Delayed Reactions: Rage (PC Single Player)
This review is for the campaign/story mode of Rage only
If you are coming to RAGE hoping that it’s Fallout 3 with better shooting mechanics, allow me to let you down easy: RAGE is not an RPG-shooter. It’s not an open-world shooter. Rage is really, simply put, a straight up, classic id-style shooter with one of the flashiest graphics engines you’re going to see this year. No matter what you might have heard prior to the game’s launch, everything you will do in Rage comes down to one, simple action: shoot everything that moves on the screen until it moves no more.
Now if that comes as a surprise to you, I would suggest that you stop reading this and go play every Doom and Quake game in succession, then consider your position again. The company that basically started this FPS ball rolling with Wolfenstein has been in the corridor shooter business longer than anyone else. And despite what the game may look like from an outside point of view, with its canyons, hills, deserts, and decrepit cities, RAGE operates like a corridor shooter in every way imaginable.
But this is not a bad thing. While it may not be the most original concept for a game (you emerge from an ‘ark’ 160 years after a meteor hits earth, you ride around an ‘open’ world in a buggy, you kill raiders, mutant humans, and fascist military men from a group call the “Authority”) what RAGE does successfully is quite an enjoyable, albeit an extremely focused, experience. Every encounter is a one-way, concentrated, and exceptionally linear experience designed to make the act of blowing things up, shooting things down, and taking out everyone in your way as rewarding as possible. And despite a few attempts to dip their tow in the RPG waters, this game does very little to satisfy people looking for something more than endless pew-pewing.
To that end, Rage’s pacing is exceptionally brisk. The game really wants you to book through it and enjoy every battle, new weapon, and driving section and not worry too much about spending more time than you need in any one location. You never spend a lot of time in any town or city that you encounter, get to know, or even care, about anyone in those towns, or really get to explore or take in any territory you are sent in to blast the snot out of. And Rage will give you many tools with which to bring the pain to any sorry son-of-a who gets between you and your quest objective (an yes, it does have a ‘quest list’).
In true id style, by the time you reach the end of the game you’ll be carrying more weapons than Rambo and multiple ammo types for each gun. Your standard pistol will eventually fire tri-shot bullets, your crossbow will fire mind control darts (which cause the unfortunate soul it hits to eventually explode in a shower of blood), and you’ll even come across a BF-um-Authority Pulse Rifle! To put it another way, you will have every tool you could ever need.
And, boy, will you need them, as the enemies in this game are not going to make things easy for you. While the actual enemy AI controlling when baddies will attack, when they’ll hide, and when they’ll fire is pretty standard fare, the part that really stands out is how the enemy AI interacts with the environment and with each other. For example, the mutants in the game will roll, juke, jump, hang from the ceiling, and do just about anything to get out of the way of whatever bullet you chose to fire at them. It’s really an incredible and exciting thing to see compared to other shooters where characters seem to want nothing less but to impale themselves on the barrel of your gun. Even the “authority” solders and hideout thugs do a good job of making your life difficult, teaming up and covering each other’s backs if you happen to get the high ground on them.
Speaking of high ground, I haven’t even discussed the centerpiece of Rage: the engine. While shooting is clearly what’s on the menu as far as Rage is concerned, the id Tech 5 engine is definitely the main attraction of the game. Despite launching with some texture and screen tearing issues, as well as a noticeable lack of configuration tabs (Crysis 2 style), the game looked absolutely gorgeous on my PC running at 1920 by 1080 and, honestly, for the first hour I couldn’t stop turning every which way and checking out the environment, the buildings, the characters, and the lighting, shadows, and modeling of the engine. It is, in a word, breathtaking.
However, the game does very little to showcase it other than to say, “here it is” and then quickly launch you back into the action. While I take no issue with this “extremely focused” approach, this engine seriously demands attention, which the game fails to do at every turn. And that’s where some of my biggest issues with Rage start creeping in and rearing their ugly heads. For starters, there’s a lot about this game that is utterly forgettable. You won’t remember town names because you’re never in them for very long. You won’t care about specific characters because you never interact with them for more than a mission or two, and you won’t really care where you’re going or where you’ve been because the game doesn’t give you any reason to.
There’s no map with which to give you any bearing of where you are or where you’re going. There’s no reason to go back to places you already been, as there is one-of-everything in every town you get to. And enemy encounters are never embellished beyond a perfunctory, “you need to go there to get this” so words like “mutants, thugs, and authority” are simply a way of highlighting that what you were shooting at only moments ago is different from what you’re shooting at now. Rage is, sadly, a great looking game that is desperately searching for some semblance of a plot, a fact that becomes painfully obvious by its exceptionally brief and all-too-rushed final act.
Then there are the rally races. Oh lord the rally races. For a game that does so well in the shooter department, to the degree that I would go so far as to call it one of the most satisfying of the year, the racing is simply not fun for a multitude of reasons. And since you’ll be spending about a third of the game driving around in some way shape or form, the issues with the driving cannot be overlooked.
Simply put, the controls do not allow for any kind of precision driving, nor are they tight enough to help you avoid enemy rockets, mines, or traps with any kind of expertise. Turning is also a chore, as the only kind of turn you can successfully make is a very wide, very cumbersome, driving-school style u-turn. And, as far as I can tell, there’s no e-brake and no ability to slide around turns, which for this game (because, you know, it’s set in a damn desert) seems just unforgivable.
On the bright side, id has done a nice job of giving you a wide variety tools for your ride, almost as many as you get while on foot. You’ll get a few main cannon varieties, some really useful power-ups (a shield, a shield, my life for a shield), and nice armor and speed upgrades to help you get around the world a little faster and a little safer.
However, to get any of the tools I just mentioned above you have to, you guessed it, race in the damn rally races! While I did take the time to get through all of the races, just to see the variety there in (there isn’t much), I have to say that if I could have gotten through the game without doing them, I probably would have. Unfortunately, races are tied into the game via the quest system and so your progression is stalled until you buck up and drive. Thankfully, once you’ve decked out your ride with everything available in the shop, you’re pretty much invincible to anything you come across outside of town. I just wish the process of getting those upgrades was as enjoyable or as refined as the smack down you can unleash on foot.
Overall, Rage may not be the ambitious, rpg-shooter messiah that people were hoping for. In truth it’s got its fair share of rough edges, loose controls, and glaring omissions. On the other hand, Rage is cut from the id cloth we all know and love. It’s a very satisfying shooter that makes no bones about being a shooter from beginning to end. Add the fact that it is running on one of the most robust and exquisite engines currently out there, and you have an experience that, while not as deep or complex as it could have been, delivers on what we know id can do better than most other developers on their best days. If shooting is the name, Rage is your game, and you won’t need to use up your vacation time to see everything it has to offer.
+ Excellent shooting mechanics, satisfying variety of weapons, great enemy-ai pathing
+ id tech 5 creates some stunning visuals
+ Pacing is exceptionally brisk and constantly pushing you forward
- Rally races, and races in general, are not well executed
- World seems more open than it actually is
- No need to explore or go somewhere you’re not specifically told to go
- Still not sure what the name refers to, even after 12-15 hours of playing it
FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE:
- Games where you shoot first and ask questions later (i.e. Bioshock, Quake, Resistance, Killzone, Bulletstorm)
Full Disclosure: Review copy of this game was provided by id/Bethesda.