Published on October 17th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
Developer: id Software
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2011
For developer id Software, RAGE is an important game. To put it in perspective, RAGE is the first original IP out of the company since Quake, a game that came out back in 1996. For 15 years the company has ridden on the massive success of its two primary franchises: Quake and Doom. It’s only natural that the day would come that id could no longer fall back on its two big hitters in order to survive, especially in a world where dozens of games over the past decade have violently fought, and still fight, for the FPS crown.
There are a lot of things that RAGE does right. From a technical standpoint the game is very impressive. RAGE runs smooth and the gameplay mechanics are solid. However, it is in the other categories where RAGE fails to deliver. The game is fun to play and includes a lengthy campaign with rich atmosphere. However, as the game progresses it becomes clear that there is a lot of potential that is ultimately untapped.
(Enter Age and Refresh to play)
RAGE wears its influences on its sleeves. Every part of it has been borrowed from other popular forms of media which star humans surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. If you have ever played Borderlands or the recent Fallout titles, or have watched The Road Warrior, there won’t be a lot that will surprise you in RAGE. The graphics are bright and colorful and have a comic-style heavy line around characters similar to that of Borderlands. In an interesting turn, id included vehicle racing and combat, something it never tried before, with vehicles that looked salvaged and modified using bits of scrap metal much like the vehicles in The Road Warrior. The game also lifts some plot from Mel Gibson’s famous film and features a scattered mankind desperately clinging on to hope in towns built out of scrap heaps as they fight for water and fuel, while fending off bandit raids. Like I said, RAGE will not surprise anyone.
In more than one way, RAGE is id Software’s biggest game yet. First, it represents id’s attempt to reclaim its throne. The folks at id must have known there would be a tough fight ahead of them when the first ideas of RAGE hit the drawing board. There have been many changes to the genre and gamers now expect certain features to be included with their shooters. To id’s credit, the team decided to drop the idea of a straight shooter and focus on something they have rarely put much effort into: the story. RAGE is the first game which id advertised the story ahead of everything else. Unfortunately, it’s the story where the game first begins to falter.
In RAGE, players are poured into a nameless, hollowed-out hero. Our silent protagonist is an Ark Survivor, and has emerged from his damaged Ark after being buried for over 100 years. In 2029, it was discovered that the world was to be struck by the Apophis asteroid. To ensure the survival of the human race, augmented men and women were buried in Arks, set to re-emerge onto the surface at a set date and time. When the protagonist awakes, he finds himself the only survivor. The Ark he was buried in was too damaged to offer any guidance, so the player must stumble blindly into the light—only to be attacked by a bandit. Luckily, Dan Hagar, voiced by the impeccable John Goodman, saves the day. He informs the player that mankind survived the impact, and now struggles in the unforgiving Wasteland.
The player quickly learns that being an Ark Survivor has its perks, but also dangers. Ark Survivors have special power, Hagar explains in Goodman’s masculine baritone voice, and that power is greatly sought after by the game’s antagonist group, the Authority. Over the course of the campaign the secret to why the Authority want Ark Survivors so desperately is explained, but the revelation didn’t exactly blow me out of my driving boots. He advises the player to stay low, but much like a redneck father figure and Ben Parker rolled into one, explains that with great power comes great responsibility, puts a gun in the Ark Survivor’s hand, and tells him to go kill some bandits and come right back for a present. This begins a formula that will repeat throughout the entire game. The “Hero of the Wasteland” becomes nothing more than a glorified errand boy, charging into bandit hole after bandit hole in order to get something, kill someone, and then come right back for cash and cake. There is no conversation option. The quest giver explains the mission and asks if the player accepts or declines, which is pointless. The voiceless protagonist has no option to ask other questions, only listen and obey. The formula gets old but the game avoids feeling too monotonous thanks to the fun and solid shooting mechanics.
Of course, the game plays very well. The first-person shooter genre made its spectacular debut with id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D, and with RAGE the team shows they can still create a great-playing shooter. The gameplay controls are so sharp it could cut glass. Simply put, RAGE is a very fun game to play and fans of shooters will be able to pick it up and have a blast taking out bandits and other enemies. Honestly, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the shooting is where id gets it right. Taking out enemies is fast and satisfying–a lot of that thanks to how the enemies’ AI reacts to the player. Even fighting the same enemies more than once, I never got bored.
Every battle had a different flow to it, thanks in part to the AI and the incredible animations of the enemies. The Ghost bandits used large knives and are very agile. They leap over cover, run across walls and climb up and around the player to find a different angle of attack. There were times when I had a bandit coming at me in a narrow hallway. I had him in my crosshair for a moment and in instant he leapt and ran along one side of a wall, then along the opposite wall to perform a flying kick to my face. The movement was fast and smooth, almost deliberate. Other enemies who prefer to hug cover are also paired with some great AI. Enemies call out the player, and when not alone will try and flank–if alone they will quickly try and make for better cover, sometimes waiting in ambush. Enemies react realistically to damage, stumbling or clutching a wounded arm. If they take too much damage they call out for help and try to get away or lie behind cover desperately crawling away while firing. Every battle I fought in RAGE I walked away feeling humbled that id managed to create an FPS where a twitch shooter fan like myself can often be surprised by persistent adversaries.
Each town in RAGE offers different distractions form the campaign. Players can collect hidden cards throughout the game and use those cards to make a battle deck, to do battle in Rage Frenzy. Think of the game in terms of Magic. There are offensive cards and defensive cards which use a resource pool to be played. Players can also accept side quests via job boards or mail delivery to complete outside the campaign.
Despite how it looks, RAGE is not an RPG, but does contain some elements such as side missions, (some) looting and a detailed menu screen. There are no special abilities to choose from at the beginning. The only time the player can choose a skill is after the first town, Wellspring, is reached. There the player offered one of three armor types (four if you own the Anarchy Edition), which will supply an ability based on how you want to play. One type increases defense, a second improves weapon damage and the third upgrades engineered items. The fourth, the Crimson Elite Armor from the Anarchy Edition, increases all three. All armor types can be upgraded with higher defense by dropping some cash for it at a vendor.
There are a lot of weapons to use in RAGE. Most of them are your standard FPS fare: shotguns machine guns, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, etc. RAGE is not a looter’s game, and you can’t pick up weapons from fallen enemies. This may put some people off a bit but it makes sense this way. After all, RAGE is a shooter, not an RPG, so it doesn’t make sense to load up on discarded weapons hoping that some vendor will have around $800 to drop on 40 shotguns. Can you picture Mel Gibson running around the desert with 40 shotguns in his pocket? I can, and it looks silly. And maybe a little racist. The downside to that is if you are not carrying a certain weapon that the enemy is using, you won’t be able to pick it up to add it to your collection. Weapons are doled out by the game as rewards for progress. I recall a mission where I was promised the shotgun as a reward, only to fight bandits who were using the very weapon. I was a little irked as I helplessly watched several shotguns fade away when they hit the ground. Instead of guns, most bodies can be looted for ammo, spare parts and cash.
There are plenty of guns to choose from and you can buy and install upgrades from shop vendors. Each gun has a wide variety of ammo type that can be loaded to counter certain enemies. The first bandit clan encountered, the Ghost bandits, can be easily taken out with standard pistol rounds and buckshot. The Wasted clan, however, are a bit of a step up and are outfitted with armor pieces. Using Fat Boy rounds for you pistol helps even up the odds. Later, fully armored enemies are better matched with armor-piercing rounds or explosives such as the Pop Rockets fired by the shotgun, which turn any over confident bandit into a puddle of cooked meat and matted hair. Weapons can be chosen by holding down a button, causing two diamond-shaped inventory windows to appear. The left window shows the guns you currently have equipped, and the left window shows the ammo type you can load. This makes switching ammo fast during those hectic moments.
Jumping into the menu allows players to look at the inventory and engineer new items. Engineering allows players to take parts bought or salvaged and reshape them into tools of destruction. Wingsticks, sentry turrets, sentry bots, ammo, lock grinders and more can be created with the right ingredients. Item schematics can be purchased at a vendor for a high price, but most often they are worth it. Speaking of wingsticks, man I love those things. It is two blades attached to one handle and strong enough to knock off enemy heads. When thrown the right way, the wingstick will faithfully come back. Later you can get advanced wingsticks schematics that can attack up to three enemies, and let me say there are few things more satisfying in RAGE than watching three bandit heads fly gracefully through the air.
RAGE also includes vehicles, which is a first for id. Buggies are used as the main method of transport over the large Wasteland. Each town includes races which allow players to upgrade their buggies with new parts such as weapons, armor and engine upgrades. Racing isn’t mandatory, but I will recommend at least earning enough to upgrade your ride with a rocket launcher and some armor. Bandit and Authority vehicles later in the game can dish out a lot of hurt and can take your little car apart in no time if you go out onto the road unprepared. The vehicles control pretty well. They drive more like arcade racers than realistic driving games, and are pretty fun to boot. For never having vehicles before, id Software did an admirable job making driving sequences and races fast and fun.
RAGE sports id Software’s latest graphics engine, Tech 5. The result is generally favorable. For the most part the graphics look incredible; detailed textures and other aesthetic touches make the game come alive. Everything in RAGE is meticulously detailed and often stunning. The world id has created has it’s own pulse and feels alive. The game includes crumbling, ruined cities, dark underground tunnels, dilapidated buildings that leak outside light and more. Every area has feels as if it really had been struck by the end of times. Towns look like they are barely holding together using whatever usable parts that could be found. In the end, id has crafted a beautiful world that just begs to be experienced. The game also runs at a ridiculously smooth 60 frames per second. I don’t know how id pulled that off but other developers need to take notes.
Unfortunately the graphics come at a cost, at least for Xbox 360 owners. Not long ago, I spoke to an artist at id and he informed me that the company attempted to end the cliché use of repeating textures, and make sure that every area had had-placed textures to add to the realism of the world. That’s exactly what they did and the game looks incredible because of it. However, all those textures take a toll on disk space.
The game comes with an eight gigabyte install for PS3 owners, and comes on three disks for the Xbox 360. The company recommended not just once, but twice, that 360 owners install the three disks onto the hard drive. Installing all three takes up 22 gigabytes of storage space, but you don’t have to install the third disk, really, since it only contains the game’s multiplayer modes. The first disk contains the first half of the game, and disk two contains the second half. To backtrack, disk swapping is necessary. In a further attempt to save space, the textures begin to look blurry when viewed at close range. Is it worth it to have a mostly great looking game but multiple disks? That’s a question better left answered by gamers.
The audio is right up there with the graphics. Every weapon sounds incredible and ambiance audio makes every area feel eerie and alive. The music also hits a high note, combining techno, orchestra and acoustic guitar solos that match up with every area.
In an odd twist, id Software didn’t include a versus multiplayer mode. It’s a strange move by the company that coined the name “deathmatch.” The company has admitted that the team wanted to lean more toward a single player experience instead of making another multiplayer shooter. The game does include some multiplayer, however, in the form of racing modes and a separate co-op mission mode. The racing is interesting for a little while but it didn’t hold my interest for very long. The co-op mode, named Wasteland Legends, takes its missions directly from the campaign and are tied to some parts of the story. For example, the first mission stars a couple members of the Hagar family who take out some Gearhead bandits and “reclaim” a sniper rifle. It’s explained that it’s the same sniper rifle used by Dan Hagar to rescue the Ark Survivor in the opening scene. The co-op comes in nine missions and I found them to be far more fun than the racing modes. Bethesda has confirmed that both modes will be supported by future DLC.
The game ends rather abruptly. Some gamers who have experienced the terrible Halo 2 ending may know what I’m talking about. However, RAGE ends far more unexpectedly, with virtually nothing solved. The final stretch is a direct assault on the Authority city, Capital Prime. This mission seems to come too quickly, as if some transition material was cut during development. There is no big final boss battle. The main enemy known only as The Visionary is never seen. His presence is so obscure throughout most of the game I never viewed him as a legitimate threat. Creative Director Tim Willits of id Software has gone on record saying RAGE is meant to be a franchise, which means sequels. But id could have at least provided some sort of closure instead of sloppily-halted ending. The final level is nothing more than a long hallway fight with a minigun against Authority and mutants. It accumulates with the player pressing a big green button and–roll end trailer that hypes up a sequel. The ending to RAGE is, overall, an unsatisfying way to finish up a game that never hit its high point.
While RAGE is fun, beautiful and technically astounding, the game falls flat. The battles are fast, brutal and satisfying, but that isn’t enough, and that’s unfortunate. The game is brimming with potential, most of which is ignored. Think of RAGE like a big bag of popcorn. The first fourth of it is hot, buttery and delicious. But as you continue past the half way point, you begin to realize that all there is is popcorn, slowly cooling down and becoming harder to chew. Sure, there are little nuggets of popcorn stuck together with extra butter to break up the monotony, but not enough of them. Reaching the end one would expect more popcorn, but a quick look in the bag reveals burnt clusters and un-popped kernels.
For those who don’t like my food analogy, RAGE is a game that could have been great, but fails to live up to the promise. Is it fun? Absolutely. But for those who want to experience a unique story to go along with great action will be disappointed. The game is fun to play but ultimately rings hollow.
[xrr label=”Rating: 8/10″ rating=8/10]
+ Beautiful environments
+ Brutal and satisfying combat
+ Vehicles are fun to drive
+ Graphics and audio are superb
– Lame story
– Abrupt ending
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