An Acceptable Addition to a Crowded Genre
If you have had any lengthy experience with 90s FPS games, you’re undoubtedly familiar with id Software and their illustrious shooters such as Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake. In recent years though, the company has been a far less prominent part of the world of first-person shooters. Rage, however, presents one of the most anticipated releases from id since their golden days. Put simply Rage is a game that takes the fairly common formula of the post-apocalyptic FPS with RPG elements, and tries to add its own spin on it.
In the world of Rage, the human race faced potential extinction in the form of an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. To preserve the species, they placed a number of super soldiers in underground cryogenic pods called “arks”, which would emerge from the ground far into the future so that the ark survivors could help continue civilisation. You reawaken as one of the survivors, discovering a world filled with barren deserts, reckless bandits, an evil authority, and a small handful of scattered towns where people are desperately struggling to survive.
From the basic premise, narrative, and aesthetics, Rage may not sound that different from other post-apocalyptic shooters and it’s not a million miles away from any other post-armageddon FPS-RPG, but don’t be fooled, this game is not a Fallout clone. Rage is less about story, exploration, and deeper RPG elements, and more about linear progression, looking good, and satisfying FPS action, and at this task the game doesn’t do a bad job. The guns all feel at least reasonably balanced and fun to use, and the game also allows you to switch between a number of different ammo types with each gun, to let you change things up appropriately for each fight.
Despite you being able to have four different guns equipped at a time, each with up to four different ammo types, the game handles your arsenal rather elegantly. Simply holding down the right bumper at any moment gives you quick access to your weapons, with the right stick being used to select guns, and the left stick being used to select ammo. You can also be equipped with up to 4 “quick-use” items at any given time, such as razor edged boomerangs for taking out enemies quickly, or bandages in case you need to get back on your feet without waiting for your health to recharge. Your selected quick-use item can be deployed at the click of a button, and switching between them is as simple pressing the D-Pad in any direction. All of this means that fights never have to be broken up with awkward pauses if you need to switch around your battle equipment.
If during a conflict, you run out of health, the game starts a mini-game which involves swivelling the control sticks and hitting the triggers at the right moment to let you recover using your built-in defibrillator. However, once used, there’s a significant amount of time before the defibrillator is available again, and should you go down before you’ve got your next charge, you’re done for good and will have to reload your save. This mini-game is rather easy, but helps add a little flair to the way the game handles death.
Disappointingly, one of the Rage’s worst issues though is that, in the event that you should die, the game can be very unkind about where it resets you. The game autosaves whenever you enter and exit an area, but a lot of the fighting takes place in buildings and caves which take a relatively long time to work your way through (you can think of them as the FPS equivalent of a dungeon), but nowhere within these areas does the game autosave. This means you constantly have to worry about manually saving yourself. Don’t save often enough and you could frustratingly lose big chunks of progress, save too often and you remove any meaningful penalty for death.
Overall, while the combat seems fairly well-crafted, the game doesn’t do enough to vary it or set it apart from similar first-person shooters. It makes a good first impression, but by the end levels of the game I felt like I was just chugging along at a careful pace, waiting for the whole thing to come to a close.
As for the RPG elements, the game keeps it fairly simple, but adds some interesting flavour to the gameplay. Quests must be obtained from and handed in to NPCs, some characters provide additional side quests, there’s a simple crafting system which lets you build items like lock crackers and grenades, and when returning to a town you usually need to sell loot and stock up on necessary supplies. This all helps give some variation and just a touch of depth to the proceedings, without it ever feeling like things such as managing your quests and inventory become too much of a burden.
While you’re not in combat, playing one of the rather entertaining in-town mini games, or talking to NPCs, you’re likely driving from place to place. The game has a number of buggies which can be upgraded both to make them better road vehicles and to better outfit their weaponry. Gunning down enemy cars on the roads never feels all that worthwhile, but the driving none the less provides an engaging way for you to get from A to B without just trudging across empty space or fast travelling everywhere.
When it comes to visuals, Rage has the unfortunate downside of playing host to some of the worst texture pop in any modern game. Just immediately turning 180 degrees is usually enough to make most of the textures in your field of view up-res in front of your eyes. However, this can easily be forgiven in light of what the game manages to do right graphically. Skylines are beautiful, and all of the environments are wonderfully detailed, and filled with plenty of small touches which make it feel like some real effort went into creating them.
Rage also presents some of the best animation you’re likely to see in any game, with NPCs animating in a way that skirts the line between the realistic and the slightly cartoonish, matching the art style of the world in general. Even in combat, enemies won’t be afraid of jumping up onto the ceiling or walls and clambering along pipes towards you in a surprisingly convincing manner. All in all Rage seems to set a great bar for what character animation in similar games should be aspiring too. Remarkably, none of the game’s detail comes at the cost of the frame rate either, with it providing smooth action throughout.
Unfortunately, audio on the other hand, represents a bit of a weak spot for Rage. None of the sound effects, music, or voice clips are bad, but it’s not uncommon for voice clips or sounds to start playing too early or too late, or be cut off at the end. This is a particular problem for character dialogue as it can play out of sync with the otherwise excellent animation, or the ends of conversations can be cut off entirely.
While Rage is obviously very largely about the single player, the game does include an online multiplayer mode based entirely around the driving, but this is less impressive than the rest of the game. Featuring a level progression system and a small number of different modes and maps, the multiplayer essentially consists of objective-based car combat, but the vehicles feel poorly suited to this purpose, managing to be both loose and unwieldy in a way that feels like the cars were never quite meant to be used in the multiplayer maps and game types you’re dropped into. The gameplay also feels far too luck-based, with success being overly dependent on where checkpoints spawn in relation to you. If you never end up putting in that third game disc with the multiplayer on it, I wouldn’t worry about it.
Overall none of the individual pieces that make up Rage are bad, save for the odd problem here and there, but it feels like less than the sum of its parts. It neither does anything particularly original, nor carries out any existing ideas on a level that’s going to blow you away. Most of the time when Rage fails to meet up to expectations, it’s not because it’s offensively bad, it’s just that it’s bland. While the game is decently made and obviously has some great talent behind it, it’s not what you’d expect from a once FPS God, and in a market flooded with FPS titles it feels like there are many better games out there.
If the idea of a more action-focused and less RPG-focused alternative to titles like Borderlands and Fallout send shivers down your spine, or you’re excited by the thought of seeing what id have managed to do with their new graphics technology, then Rage is probably well worth a look. However, animation aside, there are plenty of other games out there that manage to pull off the various different components that make up Rage with more originality and higher quality.