RAGE isn't the game you think it is.
Every time I booted the game up—from it’s beginning cutscene to the last—one thing always crept into my mind: RAGE is such a bizarre game. From start to finish, nothing about RAGE’s gameplay concepts and designs felt as if they really panned out as intended. Is it an RPG? No, not at all. Is it open-world? Sort of, but not really. Is there quests? Yeah, but are mostly pointless because of the lack of character progression. It’s like id Software (the creators of Doom and Quake) wanted people to believe that this game is similar to that of Fallout 3 or Borderlands—a giant open world set in a bleak post apocalyptic future. However, RAGE is not these games. And for all of the things that RAGE tries to do, it actually manages to do most of them well—it’s just not the game you think it might be.
So what is it? RAGE is strictly a first-person shooter. In the same vein as id’s previous work, you aim your gun and you shoot dudes. Wherever you aim, you hit. There’s no calculations, no damage percentage, nothing. Guns work if you aim them properly. It’s a first-person shooter in the truest sense.
RAGE’s combat is heavy and brutal. Almost realistic—but not quite. Guns shots have impact—like shooting a dude in the chest, it looks and feels like it hurts. The combat shotgun, for example, is one of the most satisfying gunshots in any shooter. It just blasts lead into enemies, and every time you pull that trigger it’s like you pulled it for the first time. It never gets old.
RAGE has items which can be set to the four directions on the D-Pad. One of the more famous items, the Wingstick, is like a bladed boomerang that can be thrown quickly to take out enemies in a bind. You also gain other items like Bandages for healing, Turrets for shooting enemies, and explosives for taking out groups of enemies. I found that using the items was a little tedious at times, though. Once you select an item with the D-Pad you then have to press the LB button to use it. I found this to be a problem when I had to quickly change to my bandages to heal myself, or sometimes I would press the item button to use a bandage but throw a grenade instead.
Items can be bought from stores but you can also find recipes and schematics to build stuff yourself. Scattered around the world are small items like gears or broken electronics. If you have a schematic and the right materials you can go into your menu and create the items right there. Personally I thought building turrets to place around heavily guarded areas was the most useful thing to build so I ended up buying a lot of material to keep my inventory full.
RAGE’s inventory system is fine but there are some small quirks. You can collect all sorts of junk lying around areas but most of the stuff you find is stuff to just sell and the game tells you that, straight-up. I found the inventory to be a little messy, too, plus trying to figure out how to sell items to the shop is a little clunky.
The user interface and heads-up display work pretty well too, but like most of RAGE I had small amounts of problems here and there. Equipping weapons, for example, can get irritating when you end up having a full arsenal near the end of the game. Since you can only have four weapons equipped at once means you’ll likely have to go into your inventory menu and manually change your weapon load-out, then go back into the game and equip it. I encountered this problem because I enjoyed using most of the guns the game provides you with.
Each type of weapon also have various types of ammo. The default assault rifle has regular bullets but also has armor-piercing ammo, too. Switching to different ammo was actually quite intuitive as you hold the RB button to bring up the weapon wheel that lets you change your weapon with the right stick, but you can also change your ammo with the left stick. This made switching to specialty ammo for specific situations a little easier.
You play RAGE as if it were an open-world RPG. You run around small settlements looking for quest givers who, you’ve probably guess already, give you quests. But quests in RAGE aren’t your typical role playing affair. Rather than give you things like, “go to this area and find me six of these things,” it’s more basic than that. Main quests are usually given to you by specific characters who usually have you infiltrating a base of some sort (which are mostly just FPS levels with some basic loot), but the side quests are mainly rehashes of the main quest but with small tweaks.
Basically what RAGE comes down to is: town --> quest --> overworld --> FPS level --> town again. There are also job board missions you can do, though. Sometimes you’ll be a sniper protecting a small gang of friends but I never found these to be much fun.
Most of what RAGE offers in terms of questing is alright but when you have to turn around and go back to the same area you JUST completed can get a little monotonous. These side quests can easily be addressed by simply not doing them but mix in the fact that some main quests have you go back to areas you’ve already completed doesn’t help, either.
Luckily most of RAGE’s level designs are pretty well done. You shoot your way through a multitude of different environments including abandoned buildings, destroyed cities, power plants, and futuristic bases, all with unique atmosphere and enemy variety. If you choose to tackle the side missions these areas are usually identical with a small tweak here and a boarded door there. Rather than having fun, unique side missions RAGE’s optional quests are rather boring and meaningless.
Other than shooting dudes in the face and completing quests, RAGE also features a pretty healthy driving aspect. In between settlements is a giant, empty overworld. To get from place to place you obtain vehicles which can get you between them much faster than running. Driving in RAGE is pretty well designed—probably the best designed gameplay feature of the entire game. Vehicles have heft to them plus turning and braking feel like they have the right amount of physics behind them.
When you’re in your vehicles RAGE almost becomes a game of Twisted Metal. You can buy upgrades for vehicles, including weapons like machine guns and rockets. You can then use these on other bandits driving throughout the wasteland (which is usually necessary as they constantly get in your way). When you run out of ammo, you can always buy some more, plus you can get your vehicle towed if it somehow breaks down.
Another reason to buy these upgrades is for the racing component of RAGE. Here you can choose your race which are one of three types: Time Trial, Race, and Rally. Time Trial and Race are pretty straightforward but Rally is something a little different. You gain points by driving through markers on a map and if you gain the most in a set time, or you gain enough points, you win. I found these Rally Races to be completely unenjoyable, though.
Winning these events gains you racing tickets which can then be used for buying upgrades for your vehicle. The only good reason I felt to earn these tickets is to increase your vehicle’s stamina. At one point I felt no need to shoot every bad guy I came in contact with so I decided to just race past them. Having good stamina meant an easier escape.
Despite the shortcomings in most of RAGEs gameplay elements, one thing it cannot be denied is its visual fidelity. RAGE is simply one of the best looking games of all time. Everything from the expressive character design, the incredibly detailed texture work, and the crazy effects, are amazing. But only that—RAGE runs at a locked 60 frames per second throughout the entire game. So not only does it look incredible but it also runs as smooth as baby’s bottom. The only downfall to this is that some of the textures can pop-in at random. However, you’ll only notice it if you’re specifically looking for it. If you don’t know to look, you’ll probably never see it.
id Tech 5 is the real deal. Coming off of Gears of War 3 I didn’t think many games could look as good as Epic’s latest. But RAGE completely blows it out of the water. It’s nothing to take lightly, either—Gears of War 3 looks incredible. It’s almost weird going to back to a game that only runs at 30 frames per second after spending a couple of hours with RAGE. It just runs so damn smooth. And to think, this is all on consoles. Maybe the 360 and PS3 can do some more impressive tech before the next generation (whenever that is).
Probably the most surprising part of RAGE is that while it does feature multiplayer, it doesn’t feature any type of deathmatch. Most of RAGE’s multiplayer revolves around the driving. You can match up against people in arena-based modes and rally races. You gain XP for completing games and you can level up obtain bigger and better vehicles. There’s also a cooperative based Legend of the Wasteland mode that pits you and another player up against a generic FPS level with enemies and environments from the campaign. These aren’t much, especially trying to split the items between you both.
RAGE is weird because it feels like a first-person shooter that wants to be an open-world RPG but is too stubborn to fully embrace anything. What RAGE ends up being is a beautiful first-person shooter with fun combat and well-design levels layered over top of a boring, empty world with repetitive quests and boring motives. It’s absolutely not Fallout, and its not Borderlands—it’s RAGE. If you’re looking for an RPG, this is not the game you’re looking for. However, as an FPS with some sort of light-RPG elements, it’s alright. Not great, but not bad.