Rage against the machine
Rage has a storied past. Following the release of Doom 3 in 2004 John Carmack and his team of engineers began working on a new engine, an engine that would bring id into the new generation of consoles with stunning effect. It would not be the first time that the genius of Carmack would stun the world with technology. He had just done it with Doom 3, which had arguably the best lighting gaming had ever seen, and he had done it for years prior with Doom and Quake. From 2004 to 2006 Carmack and his team worked on their next revolution, id Tech 5. Then in mid-2007 they showed the world what was possible with the engine. What was shown was an incredibly detailed, post-apocalyptic environment that oozed with detail. Then, some months later, it was announced that id Software’s next game would be something known as Rage. A sprawling game set in this lavishly detailed, post-apocalyptic environment. That was in August 2007, over 4 years of development later the game has arrived, but is it all that it was hyped up to be? Read on to find out.
For the past two years every time Rage has been shown nearly everyone, including myself, has viewed it as a cross between Fallout 3 and Borderlands. It’s hard not to make that comparison, right? What we saw was a sprawling, post-apocalyptic wasteland, tons of first person shooting, a highly stylized art style, mutants, inventories, crazy weapons, and more. Strangely, id never once said that these comparisons were accurate, yet they never said that they were inaccurate. Perhaps they realized that people really liked, hell they [I]loved[/I], these two games, and that being viewed as similar to them would be a good thing. This alone is Rage’s biggest fault, the lack of never being frank with what Rage was let people’s expectations run wild. How could one not be intrigued? This was id Software; they invented the first person shooter. They made Wolfenstein, which was the first game I ever played Doom, and Quake, some of the most influential games of all time, and now here they were, years after their last release, with a stunning new engine, making a cross between Fallout 3 and Borderlands. Sounds pretty promising.
Let me put this as plainly as possible, the only thing that Rage shares with Fallout 3 is its post-apocalyptic setting, and the only similarity it has with Borderlands is it’s mildly cartoonish art style. Rage is not, in any ways, an open world game, nor is it in anyways an RPG. Rage is a first person shooter through and through.
Rage functions very similarly to Halo 3: ODST. There is a fairly large hub world in which you can go where ever you please, but to progress through the story you must activate a mission through conversation with one of the main characters in the game. What follows is a first person shooter level through and through. This is what you spend most of your time doing; tight quarters, linear, first person shooting. Now this game would be nothing if the first person shooting was bad. Thankfully, Rage is made by the company that invented the genre, and thus, the gunplay is immensely satisfying, and just plain fun. It has a welcome old-school feel to the combat that you don’t often see anymore. There is rarely ever a need to aim down the sights, which is great in a nostalgia way, and the different enemies and weapons all are fairly varied. Rage also has some of the best bullet hit reaction animations you will see. Every bullet that connects results in a reaction, they grab their wound, or begin limping, or fall over and crash their heads against a pipe in ways that you almost never see in video games. Combine this with the lack of need to aim down the sights and the combat feels and looks like a ridiculous, exaggerated action movie.
Id does a good job of making the small number of weapons you have at your disposal varied by implementing different ammo types, four for each weapon, all that do very, very different things to the different enemies. For armoured baddies, why not shoot them with Dynamite Arrows as opposed to regular arrows, or exploding shotgun buckshot. These different ammos types keep the encounters fresh; as the more you play the more options become available for you.
Thankfully, however, there is plenty to do in between these fps missions. The most prominent of them is racing around in your dune-buggy. The buggy is how you move around in the big world, from town to town, mission to mission, and the only way to upgrade your buggy is by competing in races and winning upgrade points. The driving has an enjoyable light, arcade feel to it, similar to the rest of the game. It is not too taxing, but not overly unrealistic. While the races feel somewhat tacked on for added content, the actual racing mechanics are well done and an enjoyable change from shooting guys.
There are also a ton of mini-games spread in the two main towns that vary from a simple dice role, to a surprisingly deep card game in which you use collectible cards you find during the missions. I appreciate that id put in extra stuff to do, as I found myself become tired after several shooting missions, and had these mini-games not been there, it would have been a substantially less engrossing game.
I seem to have ignored the elephant in the room and that is visuals. Rage is a great looking game, I played it through on the PC, which had its fair share of launch problems, but once I got it working properly, it can be really impressive at times. Thanks to Carmack new “mega-texture” technology there is not a single duplicated texture in the game. Most games, for terrain especially, just repeat a texture every couple of meters, but in Rage the whole environment is hand crafted, and this is what makes it so special to look at. The whole game is so lushly detailed, and busy (in a good way) that your eyes are constantly seeing new things. Add to that the incredible animations, all of which are custom, hand animated, on all of the characters, friend or foe, and you have a game that very gets boring to look at, considering that it is a familiar setting.
I should mention that while I did play it through on a PC, I did check out the 360 version and it looks remarkable on that 6 year old machine. What really makes Rage is its frame rate, locked at 60fps on all consoles, with the level of detail; it results in something truly unique. I should also mention that it has some great controls, especially in how you select your weapons and ammo types. Trying to explain it makes it sound complicated, but once you do it once, you realize that someone of intelligence designed these controls.
But, no game is perfect, and Rage is far from perfect. For a game that was in development for upwards of 5 years, Rage has issues. The most prominent is the texture popping, which happens whenever you look around the bigger environments. This happens less on a 360 when the game is installed, taking up 21GBs, but it really stands out. There are also some atrocious looking textures when you get up close. Out in the Wasteland, the game is one of the best looking around, but in the close quarter’s levels, the textures can be painfully muddy. There is also no dynamic lighting, which means no active shadows on weapons or from character models, and in 2011, this stands out.
Also for a game in development for 5 years, Rage does basically nothing new. It is a very solid, well-made first person shooter, with some decent driving mechanics, some fantastic visuals, and a fun car combat focused multiplayer. But [I]id [/I]does not reinvent the genre that it created. It does what [I]id [/I]does best, and that is first person shooting. Strangely they were putting a lot of emphasis on the story prior to its release; I’m unsure why they did this because there is almost no story whatsoever, which is a shame because the world they crafted has potential to tell good stories.
Rage also really, really, drags in the last hour or two. After about 10 hours of doing little story wise, the game say “Hey, last mission, okay?” and throughout the final missions it feels like you are building up to an epic conclusion, or massive boss fight, but the last levels are just tighter corridor shooting with weaker enemies. Oh, did I mention that about half way through the enemies become insane bullet sponges that take half a clip to kill? Well, they do, and that’s a shame. The game is never once difficult, I died once in 11 hours on normal, but they just throw lots of ammo eating enemies at you that it really wears out on you in the last couple of hours. The game eventually culminates into one of the most abrupt, sequel setup, disappointing, and boring endings in video game history.
Rage is a very well made game that is, for the most part, very enjoyable. While it does nothing new, it does everything well. It looks fantastic, controls, great, plays great, but there just isn’t a whole lot there. That’s not to say that Rage is lacking in content, it has a long campaign, fun multiplayer, and a pretty cool co-op component, but the whole of the game feels heartless. The characters, while well animated, fantastically voice acted (yay John Goodman) and visually impressive, don’t ever have anything interesting to say. The story is nearly non-existent, and the whole game basically melts down into a great looking, great playing arcade game with nothing really to it.
If you have an Xbox 360, or a PS3, you should play this game, it is genuinely well made, and fun to play, and I enjoyed my time with it, but I find it hard to recommend spending $60 on. For a game that was developed by one of my favourite developers out there, and was in development for so long, it is a bit of a disappointment.