Rage – Review
With our paths having crossed numerous times over the last couple of years it’s safe to say that it has been a long road for Rage and me. It started during the Eurogamer Expo a few years back, progressed to E3 in June this year, before culminating at Gamescom two months ago when I got to sit down and finally get some hands-on time with it. Firing up the game for the first time caused a pang of nostalgia to envelop me when I saw the id software logo return to my living room. It had been a long time coming, but one of the developers to whom I can attribute so much of my early gaming adventures was finally back in my life; the architects of the First Person Shooter genre were back.
The story of Rage begins in the year 2029 when the Apophis asteroid crashes into Earth on August 23rd and in the process wipes out a significant part of the world’s population, along with its landmass, rivers, lakes and so forth – very much your end of the world asteroid affair. Not to let themselves be beaten into submission humanity creates the Ark project, which sees hundreds of cryogenic pods buried under the ground in order to help keep humanity, or at least some of it, safe from the impending doom.
Over a 100 years later you emerge from your Ark and things haven’t exactly gone to plan as you awake into a world unrecognisable from the one you left behind. Nothing but barren wastelands sit before you as far as the eye can see and then your first tentative steps into the world of Rage begin. The single player campaign starts with some friendly words of encouragement by Sully from Monsters, Inc. (John Goodman) as he explains the what, when, how and why about the alien world you’ve stepped into. The campaign follows the storyline where the world, since the destruction of society, has (politely putting it), gone to shit. The wastelands are a playground for clans of bandits who’ll take any chance they can get to pillage, maim and generally cause mischief. Looking past the bandits, you’ll have a variety of different mutants to contend with and then there’s the Authority.
No new dawn of man would be complete without an over-zealous and power hungry organisation, the sort of people who you know you couldn’t and shouldn’t trust, but have very little option but to do so. As you progress through the game you’ll learn more about the Authority, who they are, what their motives and so forth. They’re your pretty standard baddies, packing superior weaponry, technology and armour that makes them look like a swat team from something out of Judge Dredd. It’s not all Authority this, Authority that, however, as the game does offer you more than enough opportunities to venture out and do your own thing after talking to people around town, picking up a job from the cleverly named ‘job board’ or taking part in one of the mini-game styled side quests. Even in the wastelands it seems delivery men can cause a load of colossal ball-ache, so do a Hoff, jump in your car and get delivering packages all across the map.
There is also the rather excellent Mutant Bash TV, which is like a post-apocalyptic version of Fun House, minus the Pat Sharp, twin blondes and Go Karts. Suffice it to say that if you ever get bored there’s more than enough to keep you occupied, and if it comes to it you’ll always have the racing circuit to get involved with which, by winning race certificates, allows you to upgrade your vehicles.
It’s hard to talk about Rage without mentioning the combat; it is, after all, something you’ll be doing a hell of a lot of and when you’re not the odds are you’ll simply be reloading your weapon. It’s not that the combat is effortlessly smooth and refined that makes it so enjoyable, but a big portion of its success can be attributed to the weaponry you acquire as you progress through the game. All the standard guns are present, ranging from the basic Pistol, assault rifle and shotgun to the more extravagant Authority Pulse Cannon that contains the aptly named BFG ammunition. Regardless of your weapon of choice it’s always a joy to use. Taking the pistol as an example which, despite being about as generic as it can get, is still good fun to use and perhaps more importantly still feels like you’re packing some serious heat.
Weaponry is enhanced via various forms of ammo, from the mind-control bolts of the Striker Crossbow which, as the name suggests, let you take control of an enemy for a short period of time before detonating them and anyone else in their general vicinity. Consequently, with the amount of ammo on offer it all adds to the strategic element of the game; do you use all your pop rockets up, switch to your Pulse Shot or revert to your standard Buck Shot for your trusty Combat Shotgun? The choice is there a-plenty but the important thing is you never feel reluctant to switch between weapons, which is a bit of a rare commodity in games of this era where you typically find a weapon and just stick with it.
One of the more interesting things about Rage is the mix of genres it clearly bases itself on. One can only imagine the dev team all huddled around a cauldron cackling wickedly as they add in a pinch of FPS, a smidge of adventure, a touch of racing and a teaspoon of RPG to help wash it all down. It all adds up to a rather unique feeling when playing and although, on the whole, the overall experience is a very enjoyable one there are times when you find yourself wishing they’d added a few more ingredients to the mixture.
The RPG nature is represented from the inventory and crafting system, which work exceptionally well. The crafting system in particular was a feature that, by the end of the game I couldn’t live without as I frantically scavenged and traded for crafting materials to make a whole plethora of items ranging from ammunition, sentry bots and even remote control car bombs. Despite all this, there are times when you sit back, reflect and can’t help but wonder what may have been if they’d gone the whole hog and thrown in a levelling system. It’s likely one of the first times I’ve ever experienced anything like it in a game, especially in a First Person Shooter – mowing down enemies one after the other with great satisfaction while the niggling thought at the back of my mind simply mutters “you should be getting exp for all this”.
It’s not uncommon for games to borrow from additional genres but Rage takes that to a whole other level with the end result being a very polished experience, but at the same time it’s as if it’s trying just a little too hard – much like the new kid at school who tries desperately to fit in instead of just accepting who he is.
During your travels you’ll visit a few settlements, all of which function as any town would in an RPG: a place to trade wares, find new jobs, gamble away your money, join the racing scene and meet plenty of interesting characters. Despite following a pretty standard archetype the settlements and towns you venture into all have their own unique style, from the modern Wild West of Wellspring where the local residents are warm and welcoming to the dark and grungy Subway Town – a place where you imagine the local populace would sell you out for a shot of whatever the naughty stuff is in the not so distant future; grim doesn’t begin to describe it.
It’s not just the towns and settlements that have can be lauded for their design integrity but also the wasteland itself which, for a giant mass of derelict rubble, has a lot of atmosphere about it, a great deal of life where perhaps there usually isn’t any. It is still without question a wasteland, but id software have managed to create a place where, despite being nothing but dirt, rocks and reminders of a past age, you don’t ever get bored of seeing it; there’s never a case of “oh look, there’s that rock again”.
Perhaps one of the biggest testaments to the graphical appeal is that settlements, the wastelands as well as other locales you visit have an air of beauty of them all. At the heart of Rage pumps the new id Tech 5 engine and with it comes a graphical prowess that helps cement Rage as one of the best looking Xbox 360 titles to date. The beauty of Rage’s art style is that it’s very much its own; it’s not various shades of brown and greys, but instead it has created a look that is genuinely inviting. The textures in the wastelands look phenomenal, while the lighting and shadows truly help create a fantastic level of atmosphere, especially in the likes of Subway Town which, despite its dark and grimy look, has a unique beauty to it. It’s a testament to the art design when a place that should look incredibly vile, like the aptly named ‘Dead City’, still looks rather pretty – in a blood dripping from the ceiling kind of way.
No id Software game would be complete without multiplayer, but Rage heads in a direction that will likely surprise anyone remotely familiar with the company’s back catalogue. There’s no online FPS deathmatch here, instead in its place is a vehicle based system. It’s a strange decision but it is one that does work, especially when you factor in that the cars you drive have various pieces of weaponry bolted to them. It takes you back to the days of Destruction Derby and Twisted Metal with a bit of modern day Burnout and Motorstorm thrown in for good measure, the end result being a very enjoyable experience. The standard practice of a multiplayer levelling system is in place, with various unlocks becoming available as you rise through the ranks, so no surprises there.
While the vehicle based multiplayer is more than acceptable (it’s bloody good fun!) it’s the mode Legends of the Wastelands which gives you the option to team up with a friend and tackle a variety of missions together that really shines. As you progress through the single player campaign you’ll occasionally hear an NPC randomly talk about events out in the wastelands, how someone did something quite remarkable. Legends of the Wasteland sees you act out the events talked about, meaning a nice crossover between single and multiplayer is established. I’m not a gambling person but you can only imagine that over time and with various levels of DLC there’ll be even more missions added; it seems perfect for it.Pros
- Visually stunning.
- Solid multiplayer.
- Smooth and fluid combat.
- Good length on the single player campaign.
- Interesting mix from multiple genres.
- Good voice acting.
- Sometimes tries to do too much.
- World sometimes feels narrow and compact as opposed to open.
When you step back and admire the overall package it’s hard to find fault with Rage. Yes, at times it does try a bit too hard to be things that it isn’t but, for the most part, you’re presented with an incredibly refined and all round fun experience. The combat feels incredibly smooth and fluid, and I would go as far as to say that it’s flawless; this is FPS gameplay at its best and it helps cement id Software as the godfathers of the genre. It’s only when you start to factor in the vehicles that control and handle brilliantly, memorable characters, excellent voice casting, solid multiplayer and a graphical prowess for a console game that is simply staggering that you begin to realise that just how much of a great game Rage actually is.
A fine return to form for id Software. Welcome back old friend.
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