wait for the full course.