Coming from iD Software – the creators of the FPS genre as we know it – comes their latest release – RAGE – a game with 20 years of shooting pedigree and some of the most well known figures in the industry working away on it’s innards. No pressure then.
RAGE is a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a game frankly. There are bits of game bolted on here and there that don’t feel as though they belong together. For every moment of traditional iD FPS corridor shooting, there’s a strange Simon says mini-game, or a 5 minute drive through the wasteland in a mad-max style buggy. But the important question is, does it all come together as more than the sum of it’s parts, or does it lumber around morosely before attempting to murder the twisted genius who first gave it life?
At the core of RAGE, is a linear corridor shooter. The ‘critical path’ through the game, is a series of levels we’d expect from an iD shooter, with guns and ammo being gifted to the player in a steady stream of upgrades, giving us more tools to play with and more ways to shoot people in the face. This is when RAGE is at it’s best, when it isn’t trying to be something it’s not. At times the seams of this very directed experience show. There are obstacles it appears we’re allowed to hop over, with invisible walls keeping us on the straight and narrow. But these seams don’t really detract from the experience. The levels are universally beautiful to look, with decayed buildings looming in the distance as we forge our way onwards through the freak-filled levels. The Dead City level in particular – a mutant infested urban sprawl – provides some spectacular vistas.
The guns we get to play with are meaty and each has enough utility to keep it becoming obsolete, with varied ammo types meaning every weapon retains a place in your arsenal. The shotgun for instance can be changed from a traditional low-range wide-spread head-popping device into a grenade launcher. The crossbow can be used for silent take-downs, or equipped with bolts that allow you to briefly control, then detonate your foes.
Enemies range from punkish bandits and rabid-mutants, to your fairly bog standard dystopian cyber-military types. None of the enemies have a particularly engaging back-story and their motivation is written into their skin. The bandits are violent outlaws, tribals or tech-hoarding eastern Europeans (no? me neither), the mutants are flesh-hungry maniacs and the cyber-military dickheads are your basic cyber-military dickheads, out to dominate the wasteland and control the people. But they are all sublimely animated and intelligent enough to duck every now and then. Their unpredictable movement and varying levels of technology and armour mean you’ll have to experiment with your weaponry to find out what works best to take each type down. As a linear shooter with spectacular scenery RAGE works well and follows on in the iD tradition, with some lovingly inserted Easter-eggs that bring a knot of nostalgia to the stomach of any 20-year-old-plus gamer.
However, at times, it feels like iD are ashamed of bringing us a decidedly old-school shooter. All the extra bits – roaming around hub areas populated with interesting looking people, (with very little interesting to say), the side missions that see us trekking back through previously visited locales – they feel like filler, or worse a disguise, existing to trick us into forgetting how old-school the core mechanics of RAGE are. The problem is not that the additions are necessarily bad, – the car racing sections are well made and engaging in short bursts, the crafting system is simple enough that it’s never an annoyance – it’s just that they feel superfluous to the main game. As someone who is normally a completionist – hunting down side-quests and pursuing them to the bitter end – I found myself curiously unmotivated by RAGE’s extra curricular activities. Perhaps this is because although it’s entirely possible to devote hours to working your way through the various racing modes and upgrading your car into a Super-monstroso-destructo-mobile there’s very little reason to. A couple of basic upgrades can see you through most of the storyline without any trouble (one moment near the end aside, where suddenly you may find yourself outnumbered and outgunned). Most often rewards for these kinds of activities come in the form of extra money, or perhaps a collectors card you can add to your deck in yet another optional mini-game.
From a technical perspective, although RAGE is a very pretty game, capable of rendering far off in to the distance, it’s not without issues. The mega-textures which are the big technological advance are far too complicated for me to explain with my limited aptitude for such things. But suffice it to say, there are jarring issues if you try and turn around too quickly in the game, (although on the PC version at least, a patch has allowed options to tweak this) and performance with most ATI cards is still far from perfect.
RAGE is not a bad game and there are moments in the shooting where it brings into sharp focus what it is that iD do so well. There aren’t many developers capable of making gun-play feel so satisfyingly punchy without resorting to gimmicks. But the game gets bogged down in the unnecessary; there are few things more irritating in a game than standing by an NPC and pressing the same button repeatedly so they can give you a quest, without the option for input or response and without engaging dialogue to back it up. Especially when they ramble on for minutes at a time, before referring you to another NPC and the whole ordeal starts over again.
Perhaps it’s slightly unfair that if this were from another developer we might be more forgiving of the faults. But this is iD we’re talking about. They created a legend for themselves through making uncompromising shooters, heavy on high-tech thrills and shooting satisfaction, light on unnecessary fluff. In RAGE, the fluff almost overpowers everything else and sometimes it feels like you’re fighting against the game to get to the good stuff. These reservations aren’t enough to stop RAGE being fun to play, but there are times you may wish someone at iD was willing to say ‘No’ more often – “No that feature ain’t necessary, we’re iD for chrissakes, we’re making a shooter, the hell d’you need a card-game in there for?”*
Verdict – On-Target
*I like to imagine that as a Texas based company, everyone who works at iD is a kind of techno-cowboy
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed – PC
For more information on our scoring system, please read this page.