It has been a while since id Software created a new game and over a decade since we had seen a new intellectual property from them. To put it into perspective: before the eras of overabundant modern warfare/WWII first-person shooters, perks, and the two weapons limit id has not created a new franchise. After roughly six years in development by the team that made the fps genre what it is today (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom series, and Quake series), RAGE shows this old dog can still learn new tricks—but mastering them is a whole different story.
In the year 2029, a large asteroid nearly wipes out everyone on Earth. Anticipating this as complete destruction of the human race, governments create a project that places a select few into subterranean lifeboats, named Arks. Your character, only called “The Ark Survivor,” awakes from cryo-sleep in the year 2135. Upon his egress, he’s saved from certain death by Dan Hagar (voiced by John Goodman). Quickly shaking off the rust, you’re told the law of the land and warned about The Authority, a tyrannical regime who persistently pursues ark survivors.
The weakest part of RAGE would be its story and storytelling. There are some interesting components in place, like mayors who hint at having questionable motives to be revealed later on and a corpulent TV producer focused on ratings for his “deadly” show, but even those personalities do little to this egregious narrative structure. The plot holds to the ‘new guy has to prove his worth’ trope quite firmly. Although there’s nothing wrong with that trite setup since it provides both a chance for great gameplay pacing—which is accomplished—and it’s an easy motive for anyone to understand, the problem is this same idea is regurgitated thrice throughout the main storyline. This repetition happens because of not having to directly engage any Authority personal until halfway through the game. Yes, despite hours of combating agile bandits and mutants of all sizes, players are essentially left with having to take a NPCs’ word on how oppressive The Authority must be. Entire themes and possible self-discoveries are completely expunged by a narrative that just wants to tell, tell, and tell some more. Through this confused repetition, the story also continually fails at delivering any psychological scares that it attempts. Macabre scenes designated as “scary” moments, such as walls from an abandoned location effusing blood, only end up being grotesque and hollow rather than…having a point to be there.
Problems can also be spotted directly in the plot. Despite accidently expanding beyond the typical three-act structure (see for reasons why in the last paragraph) there’s not even a proper finale. After finally learning everything about The Authority, their leader—whom isn’t even shown for a second, and executing the plan to stop him/her, the campaign ends when all of this important preparation is coming into fruition. Even the gameplay design behind the final battle eludes you into thinking there’s more. What’s given to the player at the end is just an uninspired, funneled shooting gallery and one of the worst endings to be witnessed of this generation (which is saying a great deal).
Despite attempts within this world to convince players they inhabit organic settlements of diverse principles, vacuous writing imbued in most characters and a plotline constructed in desultory fashion continually overwhelm the few compliments to be given. Although stories in first-person shooters are typically labeled “predictable” or “incompetent,” a more severe demerit should be handed out in this case: lazily written.
The greatest aspect of RAGE’s artistic design is in the nuances that juxtapose other post-apocalyptic titles. Upon seeing this brave new world for the first time, the expected visual motifs are in full swing: a vast tawny wasteland littered with dingy settlements. But as you continue, the game takes a few wild turns towards crafting these futuristic cities with their own sense of vibrancy. Witnessing the shift from steampunk western to translucent cityscape can catch anyone off-guard. Another difference—though slighter, can’t help but be appreciated—from expected behavior is how vivid everything is shown, instead of having a grainer shade. This maneuver meshes well with the quasi-drawing presentation and further lends the player a sense of place within these diverse locations.
id Software’s creations of years past have typically been the crème de la crème in pushing technical boundaries. That penchant still holds true. The biggest push for this game has been id Tech 5, their new engine that employs “mega-textures.” In laymen’s terms, this new engine enables the title to look fantastic and run incredibly smooth. The 360 version is separated into 3 discs and recommended that whichever one you’re playing is installed. Extensive testing between the installed/uninstalled forms didn’t wield significant differences between them besides longer loading times and slight texture pop-in. Overall, the results show RAGE is one of the best looking titles of 2011; not only because of its technical aptitude but also its ability to stray just enough from looking like the me-too shooters appropriating this backdrop.
Sound design is also able to retain a fair amount of praises. The biggest surprise is the diverse music composition containing mixt lugubrious tempos that can exaggerate a sense of loneliness. There’s an obvious dedication by the composers to adequately give a palpable sense of desperation when exploring new territories. Also, voice talent behind both forgettable and notable characters is unexpectedly unique, with most talents bringing forth more effort than the script behind them. Finally, it should come as no surprise to hear an id game’s combat/environmental design sounds perfect for most occasions. What’s undoubtedly the most impressive aspect behind shooting’s typically loud thuds is the slight cough or clank in some weapons, appropriately reminding you that your tools, like the world itself, are built on broken parts and spare time.
RAGE’s technical and artistic ability shouldn’t go unnoticed. A vibrant world brimming with intricate details and characters you’re able to get more out of by their great facial animations and voices are just the beginning of commendations to be given.
Gameplay design is a confection of shooting, car combat, and RPG elements. The core shooting structure is equally gravitated on the left and right thumb sticks as it is the triggers. By pressing the quick assign button (RB), two separate diamonds appear on your HUD: on the right are four separate weapon slots and the left presents differing ammunition for the current selected weapon. The ability to switch between four different weapons, each with at least two different ammo types, isn’t very easy to learn but well worth mastering. Even in standard bouts, wide-ranging enemy emplacements may cause you to use a sniper rifle, a crossbow with electrified rounds, and a shotgun with explosive rounds in a matter of seconds. What make each of these scenarios invigorate this sense of experimentation are the overwhelming enemy AI movements. It’s been a long time coming but gamers can finally witness a charging opponent that actually attempts to avoid the end of your gun by any means necessary. Beyond a few complaints at ranged enemies sometimes standing still, it’s hard not to be continually impressed at an enemy’s resilience (even after getting shot), tactics, and accuracy. In the end, everything about this old-school/new-school combination of ideas feels stimulating from beginning to end.
One of the biggest surprises in RAGE would be the focus on vehicular combat (both online and offline). Taking design ideas from Mad Max’s aesthetics, vehicles retain similar buggy styles of an earlier era yet have armor that is fastened together with everyday metal pieces. Similar to shooting, secondary items can be assigned to the four toggles on the D-Pad while RB switches between mini-gun and rockets. These vehicles can then be further upgraded with racing certificates, which are acquired through killing bandits in the Wasteland or placing in races. The unexpected depth in customization and responsive controls make vehicular combat a blast throughout the entire campaign.
Schematics, collectible cards, and more are all necessities in playing the game to its fullest. Crafting items run the gambit of bladed boomerangs, called Wingsticks, automated drones/turrets, and more. The demand to either purchase or loot items throughout this world produces excellent rewards for combat. Mini-games found in the hub towns of both areas, like RAGE’s version of Magic: The Gathering using collector cards scattered throughout the world, are fun extras that go into making this world feel more believable. Despite being welcoming additions, complaints about the open Wasteland and RPG elements revolve around them not feeling entirely realized: the open world of both separate Wasteland expanses is just smoke and mirrors and certain locations become locked out as the game progresses. You’ll also question the point of having such a crafting-heavy element when vendors are the only means of keeping a healthy stock of certain components. It feels like an unnecessary way to force in a middleman.
There’s a difficult procedure in quantifying what RAGE just might be, for better and worse. It’s consistently able to bring forth staples from other series of this generation, yet fails to convey any new character from them; at the same time, being the most competent shooter/driver/RPG hybrid upon arrival can excuse these implementations to feel more like an extra sum of parts to what’s already a cohesive whole without them.
‘Legends of the Wasteland’ is the name of the two-player cooperative mode available. Each of the nine chapters has you revisiting an area of the campaign and gives some backstory behind the canon. Though short, the challenge of each one whets the palette for punishment twofold of what the campaign delivers. Since each teammate is allowed to self-restore themselves into combat twice—which will most certainly be used, missions are able to feel challenging while not feeling like anachronistic trial-and-error routines of yesteryear. If both partners have spent their defibulator charges and are knocked down the entire mission has to be replayed again. On Nightmare difficulty, the task is immensely daunting; and when considering a score system that tallies statistics upon completion, it can feel like an interesting meta-challenge to outscore your teammate while also trying to play a more reserved combat role to complete the ‘legend.’
The competitive multiplayer, dubbed “Road RAGE,” is constrained to only four players in various car combat modes. If you have completed all of the races in single player expect similar maps with a few different rules: a free-for-all mode named Carnage and three different rally variants. Like most online shooters, completion of a match results in your accumulated points tallied together that unlock more vehicles, weapons, and/or car cosmetics. Although this break from having another identical multiplayer in today’s market is refreshing, Road RAGE is only able to capture that “gritty Mario Kart” impression in looks rather than spirit. All maps do have nooks and crannies and a healthy amount of different power-ups, but the ebb-and-flow of combat doesn’t grant breathing room for players to pursue advanced tactics.
Unknowing of what to further invest in, RAGE contains several excellent ideas that fail to entirely coalesce with one another. But since the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ of the gameplay is so enticing, it’s easy to just credit this amalgam of partial concepts as being rewarding side dishes. That same sort of lenience does veer its way over to the bland story as well, though not nearly to the same degree. The reasons for that being is how so many other post-apocalyptic titles, shooter or no, are able to deliver either interesting subject matter or simply have some semblance of competency in their narratives. If that sort of effortlessness annoys you, I must caution those to seek that shooter fix elsewhere; if your focus is more trained on wanting to play one of the most dexterous hybrids of this generation, look no further.
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