Reviewing Rage – A question of iDentity

Chris Evans October 5, 2011 1
Reviewing Rage – A question of iDentity

This was originally intended to be a disclaimer at the beginning of my Rage review, but it spiralled out of control and now takes the form of an editorial about journalistic objectivity and the relationship gamers have with developers, thus ends the disclaimer to the disclaimer.

I like writing disclaimers, they give a piece of writing some context and act as a handy pre-apology – if you annoy a reader with mindless wittering, they allow you to say ‘Well I did warn you..’, This disclaimer is all about objectivity and journalistic integrity. You see, there’s this strange belief that journalists are supposed to be ‘objective’ in reviewing something, as though they have meditated for several hours before playing a game, cleared their mind of associations and bias and headed into a game in a zen-like state of calm – their mind a blank slate waiting for the game to write its truth upon. Not only is that entirely unrealistic – it’s undesirable. We are in fact loaded with bias, loaded with the memory of games we’ve previously played and this is how we help a game find a place in the great gaming pantheon. We compare and contrast and use our experiences to slot them into a wider context.

Rage is a game from iD software. As a PC gamer who believes games have played an important part in his development, there’s no avoiding the fact that part of me just outright loves iD. When I close my eyes I can picture whole levels of Doom. I can remember the moments from Quake III Arena where I caused my friend to swear long and loud at a LAN party with a perfectly placed slug from the rail gun. Quake II was the game that first convinced me to buy a graphics card for my PC (a venerable Voodoo 2). Recently I attended the Eurogamer Expo, where Tim Willits gave a talk on the 20th anniversary of iD, starting with a video showing 20 years of gaming history in a couple of minutes. An unstoppable wave of nostalgia washed over me as the video played, so forgive this horrible contrivance and the fucking awful pun, but iD is a part of my identity as a gamer and a person.

Consequently I really, really want Rage to be good. I want iD to prove that they’re capable of teaching the numerous pretenders to their crown of FPS king a lesson in creating the most balls to the wall awesome shooter possible. I want a game built on the tech of geek messiah John Carmack, that revolutionizes gaming as we know it and provides a foundation for others to build on. A foundation of silky smooth frame rates and the artful design of hand-painted megatextures. But part of me worries for Rage. iD haven’t made a new game since 2005’s Doom 3 which met with a relatively mixed reception from gamers, certainly it did not draw as much acclaim as their previous offerings. The FPS genre has mutated and evolved in the last few years, with ‘RPG progression’, sidequests and decision making entering the process. The question is whether iD have evolved too, whether they have adapted to this new environment, or whether they can stay resolutely old-school and true to their corridor shooting roots and still be successful.

There’s another concern too. Rage is the first time iD have made a game that doesn’t see the PC as being it’s spiritual home. Megatextures seem to be primarily a tech solution to the limited memory of consoles and it’s been stated numerous times that Rage was designed with a controller in mind. Rage is quite clearly iD’s attempt to break into the console market and earn themselves a slice of that delicious money-filled pie. But whereas PC gamers like myself have a history with iD, console gamers and particularly the younger CoD worshipping generation are free of any such concerns. For me, there’s some leeway – I can forgive a few old fashioned game mechanics and I don’t expect anything even resembling a fleshed-out story – for the console-gamers expecting nuanced narrative, twists, turns and complex mechanics Rage may seem a just little too simple in its dedication to precision shooting and fluid animation.

This is a double-edged sword though. If it turns out iD have swung too far in their quest to appeal to new fans and the console-orientated, they risk alienating the Quakecon devotees and PC gamers who have a shared history of playing their games. It’s clear already from previews of the game that there will be delightful easter-eggs acknowledging iD’s past, but that won’t be enough to obscure a lacklustre port. Already we know that Rage won’t support modding tools, already we know that the graphical options we PC gamers are used to tweaking and testing to our hearts desire are limited to resolutions and anti-aliasing. These things are fundamental to winning the hearts and minds of us needy PC gamers, we love to feel special, like an extra layer of care has been put into tailoring the experience for us. Beyond that, iD are the guys who employed the amateur map makers, they’re the ones who tell budding game designers to make mods to earn the industries attention. I’m not emotionally unstable and delusionally self-regarding enough to say that this is a ‘betrayal’, but it’s certainly a worrying shift in priorities.

A final note then, returning to games journalism. I’m what is politely referred to as ‘enthusiast press’. Impolitely as ‘some blogger who thinks people actually give a shit about his opinions.’ I hate the phrase ‘by gamers for gamers’ used as a seal of twisted integrity by many young gaming websites, revelling in their lack of experience and trying to turn a deficiency into a virtue. The fact is a lot of us (not all obviously, there are a lot of people who write as a hobby with no intention of making it a career) write about games for no money, because we’re not talented or experienced enough to write professionally . But us non-professionals do have one thing on our side, we don’t have to pretend to be objective and there is no suggestion that we’re being paid by advertisers (because we don’t make any money). I can wear my bias on my sleeve and be open about the fact that I reminisce about running up to blank looking walls in games while hammering the space-bar key in the blind hope that the wall will slide down to reveal a chainsaw or chain-gun, or something else that’s pretty cool and has the word ‘chain’ in it. That’s the context for my review of Rage, that’s why I might be lenient on some aspects and harsh on others. It’s also why traditional out of ten scoring policies don’t make any sense to me. Opinions (or at least interesting opinions) are reliant on bias, on experience and context, there is no universal index that can take these things into account in a way that is even remotely satisfying.

One Comment »

  1. DazT October 6, 2011 at 11:57 am - Reply

    What folk seem to forget when reading a review is that it is solely one persons opinion. If you want to really find out what a game is like, before you play, you need to read several reviews both good and bad. Something todays YouTube generation don’t seem to realise.

    The problem with integrity is that there have been high profile accounts of big game publishers putting pressure on for favorable reviews or making waves when they don’t get them. Combine this with fanboys expecting perfect 10s and it really is an impossible job to please everyone I would think.

    Still it was as interesting read, Ty.

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