id Software have pushed boundaries and set new standards with their ‘id Tech’ game engine for years now. Their 1992 title Wolfenstein 3D, was widely accepted as the defining game of the first-person shooter genre, whilst Doom and Quake have deeply etched themselves into gaming grandeur. RAGE is id’s latest offering which was first introduced as a tech demo of their new id tech 5 engine back in 2007. RAGE has come a long way since then, but has it come far enough to establish itself in the crowded genre its predecessors helped popularise? Read on to find out.
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
RAGE immediately throws you into a post-apocalyptic land as a survivor of the asteroid Apophis, that almost wiped civilisation off the face of the earth when it impacted in the year 2029. You find yourself alive largely thanks to a worldwide mission to seal hundreds of capsules (known as Arks) under the Earth’s surface. The Arks, filled with people injected with Nanotrites (which allow them to survive the hibernation process), were designed to burrow out several years after the disaster, where its occupiers would then help to preserve knowledge and rebuild the world once again with their specially selected traits and genetic samples.
It’s fair to say that story has never been at the top of id’s priorities in previous titles, and although its obvious that more care and attention has gone into RAGE’s tale this time around, they still haven’t managed to capture the emotion or immersion it deserves. The game begins with you waking after 109 years in stasis and discovering the project hasn’t gone quite to plan. You find that everyone else in your Ark hasn’t managed to survive the ordeal and with little understanding of what has happened to the world in your absence, you leave the Ark and take your first steps into the new ravaged world. You won’t have long to admire the view before you’re greeted by one of the less-than-friendly inhabitants. Fortunately Dan Hagar, leader of a local clan of settlers, is on hand to get you out of trouble and you’re escorted back to his clan settlement. Here is where you’ll begin your life of running errands, completing favours and finding your feet in the Wasteland.
As vast and interesting as its foundations sound, RAGE is paper-thin in its approach to plot and character development. Early on, you’ll wonder which one of the quests you’ve received is actually going to develop into the main story line, or if there is going to be any direction at all beyond killing mutants and fetching lost booze. When the major conflict finally comes you’ll struggle to retain any interest in it, or even in the characters themselves, as they become merely an outlet to pick up your next task to progress.
Despite the lacking story, the visuals manage to paint a vivid and imaginative picture all by themselves, as RAGE looks simply stunning. The rocky, desolate wasteland rolls into the horizon with endless detail and variety. Settlements and main towns are impressively designed too, with small details around every corner just begging to be soaked up and explored. The only exception I experienced was in a particularly open and complex section of the game, where the backdrop seemed to shorten the draw distance leaving some of the textures slightly blurred.
The inhabitants of the Wasteland don’t stray from this great design ethic either, and whether it’s the pot-bellied Wellspring Mayor Clayton or a generic mutant, they’re polished and animated superbly. When speaking to you, the characters in RAGE will accentuate certain words with arm and body movements which adds a pleasing human element to compliment the great voice acting. Enemies will also move with fluidity and purpose, reacting to every gun shot. Whether the bullet is taken in the face or the knee cap, the animations are executed with amazing realism, adding wonderful depth to the great shooting experience the game offers.
Rod Abernethy’s score does its job in RAGE well without really excelling. High action parts of the game really put you on edge with pounding orchestral thumps, while less eventful times are greeted with jarring violin techniques and nice subtle movements. Although, in general, RAGE favours a more traditional and cinematic feel, the sound is often blended with various styles of electronica. This serves the game and its futuristic backdrop well, heightening the visual experience rather than overwhelming it. You won’t find any great themes or anthems to accompany the characters or title screens of RAGE, but the sound design does compliment the game in a number of ways.
As with RAGE’s graphics, the sound effects are of a very high quality. For example, visiting the more populated areas will expose your ears to gas pumps spraying, mechanical noises and eerie wind as it brushes the outer walls. It’s all expertly implemented and it really helps the landscape of RAGE feel like it has naturally evolved and been lived in long before your arrival.
Just as you would expect from id, RAGE is primarily a first-person shooter, but they’ve also opted to include other gaming mechanics such as a fun driving component, open-world RPG elements, crafting, upgrading and a host of mildly enjoyable mini-games. You’ll never find yourself short on things to do within the RAGE wasteland, and it’s all tied together with addictive and satisfying gunplay that rarely fails to challenge or surprise you.
The pattern of play in RAGE generally involves you picking up missions from one of the well designed NPCs or job boards and then driving out into the Wasteland to complete it. Once you’ve reached your destination you’ll get to enter a new area where the game switches to a more linear approach, favouring smaller spaces for its engaging shooting mechanics. Amongst the few settlements scattered throughout the game world, there’s only two main towns where you pick up the majority of these missions and side-quests. Although you can explore the wasteland at any time (and you’ll want to), it serves more as an area for your vehicles to play in and there’s nothing really to find out there except nice visuals.
The gunplay in RAGE feels just right, there’s no other way to put it. As soon as you get hold of your first Settler Pistol you’ll notice the super smooth movements that never feel too quick or too bulky. So much so you’ll almost want to rip id’s set up into every other shooter you play, the gunplay feels that good. The veteran developer has stuck to its roots, forgoing the current trend of stealth based cover, diving and head peaking, in favour of a good ol’ fashioned shooter which is relentless, fast paced and refuses to buckle in its methods. There’s a nice selection of weaponry on offer which all feel powerful and serve their own purpose – mind control crossbow bolts and explosive RC cars are amongst the most entertaining. The items and ammo that you need to use are well placed to the point where unless you’re particularly wasteful, you’ll always have something to unload into the oncoming nasties.
The enemy AI though is without doubt one of the major highlights of the game. I found myself at times just gawking at the mutants bounce off walls and hopping over barriers as they tried to find the most efficient route to quell me. These enemies don’t mess around when it comes to charging you down, and they’ll constantly try to dodge your gun fire and rush your decision-making. Other slightly less suicidal enemies that roll with either the bandit clans or the Authority, will make much better tactical decisions. You’ll find them retreating for better cover as you reign firepower down on them, or limping to safety as they bark orders at each other. Waiting for enemy heads to pop out of cover is still a sufficient tactic for success a majority of the time, but thankfully not all of the enemies are so co-operative.
In between gun fights and mission pick ups, you’ll be travelling the Wasteland mostly by vehicle. Better types of vehicles will be acquired as you progress through RAGE and they’re all upgradable with perks like armour, spiked wheels, mini-guns and rockets to help you cope with the aggravation you’ll be inviting on your travels. The vehicle combat is a nice addition that breaks up repetitive play, but unfortunately also seems to break up some of the immersion. In addition to travelling, you’ll also be competing in races for Racing Certificates that allow you to buy upgrades for your vehicles. These races do hold a degree of enjoyment and there’s plenty of different challenges from time trials to destruction derbys, but they won’t be replacing your favourite racing games any time soon.
Side quests can be picked up from job boards and bandit hating bar tenders. Sadly, they don’t really add much to the experience, as they mostly entail you revisiting old areas that have been repopulated with enemies. There are other distractions too, including an interesting card game named ‘RAGE Frenzy’ which sees you battling with cards you’ve found lying around, a banjo tune memory game and even some Five Finger Fillet. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll find Stanley (the wasteland’s answer to Kevin Costner in ‘The Postman’) packing boxes in a dark corner of Wellspring. He has you running vehicle based missions across the Wasteland carrying mail within a certain time limit, and testing out those boosters you’ve been winning at race circuits. Finally, one of the more interesting characters even hosts a Smash TV-like game show called Mutant Bash TV, where you’ll fend of enemies in stages for some rewards.
If you manage to squeeze everything out of the single player campaign, which lasts for about 12 to 15 hours, online multiplayer awaits you. Surprisingly, id have opted to take their vehicle combat online rather than their fantastic shooting mechanics, which feels like a missed opportunity given its quality. There’s some good times to be had though, with game modes that mainly involve capturing points and blowing each other up. Doing well will then allow you to unlock upgrades that make your vehicle more powerful. There are some shooting opportunities to be found online, in the form of two player co-operative. Here you’re given access to mission akin to the ones in the single player portion of the game, but with score multipliers that drive you to out perform your partner.
Unfortunately though, the online modes in RAGE won’t pin you down for too long, and although there’s a ton of things to do in the game world, you probably won’t feel inclined to play through the single player campaign again once it’s completed. RAGE certainly doesn’t give you much, if any, incentive to do so aside from the sadistic joy of exploding mutants.
During a period which is spawning sequel after sequel it’s refreshing to see a new contender thrown into the gaming ring. RAGE doesn’t quite capture the iconic status of some of id’s previous efforts. What it does do however, is give players a fantastically designed world that combines satisfying gunplay, great visuals and a good mix of different gameplay elements.
From a smooth, flowing frame rate and beautifully detailed environments, to excellent animations and interesting level design, id have once again struck a formula with their new engine that powers one of the best looking games currently available. Because of that, it’s a shame that a world so detailed and vibrant in its visual detail is filled with characters and story that are at times, hollow and forgettable. Overall though, RAGE certainly has enough quality to keep you entertained despite its failings, and if this is the first in a new series of games, then it certainly leaves other developers looking over their shoulders. The pioneers of the first-person shooter genre are back and with RAGE, they’re definitely packing a punch.