Or: Why RAGE Should Have Learned From Its Forefathers
I recently powerslid, pop-rocketed and decapitated my way through RAGE: id Software's latest title and their first new IP in years. Cathartic fun though it was, I couldn't help feeling that it was a bastardised version of their older lineup, a brutal and technical shooter with tacked-on gameplay components that the ancient studio simply didn't understand how to use properly. Many of my peers believe that the RPG elements and characterisation weren't fleshed out enough, but I'd argue the the exact opposite. There was far too much busywork and grind getting in the way of your mission... which diluted and distracted from the experience rather than creating an immersive world.
You see, id Software's best shooters didn't need loads of voice acting, a bloated storyline or tedious optional missions to create a believable and terrifying game world. They were great because they no contained no fat whatsoever; just massive empowering guns and plenty of monstrous enemies to reduce into chunky kibbles. Doom, Doom II and Quake both prove this point beautifully (and stay tuned for their own BFTP articles, I have no doubt), but there's one game that RAGE could - and should - have learned a fair few lessons from.
In fact, both games are rather similar when you think about it. Each story starts with you emerging from a 'pod' as an unnamed military badass into a horrifying and utterly hostile alien environment. Well, technically you're Bitterman in Quake II and III (it's written on the drop pod), but that's beside the point. From here, however, RAGE gets bogged down in introducing a bewildering number of new factions, characters and locations - rather than letting its protagonist just get on with whatever mission he was buried to accomplish. For the life of me, I can't understand why a mysterious hardnut who's trained in advanced combat and technical knowledge wouldn't have an objective to complete when he wakes up. RAGE's narrative staggers drunkenly along without ever really giving you a reason to fight beyond "The Authority are nasty. Okay? Now go kill them if you have the time."
Not so in Quake II. Not by a long shot. When you/Bitterman steps out of that pod, you know exactly what you're there to do: get some. You've slammed into the Strogg's home planet to enact furious, righteous vengeance for their attack on Earth. You'll cripple their infrastructure piece by piece, slaughter their armies and murder their leader in his own seat of power. Despite being a single operative behind enemy lines, you feel potent and powerful; an avenging angel who's more than a match for anything the Makron can throw at you.
You're not just empowered by your massive firearms. You're empowered by a sense of genuine, definite purpose.
Anyway, that's enough comparing and contrasting. It's all Quake II from here on out, and where better to start than with those big honking boomsticks I've been banging on about? Your double-barrelled shotgun could turn enemies into spinning, greasy piles of unidentifiable meat. Your chaingun would rip through anything like thirty three hot knives through butter every single second. Grenades could be hand-thrown or popped into a launcher for devastating effect. The BFG decimated anything that moved... and for my money, the snipe-happy Railgun proved to be one of the most enduring and influential weapons to ever feature in a videogame. We'd simply never seen an arsenal like that, and the way enemies were ripped to shreds rather than just falling over rooted us right there in the hectic and horrible battle for Stroggos. Plus, it was properly awesome.
Believe it or not, Quake II was also heralded as an AI masterpiece at the time. Enemies could... wait for it... duck to avoid your rockets, causing gaming mags and players alike to gasp in unabashed wonderment. Some foes would fight each other if they accidentally connected, and many of the bigger Strogg troops (here's looking at you, Tanks and Gunners) could use multiple weapons depending on the situation and the distance you engaged them. Some death animations even caused foes to wildly discharge their weapon as postmortem twitching set in. It was a revelation and a benchmark.
Quake II also featured some of the most graphic and demented scenes to have ever featured in a videogame. In the prison levels, you'll encounter pathetic, crawling fellow marines who'd rather die than face the Strogg's torture again. One level is set in a 'Stroggification' plant that actually shows hundreds of humans being crushed, sieved out out and processed into raw materials. Even the corpses of larger enemies would attract clouds of flies to their stinking putrescence. Sure, they look fairly dated these days, but I felt a genuine sense of revulsion and horror when I witnessed them back in 1997. In fact, I sometimes still do. Art is designed to inspire an emotional reaction in the beholder, and id Software proved to be quite the artistes. Their palette was gore and viscera, code was their canvas and we were their audience.
Oh, and we balked at the fact that the fact that hardware acceleration was supported out of the box. Wow. We've come a long way since then, but graphics junkies need to give this trend-setter the respect it deserves.
Finally, we have to tip our caps to the Strogg themselves. Quake II provided us with a truly memorable cast of enemies that literally resembled nothing we'd ever seen in videogames; from the confusingly sexy Iron Maidens to the life-sapping human-faced Parasite. Gunners and Tanks intelligently laid down explosives and machinegun fire while Berzerkers overran your position. Enormous bosses punished us and forced us to excel... at circle strafing, at least. With their huge numbers and impressive art design (gunmetal grey and rust brown is fine when you're depicting a nightmarish industrial society, duh), they created a world that was too intense to question and was too exciting to be anything less than completely immersive.
Quite simply, it's one of the best shooters ever made. It's the Daddy.