Fun with guns.
For many, Id Software is a household name, conjuring up hallowed memories of beautiful sci-fi violence and “kindly turn on the lights” scarefests. It seems like just yesterday my freshman suitemate and I were huddled over a 15″ laptop with Doom 3, restlessly anticipating what lie in wait for us around the next corner. Id’s archetypal Doom and Quake series popularized the first-person genre and pushed forward the roadmap for technological innovation. With fanfare for the Texas-based developer largely focused at the feet of these two cherished franchises and the technovisual prowess they represented, any new IP is guaranteed to receive broad attention. True to form, with its penchant for monosyllabic game titles and quick-twitch gunplay, Id has now dropped Rage into the first person fracas. It is their first major release in six years and the first product built with Id’s new game engine, Id Tech 5. Let’s see if Rage makes the cut.
Note: As always, this review applies to the Xbox 360 version of the game, which is spread across three discs.
It’s no secret Id’s creations leave little to recommend them story-wise, and Rage is unfortunately no different. Following an historic collision of earth and asteroid, our pale blue dot is reverted to an unrecognizable state of ruin, with life’s remnants operating under terms of tribalism and disaccord. Besides a few sparse pockets of settlements which survived the blast and mutants roaming the wastes for flesh, there is you. A contingency plan codenamed Eden Project was enacted prior to the impact, in which a select few were stored in subsurface cryogenic pods. Once disinterred, their intended task was to repopulate the earth. The project was largely a failure, and you are its sole survivor, with nothing but corpses and a looped recording in your midst. It is in this maelstrom of post-apocalyptic desolation that you emerge from your pod and take your first, squinty-eyed look at the new vista.
Architecturally, the plot packaged here is a bit like a construction site that is never fully developed into a home. This is made all the more unfortunate because all of the brick and materials are there. A totalitarian state known as “The Authority” has formed above ground, with the inevitable resistance movement poised in opposition, and a race of mutant creatures add a darker dimension to what could have been. Yet you’re never introduced to the leader of your enemies or their motives. Nor are there any memorable clashes between the two factions. This skeleton of a plot could have been bolstered by a palette of interesting characters who are just never unpacked. The first character you meet, voiced by John Goodman, stands as the high point in the cast, but his involvement in your quest is fleeting, along with the rest of the game’s narratival elements. None of the game’s back story is revealed, the quests are loot-driven rather than plot-driven, and, through it all, you’re only rewarded with one incoherent fizzle of an ending.
Those less interested in the story than Id’s tried-and-true weapons combat have a lot to look forward to here. While Rage is three-parts shooter, one-part buggy racer, the majority of your time will be spent pulling the trigger. You’ll be taking aim with the conventional assortment of goods – shotguns, crossbows and scoped pistols – which can be modded with BioShock-esque secondary ammo like electro bolts for your bow and explosive ammo for your buckshot. To aid you in trickier situations, you’ll also amass a number of blueprints you can use to build various types of support fire, the most notable being a sentry turret, sentry bot and RC car. Having two sentry bots follow you around makes for an interesting battlefield.
As you advance from fetch quest to fetch quest, you meet a generic but sufficiently diverse set of enemies, all of which react fantastically to each well-placed shot. The force of Id’s new engine is realized most completely in the way your arsenal sprays violence on enemies in creative ways and in the sheer tightness of the controls. Each of your AI foes recoils realistically in sync with shot placement, and the AI interact with cover effectively enough to keep the combat interesting. Somewhat paradoxically, it’s easy to ignore the insipid storyline when the shooting mechanics approach this level of vibrant satisfaction.
The balance of Rage is spent in the driver’s seat, zooming to the various locales around the wasteland. The game is navigated via two separate overworlds, split between discs 1 and 2 on X360. The regions themselves are much smaller than I had expected, and there’s frankly little to see. While the compressed landscape means you’ll be visiting some areas multiple times to accomplish slightly different tasks, it also means you’ll become quite familiar with vehicular combat and racing. As you near the middle segue of the game, both become repetitive, and the touchy steering controls leave a bit to be desired. The races in the city hubs are mildly enjoyable, but since their only purpose is to acquire new cars, it seems like an afterthought shoehorned in to add play time.
It won’t be too long before you notice the omnibus of missed opportunities that must have been left on the drawing board. There are simply not enough interesting activities or areas to explore outside of the hackneyed missions. No secret areas, no meaningful side quests. The main quests never dip too far down into the innovation jar, either. While the environments are beautiful and built for firefights, they are linear to a fault, never giving the impression there might be more to see. Besides a handful of interesting areas and boss characters, the game world is overall less than memorable.
Silky smooth. Disarmingly handsome. As Id’s first console game built with their proprietary Id Tech 5 engine, Rage’s announcement was met with high expectations and the team has delivered. As you step from your cryo pod, you are greeted by one beautiful view of the wasteland after another. This is the game Id had in mind when building their engine. Skylines approach photorealism. Every mountain ridge and stress fracture in the deformed planet is bursting with detail. While the variety of environments are fairly limited, what is here is rendered gorgeously and stands in stark contrast to the cel-shaded pseudo-realism of Borderlands.
Performance never dips as combat heats up, either, as Id uses an innovative frame-rendering technique that guarantees a rock-solid 60 fps experience. This is easily one of the smoothest, most responsive shooters to grace the console market. Two gripes, however. First, there is absolutely no environmental destruction to speak of, and second, there are simply too few character models to go around. Some of the NPCs are shamelessly reused even in the same city hub, as if we wouldn’t notice. All in all, Rage fills the shoes of its predecessors admirably given the limitations of the hardware.
Technical specs: native 720p at 60 frame/s. Vertical resolution is always maintained, while horizontal resolution is adjusted dynamically to maintain 60 Hz refresh. (applies both to X360 and PS3 platforms)
Production values remain high across the board, with each weapon emitting its own guttural, wasteland-style oomph. The voice acting is hit and miss, however. While your first contact in the game is masterfully voiced by John Goodman, the later characters, particularly those of the resistance movement, fail to capture any interest and none of the characters have much to say. NPCs, likewise, are tight-lipped and tranquilizingly dull. It’s as if the writing team scheduled a brainstorming session to outcompete one another for the most generic lines. To the game’s detriment, you can proceed through the entire game without speaking to any of the characters other than the ones you’re forced to and never miss a beat.
MULTIPLAYER AND CO-OP
Disc 3 contains the multiplayer and cooperative modes. Looking forward to hopping right into a deathmatch, I quickly discovered that Rage offers no non-vehicle multiplayer component. All of the match types are vehicle vs. vehicle, ranging from strictly combat to rally mode to some banal version of capture the flag. This, understatedly, is a massive disappointment considering the legacies of the other titles in Id’s canon. The two-player co-op missions hardly raise the incentive to pop in the third disc. There are nine missions in total, many of which can be finished in a matter of minutes, and feature re-used locales from the campaign.
From the fountainheads of technical ingenuity who brought first-person shooters to the gaming masses comes the handsome and addictive Rage, clearly modeled after Doom and Quake, but reimagined for the current gaming market. While the more seasoned gamers will likely find several of the elements lacking, including the incohesive story, contrived questline and overall lack of depth, those looking for some simple, mindless fun with deadly firepower will be plenty appeased. Thanks to Id’s new engine, Rage is peerless in terms of sheer fluidity of combat and hyper-detailed visuals. Although I enjoyed Rage while it lasted (around 15 hours if you complete every side quest), overall I found its by-the-books, stubbornly linear nature lacking next to the batch of superior shooters in recent years. The multiplayer and co-op modes are disappointing to say the least, and I simply see no reason to come back to the game after playing through once. Short on depth but high on beauty and fun, give this one a rental rather than a buy.
Feature image by Gamersyde