Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
It's here. It's finally here.
RAGE, id Software's only new IP in donkey's years, has been in development for what feels like forever - and raised more than a few eyebrows due to the addition of vehicle combat and seemingly open hub areas. Could they have abandoned their old-school roots in favour of open world exploration and questing?
Don't believe a word of it. RAGE is still a technically accomplished, ultraviolent and linear corridor shooter through and through - except that id has swapped monster closets for monster trucks. And alternate ammo types to die for.
Players assume the role of a lucky volunteer who enters cryogenic stasis before an enormous meteorite, Apophis, smashes into the Earth. Awakening over one hundred years later, you'll learn that the world is now a mean and dangerous place ruled by the violence of bandit gangs and a mysterious advanced power base known only as The Authority. Doing favours for the few pockets of non-murderous civilization, you'll eventually be catapulted through a series of claustrophobic levels packed with varied enemy types - featuring an art style that's soon stamped with id Software's trademark hellish industrial motif despite starting out very reminiscent of Borderlands and Fallout 3. And, more importantly, is full of id Software's trademark brutality.
Advanced AI allows each type of enemy to react appropriately to your presence and position, with each faction operating in markedly unique ways. Melee-centric ghost bandits swing across ceilings and walls to close the gap while ranged foes hang back behind cover, regroup and attempt to flush you out with grenades. Bigger baddies, like armoured Authority troopers, intelligently push the advantage when you reload or retreat. The combat is fast, slick, gory (though not by usual id standards) and entirely unpredictable. Enemies also realistically react to pain - and stagger, swoon, flinch or crawl depending on where you hit them. It connects you to the game world via your guns in a thoroughly believable way.
Oh, and there are plenty of massive titans and the odd enormous boss to bring down, hard and nasty.
Your arsenal consists almost exclusively of standard FPS cliches (pistol, shotty, assault rifle, sniper, rocket launcher... you get the idea) - but makes up for its lack of imagination with a selection of truly wonderful alternate ammo types that operate in surprising and effective ways. Fatboy pistol ammo rips targets in two. Pop Rockets turn your shotty into a hilarious grenade launcher that smears foes across the walls. And most deliciously, mind control crossbow bolts transform your enemies into shambling remote-control bombs. Switching between weapons and ammo types is a cinch thanks to the accessible dual-radial menu.
Crafting items is also a core part of the gameplay. Collecting discarded parts lets you assemble a range of technological marvels from wicked Wingtip boomerags (great for decapitation) to sentry guns and turrets. Cleverly using your gadgets can turn a hopeless situation into a close-run victory, and they're all perfectly balanced to ensure that they support you in combat rather than provide a quick and easy fix.
It's not quite perfect, mind. Level design is uninspired to the point of mediocrity (barring a few fun little puzzles here and there), and the most audacious set pieces crop up in the middle of the narrative and raise expectations far too high, far too early. What's more, a few annoying little problems rear their ugly head from time to time, such as the fact that you can't pick up enemy weapons even if you don't have one yourself. Killing an enemy with the pistol and not being able to grab his shotgun is completely insane. Some will argue that this provides balance, but it also severely compromises immersion. Maybe id forgot that weapons aren't actually part of the character models any more? It's been a while. Checkpointing is also incredibly sparse, meaning that you'll need to adopt a fastidious saving regimen to avoid losing many hours of progress despite the handy defibrillator that lets you revive yourself from time to time with a shocking sucker punch.
Getting to and from the action areas, however, requires you to hop into a selection of vehicles and rag around a deceptively linear wasteland hub. Essentially, just more corridors that are full of enemy cars instead of troops. The cars (a quad bike, buggy and a massive honking death machine) all handle rather well in pitched combat with bandit vehicles, and an integrated turbo boost provides lots of fist-pumping air time. You'll need to embark on a number of optional races to acquire upgrades, which all play out rather like an odd mash-up of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal. Weapons, shields and armour restoration items all provide an offensive edge, but the vehicle handling - which seems to be designed for wide open spaces rather than twisting tracks, especially the inability to drift properly - can make completing the race events rather hit and miss. Plus, the fact that you respawn without penalty is an immersion-breaking non sequitur that doesn't gel with the gritty Mad Max-esque vibe.
Driving is therefore a bit of a distraction - but a mostly enjoyable one. Especially online, where it provides an entertaining multiplayer mode that more than makes up for the lack of regular competitive gametypes. Considering that Doom 3 and Quake IV's multiplayer modes spectacularly failed to impress, we're not at all bothered that RAGE hasn't shipped with any.
Rage marks the debut of John Carmack's latest in-house engine. Id Tech 5 does a remarkable job of ensuring a consistent 60FPS across all platforms, grounding you in the action and never displaying so much as a hint of clipping glitches. However, it isn't quite the graphical renaissance that many were expecting, especially on consoles where some oddly muddy textures make an appearance from time to time. The PC version fares much better - but admittedly brings some performance issues along for the ride. Patches are incoming. RAGE is decidedly lacking in 'wow factor,' but you'll still be able to enjoy an impressively high level of detail throughout.
So RAGE is a thoroughly enjoyable - and successful - vehicle FPS/driving romp. It's not an RPG, though. Not by a long shot. But sadly, id Software steadfastly refuses to make that clear. A limp economy system underpins the entire game - along with a handful of forgettable subquests that mainly involve tedious, poorly-rewarded backtracking. What's more, RAGE frequently tries to pass itself off as a roleplaying game with plenty of redundant features - such as the fact that you'll have the option to accept or decline important story missions as if they were optional. Even though you've got to do them eventually. Sauntering around towns is a strange change of pace compared to the hectic slaughter we're used to.
Throw in some serviceable if uninteresting mini games to earn money (such as a dice-roller and a collectible CCG in the vein of Magic: The Gathering) and a bizarre early-game choice of three pseudo-classes, and you've got a selection of RPG elements that are either completely unnecessary or nowhere near deep enough to be satisfying depending on your point of view. They dilute, distract and detract from what's really important. Constantly having to count the pennies is pointless busywork separating you from the juicy core gameplay. As are the bitty storyline and races, to some extent.
For many players, in fact, RAGE will feel like a complete and utter tease. The RPG elements hint at a gameplay dimension that simply doesn't exist - as do the wasteland driving sections that seem to beckon to wannabe explorers with lots of daylight and the coquettish appearance of distant non-existent areas. Not to mention hundreds of locked doors. Invisible walls abound (I've rarely played a game that does so little to hide its level boundaries) - and many gamers will come away from the experience feeling more than a little disappointed.
But RAGE isn't about all that. It's about visceral, fluid, brilliant gunplay and gadget-driven set pieces. Fans of old-school shooters will be delighted by what RAGE is... but to enjoy it fully, you'll have to understand what it isn't. Arguably more than id Software does.
- Hectic, inventive, unpredictable and excellent combat
- Fun vehicle segments
- id Tech 5 delivers slick visuals at a consistent 60FPS
- RPG elements cloud and confuse the issue
- Lots of tedious busywork/backtracking
- Plenty of strange little quirks
- PC technical issues abound
The Short Version: RAGE isn't an unassailable return to dominance for one of gaming's most respected development titans... but it is a remarkably solid and brilliantly visceral shooter that delivers a whole mess of brutal gunplay. The addition of vehicles also gels with the experience surprisingly well. Sadly, some bizarre gameplay features and plenty of needless obtrusive busywork mar what should have been one of this year's most important titles.