From a technological standpoint, id has always been on the forefront of PC innovation. Bringing us one of the first side-scrolling platform engines with Commander Keen, then diving head-first into the undiscovered realms of first-person shooters with Wolfenstein and Doom, id has been nothing but revolutionary with each new catalog entry they’ve given us.
But with a fully-blossomed FPS industry, it’s tough to imagine what that “next step” could be, and with RAGE being the first original id title since Quake, we all wanted to be wowed again with some cutting edge technology. To John Carmack and company, that was id Tech 5, the graphical driving force behind RAGE. While your eyes might not explode like the first time you mowed down the 3D Nazi stronghold, id managed to put together a fantastic tech demo – and one hell of a first-person shooter.
If you’re looking for a quick synopsis, let’s get it out of the way early: RAGE is incredible, and completely worth a purchase. That being said, it keeps its distance from the modern shooter formula we’ve grown to love (or accept). RAGE is what I like to call a “no bullshit shooter” in the sense that it doesn’t fumble over its feet with an attempt at a powerful story. The situations you’re in aren’t always believable, nor does it try to keep you so engrossed that you forget you’re playing a video game. RAGE knows exactly what it is – a true-blue FPS – and it makes no attempt to disguise that.
The game is set somewhere around 30 years into the future after an asteroid hit Earth. As someone who was cryogenically frozen in an underground shelter called an Ark, you wake up to annihilated surroundings and a capsized civilization. Though you’re not some chosen prophet or anything, it seems like everyone you meet is immediately impressed enough to put you straight to work, killing mutants, fetching invaluable items, and making fairly unreasonable requests of a guy who’s been sleeping for over a decade. Meanwhile, the governmental superpower known as the Authority sort of wants you dead, if they knew you existed. Or something. It doesn’t make much sense, but just roll with it.
At its core, RAGE is all about its visual environments. Taking some artistic cues from games like Fallout 3 and Borderlands, RAGE packages up a post-apocalyptic style with an incredible amount of non-repeated geometry, giving the world a truly unique feel. No two areas of RAGE are alike, and the attention to even miniscule detail is astonishing. Albeit, it’s astonishing in that “I’m not actively noticing anything remarkable, but for some reason this looks really natural” sort of way. It’s rare to see even a repeated texture, and at a constant 60 frames-per-second – even on consoles – RAGE is intoxicating to look at.
The campaign is mission-based, much like Fallout 3, and your progression throughout is completely linear. Taking its gameplay cues from games of yesteryear, RAGE feels exactly how you’d expect an id game to feel. There’s no “snapping” to walls, or leaning around corners. No context-sensitive environment interaction, and zero quick time events. You get to run, duck, jump, and shoot, just as the FPS gods intended.
And it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot, as well it should be. Your arsenal, which expands as the game progresses, is nothing out of the ordinary – pistol, shotgun, assault and sniper rifles, crossbow, and even the good ol’ rocket launcher. But each weapon has multiple ammo types – some you buy, some you build (more on that later) – for taking out specific enemy types and for using in just the right situation. My personal favorite? A crossbow dart that lets you temporary take control of your victim, literally walking him within proximity of other enemies, and detonating the poor bastard in a magnificent kamikaze explosion.
The game certainly has predictable cadence, as you drive to your location, take out waves of baddies, complete one-button objective, repeat. Some might call this lazy design, some might call it classic gameplay. Regardless, RAGE refrains from getting stale by allowing the player to not only loot corpses, but collect various trinkets you can use to craft into ammo, turrets, RC bomb cars, and other cool items. Wingsticks, a boomerang-like staple of the wasteland, are especially fancy, lopping off the heads of approaching foes with just one toss.
The one issue I have with the crafting system, and I suppose the game in general, is that if you’re not particularly savvy in finding these useful scraps scattered around the land, you can simply buy them. If fact, you can buy everything in this game. Ammo, bandages, upgrades, new weapons, schematics for new items – you get it all with cash. And while cash is relatively scarce in the first few hours of the game, with all the mini-games available to play, all it takes is time to become an unstoppable death machine.
But that’s less a detriment to the overall experience and more a compliment to how fun and engrossing the damn mini-games are in RAGE. There are small games, like a Simon clone and the knife game where you methodically stab between your fingers, avoiding a self-inflicted finger filet. However, you can really get lost in activities like Mutant Bash TV, the underground racing circuit, and even a full-blown collectible card game.
Bash TV, as you may have guessed it, is a like a real-world homage to the classic arcade title Smash TV. Complete with cheesy announcer, Bash TV is a show on a local television station run by the uniquely charismatic J.K. Stiles. Set up like the 2D title it’s referencing, you’re locked in a twisted funhouse where waves of mutants emerge from every conceivable aperture. You clear ‘em all, then move on to the next room, with Stiles commentating the whole event as it’s broadcast for the world to see. It’s mindless, repetitive killing, but it’s fun in that “Gears horde mode” sort of way.
Throughout the campaign, I kept finding these little playing cards randomly placed about. It wasn’t until about halfway through the game I realized I was literally building a unique deck, much like Magic: The Gathering, and I could use these cards to play an original collectible card game, Rage Frenzy. While it’s certainly not as deep as Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh, Frenzy is admittedly complicated for a mini-game in an FPS. You build your deck of up to twelve cards by spending an allotted amount of points with each card you add, and battle with your selection against a CPU opponent. I’ll spare you the more intricate details, but there’s a lot to learn, and it’ll have no problem eating your time.
Vehicles play a big part in RAGE, as well. Huge, actually. Not only do you use your vehicle (of which there are four to collect) to travel to your mission objective, but the wasteland is generally scattered with bandits along the way, making for seamless vehicular combat during each assignment. Equipped with machine guns, rockets, shields, mines, and more, getting from point A to point B is never a monotonous journey. There’s even a racing circuit in both of the villages you visit, allowing you to compete in a number of different objective-based races in order to earn upgrades to your ride.
The racing element is so good, id made it the primary way to play RAGE online. Besides Wasteland Legends, which consists of a handful of co-operative missions based on events and characters in the campaign, the only way to play online is in your vehicle. Like a mixture between Twisted Metal and Mario Kart, you and three others compete in fast-paced king of the hill style races where you try to drive through plotted points on the map, while taking out enemies who might beat you to the punch. The driving mechanic is absolutely perfect, and taking out your buddies is immensely satisfying. It’s fast, it’s exciting, it’s addictive. I love it.
If you need a complicated story with twists and turns to keep your hands glued to the controller, RAGE isn’t what you’re looking for. But what it lacks in plot, it makes up for with perfect gameplay, captivating characters, and enough side missions and mini-games to break up the endless running and gunning. The game could have used a couple extra boss fights and better balancing toward the end, but with magnificent environment design and that honest-to-goodness classic shooter feel, RAGE is a worthy entry into the id catalog, and certainly a game worth owning for any true fan of the FPS genre.
RAGE was released on October 4th, 2011 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Review based on the Xbox 360 version.