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SummarySignature id and a fresh take on the FPS genre.
The GoodRage enters the modern gaming world in perhaps an awkward state. I think we’ve seen our fair share of post-apocalyptic, wasteland-themed, violence-laden, mutant-having games these days. Besides the obvious two Fallout titles, Metro 2033, and Borderlands, it seems that one of the clichés of modern gaming is the “post-apocalyptic wasteland.” Hell, even the Wii title Deadly Creatures takes place in an area referred to as “The Wasteland,” which if I remember correctly, is either Arizona or New Mexico. Then of course, are the zombie games like the Left 4 Deads, Dead Island, and Dead Rising, and the shooters like Gears of War, Bulletstorm, and Resistance which take place in largely ruined environments. These might not all be strictly post-apocalyptic, but they all hover around the theme, feature environments rife with destruction that occurred long before we got there, and have, you know, mutants and stuff. It’s a good thing that Rage has more than just a post-apocalyptic theme and pretty graphics, or it’d be handily lost in this shuffle. Granted, having the names “id” and “Bethesda” don’t hurt things either.
Rage takes a starkly realistic approach to it’s narrative that the retro-futuristic nature of Fallout doesn’t approach, in that Rage’s apocalypse actually has links in reality. The near-Earth asteroid Apophis struck about 106 years prior, and everything went to hell in a handbasket. This is a real asteroid that, in 2029 and 2036, will come shockingly close to the Earth—closer to us than the moon, and potentially below our network of satellites. Science has largely dismissed Apophis actually striking us, and has tracked that even if it did, it would strike “relatively” harmlessly where human populations are concerned, and is too small for an apocalyptic event. But for a while there, some very real terror hovered around that rock—and this same asteroid is the catalyst for Rage’s transformed world.
At any rate, humans of our time buried a bunch of “arks” as survival pods beneath the surface of the Earth so that the human race could survive the extinction potentially caused by Apophis. We get to play as the only survivor of our ark, only to discover that humans survived, but with their humanity hardly intact, and our global society completely eradicated. The usual post-apocalyptic riff-raff meander the wasteland and you, as the typical silent id Software hero (think Doom), have just what it takes to kick the asses of the bandits, mutants, weirdoes, and corrupt “official” government that’s set up shop in your local wasteland. You, dear player, are the key to peace, freedom, and activating the remaining arks. While not the strongest story out there, it is a helluva lot easier to follow than New Vegas when I decide to resume the main plotline, and remember nothing after 60 hours of side-quests.
I’ll get to the obvious here, the graphics are downright phenomenal. To think that this is running on current-gen technology is incredible. Id Software claimed that there are no repeating textures in the thing, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t look. While there are no doubt similar textures, finding exact duplicate textures, and obvious repetition anywhere is nigh impossible. Remember the alien worlds to explore in the first Mass Effect? Nothing but repeating textures across those surfaces like you were driving over some kind of grid pattern. Compared to Rage, that game came from a different console generation altogether. Probably the most impressed I was came from standing at the foot of a staircase and realizing that, amazingly, no two steps looked the same. This is an unheard-of level of detail. And it makes these environments look so freakin’ real.
The character animations are also incredibly lively, especially the mutants who go bounding over furniture and obstacles , flinging themselves off walls and ducking attacks. This is common place in the game from pretty much all enemies. Long gone are the bad guys that just charge straight ahead, stand in one spot shooting, or the Fallout-esque baddies that “just keep chasing you as you back away shooting.” These guys move. Kill all but one guy, and he’ll run off and alert other guys. Soldiers that need to recharge intense electric shields will continue to do so until you take out the recharge array. Wound a guy and he’ll sit on the ground looking pained and will continue to shoot, best he can.
The depth of life built into the enemy characters in the game is among the most realistic I’ve ever seen, and it brilliantly creates tension and a real sense of urgency. This game features some of the most blisteringly intense and exhilarating FPS battles this side of Bulletstorm.
This is part of where id has perfected their FPS design. Some of the best and most unique battles are combined with a unique yet smooth weapon selection interface. Four weapons are actively equipped, but in typical id fashion, you can carry every collected weapon at once. A simple button press allows you to select both a weapon and specific ammunition type instantly. The downside of this is that you can’t move during this moment, so there is also the typical “tap a button to cycle through equipped weapons” option. The entire interface is designed with quick reflexes in mind.
Part of this is our player’s built-in defibrillator. Take enough damage and rather than just dying, the player enters a defib mini-game where, upon leaving, health is restored (depending on performance of the mini-game), and an electrical charge is fired out hindering or even killing nearby enemies. This is great because it allows players to get right back into the game and to instantly correct missteps. The defibrillator takes a long time to recharge, however, so best to learn from mistakes immediately. The defib is good for another reason, which I’ll reference in the next section.
The driving is typically very smooth and a lot of fun. Id supposedly took inspiration from the Burnout series, and it shows. Cars move and bound over the wasteland in fun and believable manners. It’s fast, it’s smooth, and driving here is second-nature. Picture Burnout with machine guns and rockets, and these cars can turn on a dime when properly upgraded. The basic driving and vehicular combat are fun and a great way to meander through the Wasteland.
Secret rooms that are throw-backs to Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3-D are fantastic, as well as numerous other Easter Eggs referencing id’s notable past. A sign, for instance, in a burned-out shopping district advertises “Doom 4 and Rage 2” as being on sale for half price. Just a note though, the Wolfenstein room is easy to miss and is found early on in the first mission area. If you miss it, you can’t go back. You can, however, return to the areas in which the Doom and Quake rooms are hidden.
Boss battles are fun and creative, and the first one is surprisingly difficult. The soundtrack is wonderfully fitting to every situation, though while the audio is good, it rarely really shined. I feel that it stood out the most during driving sequences, especially when battling other vehicles. Maps are smoothly designed to wrap around themselves meaning that you often exit out the door you entered through, but you do it all without a moment of backtracking. This also makes revisiting some of these areas easier as each location in the game tends to be used twice.
The BadFor all the realism of the environments, they have this unfortunate side-effect: They’re very static and somewhat lifeless. Not from lacking anything environmental to make them interesting or lively, but from the near total lack of interactivity in the things. Take almost any game built on the Unreal engine, and they’re interactive as hell. Smash furniture, knock over stuff, watch things bounce around, etc. Walk into a chair or box in Rage and it just sits there blocking your path. Here, you can’t even open bathroom stalls. When was the last time you went into a restroom in an FPS title and couldn’t open the stalls and screw around? Some areas for that matter, when you get up close to something, may tend to look abysmal. Low-poly structures with blurry, low-res textures. Most of the game is stunning and detailed as hell, but it’s not without its disappointing set pieces. For that matter, texture draw-in occurs fairly often, but I’m playing on the Xbox 360 and at the time, didn’t have the harddrive space to spare for installation, which purportedly raises texture quality and reduces draw-in.
The only part of this game to cause me real grief, and make me furious, was a portion of the races known as Rallies, typically Rocket Rallies. In these atrocities, the focus wasn’t on racing, it was on driving through highlighted checkpoints to score points, and scoring other (though fewer) points by destroying the competition. These ended up being trial-and-error nightmares since they always started off with the computer knowing the patterns where the checkpoints would appear, and me having to scramble to figure it out. Thankfully, they were typically a predictable pattern, and after a couple tries they were doable. One of them, though, in Subway Town, featured randomly appearing checkpoints, which was downright aggravating. This was my only time really raging at the game. Watch out for this crap.
There are also moments where the driving feels unbalanced or broken. For one thing, you may be racing around the Wasteland with a vehicle that’s partially upgraded and riding smoother and turning sharper, but the upgrades don’t carry over to races, meaning that you suddenly have to deal with stiffer control, wider turns and lower armor. Rather than doing some races and coming back to mix up gameplay, you’re encouraged to just sit there and play through them all at once which seems a little silly. By the way, expect the cars to get completely hung up on environmental objects that you should otherwise just slide across when running into them. Like a guardrail in a race.
One of the main strengths of the defib comes from a horrible failing in the game’s overall design: It’s checkpoints are nigh nonexistent. When you enter a new area, say Ghost territory or Jackal territory, that’s your checkpoint. It doesn’t matter how far you advance through the area, that’s it. It isn’t full of auto-saves like Fallout: New Vegas, and if you aren’t carefully monitoring that defib unit and taking care in your fighting, you might end up dying awfully late in an area and be forced to do it all over again. SAVE OFTEN.
I don’t usually like to include this kind of thing because I feel like they’re **SPOILERS**, but the end sequence wasn’t what I’d hoped for. It wasn’t very strong, and the rest of the game built up to indicate that a massive boss battle was looming. Well…
The Bottom LineWhen I rate a game, I factor one issue above all else, and that’s if I just had fun with the game and how much of my time with the game was fun against how much was boring, frustrating, or downright rage-inducing. For instance, I spent ample time raging insanely at Ninja Gaiden II. I was bored and downright furious by the time Metroid: Other M concluded. Looking back on Resident Evil 5, I remember yelling at Shiva, and being annoyed by the cumbersome gameplay and shoddy item management. Fun, unfortunately, was minimal on these three titles. Graphics, sound, technical prowess, game length—those things are all less important than fun. And perhaps ironically for a game called “rage,” I nary raged at the thing at all. It was just, simply, fun.
Rage exists in a time and place in gaming where everything has RPG elements. Something can be upgraded, side missions hand out experience, enemies have different levels and later on, require a half dozen direct head shots to kill. While it makes leveling up more valuable, it also makes the end result feel a little silly. In Borderlands, I had Mordeci at level 40 and my skills with a sniper rifle up to about 13, and was shooting bad guys in the face several times with high-powered sniper rifles to kill them. The leveling up was fun, the end result felt silly.
Rage has almost no RPG elements. For better or worse, it’s as much an old-school FPS as possible, with the proper modern concessions. You don’t just pick up weapons anywhere like in Halo or any other modern shooter. Like Doom, you pick them up at key points in the game, and once you have them, you have them, you pick up ammo, money, and other supplies from enemies. There are cool sequences whenever you get a new weapon where the player character carefully looks over the weapon as he accepts it.
Overall, I had a great time with Rage. It’s lack of RPG-heavy elements is, to be honest, more like a breath of fresh air in this era where everything can be always leveled up, and side-quests spend ample hours distracting from the main story until 80 hours later you still haven’t finished the game and you probably never will. Rage’s length was about perfect, clocking in around 20 hours, and on the Xbox 360, the main game takes place entirely on the first two disks of the this 3-disk release.
Sure, sometimes it feels empty not earning experience from completing missions, but then, each side mission tends to have its own rewards, and when I’m not spending time focusing on experience, I felt like I was free to focus on the mission for the mission’s sake.