I beat Rage Monday after plodding through it an hour or two at a time for the past month and Sunday I beat Modern Warfare 3 on Veteran in just two long sittings.
There's much about both these games that I loved and an equal amount that I loathed but the thing that stands out to me the most is that both have terrible bad guys. I'm going to put down some very mild spoilers here so if you actually care about the stories of Rage and MW3 you might want to stop reading. Or don't, there's not much to spoil in either game and I'll avoid any major plot points.
In Rage the primary bad guy is some general dude who you never actually meet, fight or find out what becomes of him. To give you an idea of what I mean, I beat the game 10 minutes ago and I don't even remember his name and that's not some lame exaggeration to prove a point. The number of conversations in which he is mentioned, despite being the mastermind of all that is evil - with the exception of the asteroid of course, is less than the number of fingers on Frodo's right hand.
Instead the enemy you end up fighting is the absentee general's generically-named army, the Authority, which does things you'd expect from a bland sci-fi authoritarian regime. They stand around and look violent while spreading propaganda and growing increasingly paranoid. I think if I was the leader of a super high-tech army I wouldn't call myself a general nor my army the Authority, I'd probably call myself the Ironfist Rage-Knight of the Violently Oppressive Destruction Force. Something with a little more zip to go along with the killer matte-black armor with red highlights and the deadly laser gatling guns.
Similarly, you don't really get to fight MW3's primary bad guy but you do get to do a random game of patty-cake with Makarov at the end of the game. At least with Makarov is more of a character with some back story and he is a known quantity from the previous games. What makes him a crappy bad guy is that he is constantly two steps ahead of you and dupes the world into Armageddon but for some reason can't kill you. He is some kind of crazy evil Russian villain version of the Texas Rangers - or the Buffalo Bills if you want to go old school.
I wish I could sit in on the early creative meetings for both these games because it feels like they sat down and talked about the levels they wanted to create and then went to work. At some point down the road they realized they needed a story to tie everything together so they gave the UPS guy a pad of paper and told him to do it in 2,000 words or less.
MW3's main character is, um...I think Price but it might be that one Russian guy because you play as him a lot and he's kind of the main plot twist. Wait, you do get to play grab-ass with Makarov from Price's perspective at the end but I can't remember if you actually play as him in any other parts. Without one of those cool police detective walls with all those strings connecting polaroid pictures of all the characters or playing all three games again while actually trying to hear the conversations between the variously-accented GI Joes over all the explosions and bang-bang noises I'll probably never know. I'll settle for Price as the main character because he's been in all the games.
I get the feeling the actual story of the Modern Warfare games might actually be good if you read it as a novel but as a plot condensed down into three loud but short games it's hard to process all that information without playing them through on the easiest setting while paying close attention.
The main character in Rage is nothing more than a Golden Retriever constantly fetching something for his master and getting tasty little treats in return. Oh, and he has nanotrites, which I think are like elecrolites because those things are what freezer dudes crave. Also, they have something to do with mind control on mutants but your vault boy is full of them too so my guess is if they make a sequel Mr. Silent Protagonist is going to find out he's been controlled this whole time. That's not a spoiler, that's just me trying to see which plot device id Software will use in the future if they ever decide to make a plot.
Rage is the perfect vessel for a wonderful story, unfortunately id Software has zero writers on staff. I spent 20 hours in the campaign because I enjoyed looking at every little corner of every level. I played through on normal, which was a mistake. I think you must not take damage on the easiest setting because Normal presented very little challenge. It didn't help that I did every side quest and race so my character had too much health, ammo and gadgets. By the time I got to the final mission I was so bored I just tossed down a bunch of sentry bots and watched everything unfold, what little there was to watch. You can only have two sentry bots in play at one time so every time one would die I'd just throw down another.
The weapons system reminded me of Bioshock. Most weapon have four types of ammo, each effective against a certain type of enemy or piece of equipment. I found myself using the Combat Shotgun, Striker Crossbow, Sniper Rifle and Authority Machine Gun the most. In levels where there were waves of enemies I'd usually drop down two sentry bots and use my wingsticks to take out any charging enemies. It's one of those games where you could probably ask five people and they'd each tell you they used a different group of weapons and ammo. There are so many options it was fun to experiment but you haven't lived until you stick a guy with a dynamite bolt from a crossbow.
I didn't restart Rage on a harder difficulty because I'd initially thought I would want to play through the game a second time because the game makes such a great first impression. By the time I realized my mistake I just wanted to get through the game while seeing as much as I could in one sitting. I don't think I want to go back through and fight wave after wave of the three or four identical enemy types for each faction. I hope id Software puts more effort into the story for Rage 2, if they end up making it, because I have a feeling it will be much better. Rage reminds me a lot of the original Assassins Creed game, not in how it plays but because it has so much potential wasted by catastrophic boredom issues yet somehow I subjected myself to way too many semi-enjoyable hours of it. If they turn the story into something worthwhile and get rid of some of the repetition I'd love to jump back into that goddamn gorgeous world.
I decided to play through MW3 on Veteran and I'm glad I did. Several reviews, including the one here on Giantbomb, mentioned the gratuitous vehicle sequences. I didn't feel like half the game was behind a turret or in a some sort of vehicle because most of my time was spent dying in one or two hits from an enemy with an aimbot while running around in some ruins. The vehicle parts felt perfectly spaced on Veteran because by the time I was getting frustrated by the vicious instakills I'd inevitably get to relax and blow dudes up without having to worry about dying. Say what you will about the campaign but after playing it on Veteran I'm convinced that's the way it was designed to be played. It felt good to find the correct series of barriers or cars to duck behind to advance through the level. Each level is like a maze but with dudes you can shoot and after solving each maze it was nice having the reward of a helicopter or AC-130 gunner sequence at the end each time.
In the end, MW3 is still about multiplayer and once I figured out the maps I was having fun running around shooting. The maps are much smaller and sometimes all the shit in the air gets overwhelming but it's still one of the best FPS experiences on a console. I'm still a big fan of having a friend or two over and playing a splitscreen game so Spec Ops is always one of my favorite parts of the Modern Warfare series. This time is no different, I spent a few hours last week getting three stars on the first two groups of operations and reached level 20 on our first try at the Survival mode. We ended up dying when a juggernaut dropped out of a helicopter onto the claymore I just set, killing both of us.
Ultimately, I'm glad I played both games. MW3 is always a guilty pleasure of mine, mostly because I usually play it with a friend over and it's perfect for that sort of thing. I'm glad I played Rage because I hope it turns into one of those series which comes of age in the sequel. If you were thinking about buying one of these games but not both, I'd probably recommend MW3 simply for the re-playability of the online and co-op stuff. Rage is worth checking out but probably as a rental or once it drops to $20.