Developer: id Software / Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Price: $59.99 / Rating: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language] / Played on: Xbox 360, PS3
It’s hard to believe it but Rage represents the end of a near seven-year hiatus from major releases for id Software. A couple of iPhone games and a browser-based version of Quake barely filled the void, but its last real game was 2004′s Doom 3. So consider this review a sigh of relief, as I’m happy to report Rage is a renaissance-like return for arguably the most important development studio in the history of videogames. id approaches this game’s design and the current generation of consoles (both of which are previously uncharted territories for them) with a level confidence I’d expect from the most well-established studios of this era.
It’s easy to dismiss Rage’s post-apocalyptic setting given the frequent appearance of similar backdrops throughout our media over the last few years but it’s probably the most compelling aspect of the game. Scattered throughout the vast wastelands of the world, small pockets of humanity struggle to survive through whatever elements of technology and culture remain from before a devastating asteroid struck the world some 100-ish years earlier. The most immediate threat lies in the countless groups of bandits and feral mutants that want nothing more than to smash you in the face and steal your supplies. But always looming is the sinister and somewhat mysterious totalitarian group simply known as The Authority. This may not make the world of Rage sound special but it’s really the small touches that sell it. Some of my favorite moments emerged from just wandering around the game’s settlements or going for a spin through the wastelands with no destination in mind. Stumbling across a group of settlers playing space dice in an alley way or experiencing your first trip through the set of Mutant Bash TV are just a couple of the many signs implying there’s a much larger culture and history to this world than what is obviously presented before you.
As for the nuts and bolts of Rage’s narrative, you take on the role of a nameless, silent protagonist emerging from an Ark, an underground cryo-pod used to preserve humans for when the end of days arrives. It won’t take long before you discover that, as an Ark human, you are a very sought-after commodity. The convoluted and unclear answer about how and why can make it easy to lose sight of your motivation to keep pushing forward. Maybe this is a subtle commentary on the perspective of “good” and “bad” but I’m just going to chalk it up to some sketchy story telling.
Do you feel games similar to Fallout 3 are a little too open-ended? Or maybe Call of Duty is too linear? Well, Rage is some kind of happy medium between the two and it’s unlike anything id has done before. When you begin the game you hit a couple of smaller settlements before making your way to the game’s bigger cities. Each of these acts as a hub area for a certain portion of the game. Here you talk to settlers to pick up quests, purchase goods (weapons, ammo, engineering schematics, car parts, etc.), and enter races.
The quests, which you spend a good chunk of your time with Rage completing, are for the most part what you’d expect from a modern first-person shooter. Leaving the hub worlds and traversing across the wasteland (we’ll get into that later), you enter these more linear sections of the game that, within the context of the open world, are comparable to dungeons from an RPG. Here you’re tasked with collecting parts, killing mutants, or some combination of the two.
I’d say something like “well, of course the guns in Rage feel great, these are the guys that made the first-person shooter genre” but, it’s been so damn long since id put out a new shooter that it’s not really a given. Thankfully, they do. Just remember that this is the post-apocalypse so pistols and assault rifles come with some wear and tear. Weapons don’t feel perfect; they have just enough recoil and kickback to keep combat encounters feeling chaotic but in a good way. Each gun also comes with a couple of types of alternative rounds. For example, the crossbow can be loaded with explosive mind-control darts that allow you to take over enemies. And the rocket launcher can be filled with vehicle-seeking rockets. It’s worth mentioning that Rage isn’t really a loot-driven game like Borderlands. You acquire guns via specific story moments or through certain vendors.
However, this doesn’t mean you won’t be looting anything. There are plenty of scattered materials to find throughout Rage. Lots of it is vendor trash, but most of it can be used in the game’s engineering system. Here you can build items like a lock grinder, which allows you to open some locked doors, and bandages, which can be used for an instant heal. This is in addition to some of my favorite weapons like robotic spider turrets that will follow you around and kill enemies, and the Wingsticks, which are boomerang-like blades that will decapitate foes in oh-so satisfying ways.
And when you’re not in combat or hitting town, you’re driving. Cruising in your vehicle is a big and quite enjoyable part of Rage. The handling on the cars will feel familiar to fans of arcade racers like Burnout Paradise; they’re loose, swirly, and lots of fun. Each of the two major cities contains racing missions that can be finished to earn cars, weapons upgrades, and new parts. These races are, with the exception of a handful, completely optional.
In fact, there’s a pretty healthy amount of side-questing in Rage. In addition to the races, each settlement has mission boards and NPCs with optional content for you to explore. The main storyline is never far away and you rarely find yourself with more than three or four quests at a time but if you want to dive into everything Rage has to offer expect the 15 – 20 hours suggestion to lean to the higher numbers…there’s a lot here.
Of course, Rage has a few annoyances. It’s lacking in enemy variety, for one. Most of the game is spent taking out bandits, mutants, or the Authority. The game occasionally throws a variation on these but you rarely have to switch up combat strategies. Additionally, some of the quests take you through areas you’ve already seen, just backwards. For a game that’s so brilliantly designed it seems like an oddly lazy choice. I might also recommend experienced players check out the higher difficulty settings as I found myself cruising through Normal.
I’d describe Rage’s look as one part Road Warrior, one part Tatooine. And like these films of the 70’s and 80’s, there’s a real world quality (as opposed to today’s heavy use of CGI) to this environment thanks to the hand-crafted appearance of just about everything. The heavy use of unique art assets for the game’s dilapidated architecture and downtrodden NPC models goes a long way to capturing a unique aesthetic. Hell, even the canyon walls of the wasteland have a painted-on look to them (thanks in large part to the game’s use of Megatextures) that really helps sell this as an actual place.
Despite Rage’s first-person ‘shooterness,’ there’s a cinematic quality to the moment-to-moment action that’s probably induced by the game’s stellar character animations and gorgeous vistas. Some texture muddiness crops up occasionally but it’s no doubt in service of the game’s consistent 60 frames per second, an integral aspect of the “feel” of the shooting. There’s been a lot of talk about the id Tech 5 engine and even on the consoles it looks great.
If I told you seven years ago that id’s next competitive multiplayer would be exclusively car combat, you probably would have called me crazy. But that’s exactly Rage‘s multiplayer. If Twisted Metal and Quake made hot love, the offspring would come out looking something like this. It’s fast-paced and explosion-heavy. In addition to a standard team deathmatch (appropriately titled Carnage), there are a couple of objective game modes, such as Meteor Rally that requires you and up to three other players to duke it out all while trying to collect bits of meteor that are falling from the sky and deliver them to an ever-moving waypoint. Your performances are rewarded with persistent experience and the ability to unlock different upgrades for your vehicles.
If you weren’t paying close attention, you might have missed the fact that Rage also has a cooperative multiplayer mode. It’s called Wasteland Legends and in it two players (either online or split screen) make their way through “untold” wasteland moments that have no real significant bearing on the plot of the single-player but help flesh out the world a little bit. They basically boil down to nothing more than the quest sections of the game with a quick story set up at the beginning of each level.
Game developers rarely challenge themselves like id has with Rage. Not only did they decide to leave their most beloved and iconic franchises behind to try something new, but they decided to do it on a six year old platform that they’ve never developed for, a task which has sunk more than a handful of developers. Fortunately it was a wise and well-executed decision. Rage represents the team at id stepping out of a 20-year long comfort zone and (gracefully) stepping into the modern era. It’s been a long time coming and I think I can speak on behalf of gaming when I say they are most welcome.