RAGE – Review

Platform | Release Date
PC | October 4, 2011
PS3 | October 4, 2011
X360 | October 4, 2011

Developed by id Software
Published by Bethesda Softworks

The Pitch:

RAGE, the highly anticipated first-person shooter from legendary developer id Software, will hit retail shelves across North America on September 13th and throughout Europe on September 16th. The game has already won numerous awards at E3 2010, including ‘Best Overall Game of Show’ from IGN and three ‘Best of E3’ Game Critics Awards  including ‘Best Console Game’. RAGE features intense first-person shooter action, breakneck vehicle combat, an expansive world to explore and jaw-dropping graphics powered by id’s revolutionary id Tech 5 technology.

To get it out of the way, RAGE has been my single most anticipated title of 2011. Ever since seeing a game play demo running on the Xbox 360 at this year’s PAX East, I was positively smitten with what the wizards of id were able to pull off on five-year-old hardware. idTech5 has been touted as an incredible cross-platform engine, so I was certainly extra-extra excited to see what a brand new PC could do with it.

My initial experience was one that PC gamers often have to deal with and because of id’s pedigree is quite disappointing. Inconsistent performance, crashes, general bugs, texture pop-in; things that are typically resolved with a patch or two. Despite the lengthy development, id Software just didn’t put the time in to the PC version and even launched without any video settings. I personally had issues with tearing and muddied textures at first, but those have since been patched into less tearing and less frequent texture issues. The PC launch was, as described by John Carmack himself, “a real cluster fuck”, blaming most of it on drivers and admitting their focus on consoles this go ‘round. At the time of writing this, there are more video options but the general way you’ll want to tweak RAGE is through a .cfg file and startup switches. It’s kind of an old-school broken, but at least it runs very well now, with or without a custom .cfg file.

It’s easy to look at RAGE from the outside and bring up comparisons to Fallout 3. Post-apocalyptic wasteland? Check. Dude locked away from the world ending event, only to emerge later? Yep. Going on some missions? Sure why not. The broad strokes fall in line but the rest of the game totally doesn’t. RAGE is a game that uses the apocalypse as a setting to tell its rise-up-and-kill-the-government, inconsequential story. It won’t win any awards in this department as it’s a story told a million times before. The mission structure, despite desperately trying to be non-linear, is straightforward. You’ll be able to do some side stuff before continuing on the main plot line, but it’s not like you’re going to get lost in the world of RAGE.

When you first leave your Ark-Vault-thing, idTech5’s impressive technology is readily apparent. id Software has always been known for engines, and their latest is somewhat of a masterpiece in terms of sheer marvel. The world is just a joy to look at with its dilapidated, hollowed out buildings, desolate desert canyons, and Mad Max sensibilities. It doesn’t do destructible walls or environments, basic world physics, and they love to fade away corpses and weapons you’re not allowed to pick up. In general though, idTech5 is a stunning piece of work. I’d pretty much kill for a Fallout using idTech5, and judging by a nod given to Vault Boy within RAGE, I don’t think it’s out of the question.

The roaming areas of RAGE act as a hub for the main missions. It’s really not unlike what Super Mario 64 brought to the table, but contains driving and vehicular combat to make sure you don’t get too bored crusing through the same areas over and over. There’s a lot of backtracking. The vehicular combat is fairly simplistic as your active weapon will auto-target bandit buggies. You’re able to upgrade your cobbled together vehicles by winning races through city-based pitchmen. After only a few races, I didn’t feel I needed to upgrade any more. Basically, if you don’t care for the races (like I didn’t) you don’t have to do it much. This may be best for some, particularly if you’re playing with mouse and keyboard as the standard for PC gaming doesn’t really lend itself particularly well here.

RAGE’s affinity for an Xbox 360 controller is evident. You won’t be able to move the camera around when driving unless you’ve got a right thumb stick available. I spent the game swapping between mouse/keyboard and controller to make the driving a more pleasant experience. Additionally, the customizable quick select menus for both weapons and ammo are designed specifically around having a game pad attached. As it stands, swapping weapons and ammo types when you’re using a mouse and keyboard setup is best done through the number keys.

As you progress through the game, ammo types for the bevy of weapons become quite distinct. You’ll start off with simple “do more damage!” bullets for your pistol, then move on to things like a mind-control bolt for your crossbow. I enjoyed giving groups of enemies the ole’ electric shocker when they couldn’t see me. On top of ammo types, you’ll even be able to craft different types of grenades, weapons, and other devices by finding or buying parts in the world. Remote control buggies that explode are fun, as are the much touted ‘wingstick’ – a homing boomerang/machete that can lop off heads with DEADLY PRECISION.

The brightest shining star of RAGE though are its expertly crafted FPS story levels. These are integral to the narrative beats, having you perform specific tasks like beefing up your own abilities or rescuing a dude, and are just wonderfully designed – the standout being the mutant riddled Dead City. It may be the single best shooter level I’ve played in the last few years – too bad id knew this, and make you play it twice. Each feel like mini-experiences onto themselves, to the point that if you decided to leave and go get more ammo, you’ll lose your progress. You can head into a sewer to save your capital city from the parkour adept Ghost Clan, or bust into a prison and face off against the heavily armored and weaponized Authority. These one off levels are great, and I wish more games would take a cue to create interesting enemies that aren’t overused, and require different strategies to defeat.

While the meat of RAGE is the single player game, it does feature two online modes to keep you going: Legends of the Wasteland (co-op) and Road Rage (competitive). Legends, in my opinion, is the better of the two due to my disinterest in the driving and has a total of nine side stories with multiple difficulty levels. They’re a lot of fun and have a more ‘arcade’ feel with points, multipliers, and leaderboards. If you don’t feel like teaming up with someone, or couldn’t find someone via matchmaking, you have the option to play these alone, though they won’t count towards any official scores. Road Rage takes on four and lets you race around blowing them up. It does the persistence thing in terms of leveling up for better cars and gear.

People have been complaining that there’s no standard deathmatch, but honestly I don’t think it’s a big deal. Sure that’s normally id’s “thing” but you’ll get some mileage out of at least one of these modes and there’s always room for DLC. These multiplayer modes are the only thing that’ll get you playing the campaign again, unless you want to do so on another difficulty. There’s no “new game +”, no “Wander the Wasteland” after you finish, and I’d recommend playing through on Hard difficulty from the very beginning. I had upped it to ‘Hard’ very early after starting, and didn’t get the appropriate achievement.

At about the halfway point of RAGE, I thought I knew what I was going to write about with this review. It was going to be about how id Software abandoned the PC with RAGE and it took a couple patches to fix it; about how there’s no real open world, how the driving is kind of dumb, and how you backtrack way too much. I was going to harp on the fact that the enemies prioritize animation and won’t get knocked out of it if you keep shooting them. Instead, I’ll say that RAGE has problems. It’s married to old school design methodologies, puts the technology over game, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t walk away satisfied – even though I didn’t see Dopefish anywhere.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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