When most developers come out and say they are developing a first-person shooter, it’s easy to remain indifferent. When the pioneers at id Software, creators of the legendary Doom and Quake series, announce the same thing, the world definitely listens with an ear to the Internet, waiting for the next droplet of coverage on the title. Rage, their newest game, was hyped from the moment of its announcement many years ago and has a lot to live up to given id’s legacy. Obviously, it’d be impossible to innovate in the ways of the company’s old franchises, but Rage does its shooter thing well enough to stand out and be a fun romp in the wasteland.
If Uncharted 2 is a pinnacle of story-driven gameplay, then Rage would be the antithesis of that. Saying Rage has a story is almost overstating it, because that never comes through while playing. You play as some nameless, faceless, and voiceless meathead who got lucky enough to wake after the meteor-caused apocalypse. The character wakes up and is basically being told he has to eventually kill some bad guys… or something like that. I literally don’t think I’ve played a game with a more half-assed story. Every story mission feels like a side mission because of the lack of importance it has to the immediate plot. “Go do this”, “go fetch that,” and “blow this up” are your orders for every mission, making your character feel like he’s everyone’s bitch because he’s the new guy in town. I was honestly surprised I wasn’t tasked with feeding someone’s goldfish or doing their grandma’s laundry.
The characters that give you the missions can’t even pick up the slack, which says a lot given how cool they are. These wasteland inhabitants are really diverse in how they speak and look. People have striking similarities to the folks in the Jak and Daxter games, meaning they all have an abundance of clothing and robotic pieces on and that they animate spectacularly. In a world where mo-cap (though admittedly that tech is really important) animation rules, it’s refreshing to see characters animated by hand with juxtapositions not seen in many games. When these guys babble, arms, heads, shoulders, hands, and just about every other body part (not those you pervert) move with personality in every minute detail. It made these people seem interesting and lively even though they had nothing of much importance to say. Characters that are animated well can’t even begin to save the hopelessness of the plot though. The narrative suffers from oversights in almost every possible facet, leaving the gameplay to hold up the game by itself.
Thankfully, the gameplay more than makes up for any bad story. Rage is a first-person shooter but isn’t the standard shooter by many means. It all feels different because you aren’t shooting for the entirety of the game. There are a few hub worlds to take on to break up the pace, leaving you gamble, play minigames, shop, race, or look for missions at your leisure, giving the game some breaks in between the action to spend your time doing what you please. Breaks in these safe zones between missions did wonders because it let the game carry into its twelve hour playtime without feeling like it overstayed its welcome.
Just because I wasn’t using all of my time shooting in Rage didn’t mean I didn’t like it. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Running at an incredibly responsive sixty frames per second, shooting feels awesome and has so many variations and strategies. You can carry all of your weapons at once, meaning you don’t have to choose what to bring with you and you can make up strategies on the fly. Each weapon even has different add-ons in the forms of ammo types, furthering each weapons ability to morph into an even better tool. This gives the combat a vast amount of player choice, something this genre needs to experiment more with.
Choice doesn’t stop at the gun department. While I’d hesitate to call Rage an RPG, it has a RPG-like crafting system to create some wonderful tools of destruction. Sentry bots, flying spinning blade boomerangs, instant healing bandages (which just about every shooter needs to adopt), exploding RC cars, sentry turrets, and other valuable death-dealing machinery can be made on the fly to give you some great options and strategies to take down your clever foes. Once you throw out a spider-like sentry bot, lay down a suppressing turret to cover your flank, and have a hold of the all-powerful shotgun, nothing can stand in your way and all will die trying. You will feel like a badass.
Yes the choice greatly adds to this game’s enjoyment, but a shooter is only as good as his best targets. With that said, Rage has some of the smartest enemy AI I’ve ever encountered on the battlefield. Not only do they have variety in looks and behaviors, but all of them are smart enough to keep you on your toes. Melee enemies will parkour all over the ceilings and walls as fast as they can to get to you, leaving them be tricky targets to get a bead on but satisfying (with no sticky aim option) nonetheless. Soldiers with firearms have a whole different set of intelligence and are even more satisfying to take down. They will communicate amongst each other to coordinate attacks, call out what gadgets you are using, try to flank you, move between cover intelligently, and even retreat when they get too scared or overwhelmed. Hell, they’ll even hide behind one of their allies if he has a riot shield! Unpredictability is usually the result in these firefights, leaving you to use your many tools to combat whatever the enemy decides to throw out you. When everything clicks, few first-person shooters are as satisfying.
Sadly, even though it’s mostly good, the game can have some stumbles. For some unknown and probably ridiculous reason, there are no normal checkpoints. Checkpoints only occur at the start of each area, meaning if you happen to take one too many bullet scars to the brain, you basically need to play the entire mission over again. The only way to counteract this is to manually save every time, which is cumbersome and breaks the action up far too many times. It’s completely baffling why a game being released in 2011 has checkpoint issues this severe. Rage isn’t a difficult game, but having to redo over twenty minutes of work caused me to rage quit a few times (see what I did there?).
Driving is not only a means to get places, but it also can be used for races. Races are mostly optional, with a few necessary for progression, and from my experience, this is a good thing. The racing isn’t bad per se, but too many frustrations pop up to have it be something to keep coming back to. Cars tend to flip over and get caught on geometry, leaving control to fall by the wayside at times. Weapon races also aren’t fun just on account of all the pure chaos. Once weapons get turned on, targets and explosions seemingly make up every follow you on every inch of road making it hard to progress and gain momentum. There isn’t really a way to counteract (besides the few shields you get) the constant stream of rockets coming up your tailpipe, causing explosions and last second losses to happen all too frequently. Rocket Rallies are the only remaining mode in a car and are by far the worst. You are set in an arena to pick up drops of a certain element and it is entirely dependent on luck and chance. These fall randomly leaving it just up to luck if you are the closest one to it when it drops. Once again, blowing up every twenty seconds doesn’t help either.
If you’ve seen Rage in any form, you’ll know that it is quite a beautiful game. The heavily-touted “no repeating textures” mumbo jumbo PR talk looks to be true as everything in the game is stunningly gorgeous. Canyons have a realistic rocky texture and, given how much time you spend in these areas, is a good thing. Interiors bode well too, with internal environments having a sort of grungy, dusty look to them that is just awe-inducing to look at.
I might as well put a giant asterisk by that last paragraph because it has one major caveat: all of it looks beautiful after it loads in. The texture pop-in is easily the worst I’ve ever seen, dwarfing any problems other games have had in this department. Around every corner another texture pops into detail. Speed is factor as some of it is acceptable but most of it is horrendous. It only seems to load the textures in front of you, meaning that if you are constantly turning around, you’ll notice it even more. It was a total let down and sometimes even dragged me out of the experience having to have everything load in before my eyes. Yes, the game looks completely dazzling and towers above most multiplatform titles, but was it worth all the technical hiccups? That’s debatable, but I don’t think the sacrifice was ultimately worth it.
Rage doesn’t reinvent the wheel like some hype-fueled fanboys were hoping, but that’s a stupid way to go about things. Id Software has proven their developing chops by producing yet another solid, different enough feeling shooter that easily stands on its own two feet as a memorable title. Rage might be a bit of a misnomer because, despite some niggling issues, gives you anything but rage.
+Choice of armaments keeps combat fresh
+Lengthy campaign with plenty of different things to do
+When everything pops in, it looks stunning
+Brilliant enemy AI makes battles feel different and intense
+Characters are lively with superb animation
-Lack of checkpoints causes long sections to be replayed if you are killed
-Texture pop-in is horrendous
-Story is non-existent
-Racing can be frustrating
Final Score: 8.5/10
Platform Differences: The PS3 version is on one Blu-Ray while the Xbox 360 version is on three DVDs.