Nineteen years ago, PC gamers were introduced to a little game by a little company that created a genre. That game was Wolfenstein 3D, by developer id Software. We all know the tree of id’s original series’ that followed; Doom, Quake (the original Quake was recently reviewed on Retrocore Podcast), and now, their first original IP in 15 years, Rage. Some will find this disconcerting, but Rage doesn’t do anything to break out of id’s normal mold of gameplay. They created the genre and have since focused on building a better world. And you know what? With the environments they built in Rage, I am completely happy with that.
To set the story, you play a character that just awoke from an Ark, buried before an asteroid destroyed the Earth in 2029. You exit the ark, meet a helpful gentleman that takes you back to his small settlement, and from there your you continue helping mankind for a better future. See, I said it wasn’t really original, didn’t I?
The gun selection is fantastic, with a variety of options. While Rage offers upgrades to your guns, they are few and far between, and most of the upgrades I got seemed pretty useless (for the Assault Rifle, at least). The biggest gun modifier is the ammo selection. Each gun has a variety of different ammo types. From your standard bullet, to Fatboys for the revolver, or even exploding arrow tips for the crossbow and as you progress through the game you’ll find more interesting ways to kill bandits.
These are accessed in a slightly clumsy way, by using the R2 trigger to pull up your “quick weapon” selection, and then using the left analog stick to select one of the four types of ammo. While swapping weapons was a pretty simple task in combat, I always fumbled with ammo selection. Especially if I was in a big showdown with a few armor-protected mutants and needed to switch to my more powerful ammo.
You have a nice variety of guns to shoot, including my personal favorite, the crossbow. Small spoiler here, but you also get a nice ode to the Doom franchise with one of the last guns you get. Sadly, you only get to use the gun for a fraction of the game.
While the guns feel great, they have that certain kick that many of today’s shooters lack and as such camera took some getting used to when shooting. The camera was just a little too fast, in my opinion. Thankfully, you can adjust the sensitivity, and after a few clicks down, it felt just right.
Exploring the wasteland and different areas you go into, you will find loot scattered around. Some is useful only for monetary trade-in value, but scavenging ammo will save you quite a bit of money as well. Also, some of the items can be combined with others to make more useful things, like bandages or more powerful ammo types. Of course, you have to have the recipe to make the final product first, and by only doing the main story and a few side missions, you are only going to get about half or so of the recipes in the game.
Some of the gadgets I never used, like the sentry turret, but others I LOVED. One, the sentry bot, was a cocky little robot that would attack enemies three to four times its size with a vengeance. And by a vengeance, I mean hopping up and down, circling the enemy as it fired bullets at it. I died laughing the first time I used the sentry turret. The wingsticks I avoided for a long time before I finally broke down and started using them, and wow was I impressed. Much like a boomerang, the wingstick will home in on the head of the target if you aimed it right, and usually make quick work of an enemy.
One of the things that worried me before release was seeing “car combat” as a heavily advertised feature. Driving in shooting games rarely works; Borderlands is a good example of that. While it made getting from point A to B three maps away much easier, in Borderlands car physics were terrible. However, in Rage, they are quite the opposite. When I finally got to play online and did my first Carnage event, I had a lot of fun, and could easily see myself playing more. The campaign has races in it, as well, which allow you to earn certificates, which in turn allow you to purchase upgrades for your vehicle and as the game progresses, better vehicles unlock as well.
Back to the physics for just a moment though, they are far tighter than I expected. I play a lot of racing games, and the car physics here really impressed me. The wasteland you drive around has various jumps scattered throughout as well, so driving up little ramps and collection various collectibles scattered around is almost as fun as driving through billboards in Burnout Paradise.
The tastiest thing about this game, however, is simply level design. The structure of the environments constantly had me appreciating what I was walking through. It wasn’t JUST the graphics that had me in awe. It was little things, like walking up a crooked, broken staircase and the camera shifting.
The atmosphere id Software creates with Rage is done well enough that I felt very immersed in what I was doing. Mutants would crawl through well-placed crevices and attack you, so you never exactly knew what was going to trigger a reaction. Which leads me to another small complaint. The AI isn’t very well designed. Sure, they scamper from one cover point to another. They pop just an arm out to fire off a few rounds at you. But they never make an attempt to use any other tactics on you.
To put the game in terms of Doom, the wasteland is your main level, and each area you get sent to is a monster closet. There isn’t as much freedom to explore as you would expect, though it isn’t a linear Call of Duty experience, either. The areas you go to are so well designed that I honestly did not mind the linearity of it all and I loved every minute of exploring these little places.
One big sticking point for me are load times, especially concerning all of the little areas you will visit over the course of the game. There is one particular place where you load into a lab, talk to a guy, only for him to say he needs something else, so you load back into the wasteland. Why even have that little place with just one little guy as a place that you have you load into? And if you decide to take the racing events seriously, prepare for a ton more loading. If they could reduce the load time by half at least, I would not have a problem with it, but it happens a few too many times and takes just long enough that I can not choose to ignore it.
In addition to the single player campaign there is a full on multiplayer component featuring both cooperative and competitive play. Co-op is a series of different missions that tell a little more of the backstory to the game world. While separate from the campaign, it is very much a small section of the campaign for you and a partner to enjoy together. There are quite a few missions to play, and you get emblems (note: avatars for multiplayer) for meeting certain criteria. You start with a set inventory, and you have to fight your partner over scavenging goods because it’s not a joint effort. Luckily, while I played with random people, I did not encounter any jerks that wanted to hog all the good ammo. While co-op is a fun little distraction from the campaign, outside of trophy (achievement) hunting, I do not think it is something that would be enjoyed long term. Multiplayer races though, are your normal online multiplayer experience. You level up, earn new vehicles, new upgrades to choose between, new decals, etc. I had a blast playing when I did, and I actually intend to revisit it down the road (bad pun intended).
One short side note, had this game been another ten hours, and had a leveling system, I would have enjoyed it even more. I realize it would be too Falloutish, but that is not really a bad thing being as the shooting mechanics in Rage are far better than Fallout, so a shorter, more linear-but-still-open game would be a pretty amazing play.
All-in-all, while this review may seem very “on the fence”, I had a blast playing through id Software’s newest IP. This holiday is stacked with high quality games, and Rage is definitely one of them that I recommend everyone play. I hope we see a Rage 2 in a few years, with a few tweaks.
Pros: amazing level structure, spot-on gun kick, different ammo types are fun to play with, fun car physics
Cons: bland story, too much load time, textures loading in, the ending
PC Technical Rundown: If I had to sum up Rage in one word, it would be, unfortunate. Even with the last minute driver updates the game is still plagued by horrible texture popping, screen tearing, glitchy enemy movements, and buggy character animations. However issues aside, the game is extremely gorgeous. The id Tech 5 engine provides gorgeous character model and animations and enemy movements are very impressive. Even set in a post-apocalyptic world, the game feels unique and it is a shame that technical issues mire all of that.
XBOX 360 Technical Rundown: The biggest difference is that 360 version of Rage comes on 3 discs. The first two are campaign oriented with the third containing the multiplayer potion of the game. Installing the discs to the 360 hard drive speeds up load times significantly and also helps alleviate some of the texture pop-in that both Don and Tramell experienced in their play sessions on PS3 and PC. Of course installing to the hard drive requires a considerable space investment for players but being as only one disc really needs to be loaded at a time it is no more an investment that any other installed game.
The game itself runs silky smooth and ultra fast, with so many of today’s first person shooters running at 30 frames per second, the speed of 60 frames takes a bit of getting used to however it also really enhances the gameplay. If there were any fears the 360 was getting a gimped version of the game they can be safely ashed away because there really is not enough that can be said about how great Rage looks on the 360 and it rivals Gears of War 3 for best looking shooter on the system this year.