One of my favorite things about id Software is how self-aware they are about their place in the industry. They fully realize their ability to craft graphically stunning worlds is unmatched, and they're even hip to how critics feel about their ability to tell stories--or the lack thereof--and it seemingly doesn’t concern them. This has been id Softwares modus operandi since Wolfenstein, all the way up to Doom 3. And hey, I thought Doom 3 was a lot of fun. It definitely provided enough entertainment for my $50, but that game was also released 7 years ago. The video game landscape--along with my personal preferences--has changed quite a bit. Though I love love LOVE me a gorgeous looking game, these days I need a little more than that. My praise for the creative spirit in a video game has risen over that of technical execution, and this is just one of the many reasons why I didn't fall in love with Rage.
But before we get into it, let's get some specifics out of the way. I played Rage on the Playstation 3 (this also means I have no idea how well the game performs on the PC or Xbox 360). There was an 8GB mandatory installation that took 18 minutes and 43 seconds to complete. My total game time came out to be 13 hours and 15 minutes, and that’s with completing most side-missions. According to my TV the game was running at 720P and--unfortunately, due to some tearing--it appears V-Sync has been disabled.
A MUSEUM OF RAGE--YOU CAN LOOK BUT NOT TOUCHFirst and foremost, Rage--running at its much touted 60 frames per second--is simply glorious to watch in action. It is one of, if not, the most impressive graphical achievement in console gaming today. Mind you I do say that with slight hesitation because it’s not flawless. There were some rare moments of screen tearing, and this normally happened to me during highly intense combat sequences. But the single biggest issue is that some fairly egregious texture pop-in takes place throughout the entire game, and it can be really distracting too! Despite these issues, Rage still had many moments were it smacked me across the face with something stunning and, for at least a few moments, I had to stop to take it all in.
AN "OPEN" WORLD THAT'S CLOSED FOR BUSINESSTechnically speaking Rage is an open-world game, and indeed it allowed me to explore at my leisure, there just seemed to be little point to it. The world is surprisingly small, and...barren (hoho). The few, narrow roads that line the landscape come across as nothing more than hallways that led me to my next destination. Only having a few smallish open areas for arena-type battles weren't enough to make up for that fact either. There was no sense of discovery for me, and in a world that looks this good that's criminal. It's SO disappointing!
The encounters with patrolling bandits did kept things interesting for a few hours but after a while the whole process ran a little long in the tooth. Eventually I found myself driving around these encounters to avoid all vehicle combat because it just wasn't rewarding enough. There are no experience points to be earn by killing them, the bandit bounties are marginally worthwhile, and frankly these encounters are just not as fun as the first-person segments--why not move on, right?
One things that was immediately apparent early on was the wonderful design of the landscape. Unfortunately the rocky structures and hills are littered with invisible walls. Perhaps I’ve played too much Fallout New Vegas, but I really wanted to explore those magnificent looking mountains to see if I could find a random cave--not happening.
Included in the game is a mini-map to help you get around the wasteland, and it’s a big help too. Whenever a new mission is acquired a marker will pointing you in the right direction, but what would have been even more helpful is if there was an overworld map too. If you’re like me and want something like that then you’ll have to go to the manual because it’s located there--what?
SOLID GAMEPLAY MECHANICS GO BOOMThe first time I used ironsight with one of the Rage weapons it became immediately clear that the shooting would feel solid. Guns in this game, like no other, appear to have a real weight to them with just the right amount of kick. There are not a ton of weapons (a la Borderlands), but I found the arsenal to be interesting and large enough to kill whatever crossed me path. The Wingstick was, without a doubt, the most fun to use in combat. I was always sure to carry a ton of them with me, because it was such a blast to play with. Later on in the game you unlock the ability to make an Advanced Wingstick, with the ability to hit multiple enemies. Yes, loved this, more of it please!
Each weapon has 4 possible ammo types, all fairly unique and cool looking when fired. There are minor upgrades (think laser sights, additional damage, etc) to purchase for weapons from a local vendors, but they're typical. Unfortunately Engineering only allows you to craft ammo and not parts for the weapons themselves, so you're essentially stuck with the same weapons throughout the entire game (save one, and that's found near the end).
A few hours into the game I was offered the option to choose a specific type of wardrobe (or class). The first options was a Wastelander, where I could look like a local and receive discounts on cash purchases. The second was a Roughneck, who has increased armor. The last was the Fabricator who has enhanced Engineering capabilities. I choose the Fabricator, but it was never really clear just how beneficial it was to my Engineering ability, and no one ever alluded to the fact that I was now someone who was crafty. Without that or perhaps class specific missions it felt like a missed opportunity to pull me into the world.
Side-missions were fine overall, but some would lead to the exact same spot more then once. In one instance I was told to clear out some mutants in the sewers--and so I did--and an hour later someone else wanted me to track down some bandit...in the same sewers. Thankfully this wasn't a very common theme throughout the game, but it’s worth mentioning. These side-missions varied from finding a relative to helping someone kill some other guys uncle to assisting someone named Stanley deliver mail. The later consist of delivering packages within a given time frame to various mailboxes that are sprinkled throughout the wasteland. Fun for a few hours, but ultimately forgettable.
One of my favorite mechanics in the game is the defibrillator mini-game. If you go down, you’re offered the chance to revive yourself by playing a little rhythm mini-game. If you’re successful you’ll not only revive yourself but you’ll send out a shock-wave that stuns the enemies surrounding you. The defibrillator recharges about every 20 minutes, so it’s not something you can abuse. It’s an original concept that’s useful, fun and engaging.
One of the more enjoyable things in Rage is Engineering. You will be able to construct a bunch of items with all the junk you collect throughout the wasteland. Things like Sentry bots, additional ammo and Wingsticks, health packs and more. It’s a fun, rewarding system to use. Throughout the game you’ll come across a few locked doors here and there. These doors are only accessible with a Lockgrinder, which can only be obtained through Engineering.
DRAB VEHICLE ACTION IS DRABThe introduction of vehicles of Rage wasn’t a bad idea, but it’s unfortunate id decided to focus so much attention on them. Sure driving around the wasteland completing the Stunt jump challenges is fun for a bit, but again, it feels a little pointless after a while.
The racing action held within the cities consists of speed runs, missile challenges, mini-gun challenges and arenas battles. Competing and winning in these challenges award race flags, and this currency is the only way you can purchase upgrades for your vehicle. It was an ok time, but again after a few races I was ready to move on to ids far superior first-person segments. I’m still sitting here, tripping out that id Software made a racing game.
“THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING IS THE WORLD CANNOT BE TOUCHED, ONLY FELT”I wouldn’t call it completely fair to say id hasn’t provide an emotional experience with Rage. Sure the story is a bit boring and the characters are shallow, but the other parts--the running and gunning--evoked a raw intensity from me. Make no mistake with this review--Rage is a pretty fun video game--but it's hard not to step back and be disappointed. This was id Software's time to really shine with something special. Rage should have been a game that completely blew me away, and it didn't.
I’ll never forget the moment the game ended, because it was one of the few transitional moments in gaming where I honestly felt blinded sided. I sat there, stunned with controller in hand, under the impression I was entering the final act, but it all suddenly just ended. It was utterly anticlimactic, uneventful and ultimately a bitter pill to swallow. It could be one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a video game, yes it’s that bad.
With Rage it’s become apparent to me that not only has id Software's position in the industry changed, but I now realize they refuse to grow with the rest of us.