Please Rate this Review: Rage
High: Discovering a meaty new addition to your arsenal and turning a group of bandits to slush. No one does guns like id.
Low: Oh, the wasted opportunity...
WTF: We're really supposed to care about this...story?
“FROM THE CREATORS OF DOOM AND QUAKE”
That’s the message authoritatively blazoned across the top of the RAGE box. A significant and purposeful boast, and one that fully justifies id Software’s eminent status. It’s a studio synonymous with giving lifeblood to an entire genre and changing the face of the games industry.
One glance across the shelves these days quickly reminds us of id’s influence: bullets, blood and a steroid injected dose of male bravado. Big men with big guns. The casual observer might argue that nothing’s changed. That since one hellspawn-slaughtering space marine stomped into public consciousness all those years ago, the genre has simply strafed round in circles. Of course, this is not the case. Although the DNA of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake is still very much woven into modern shooters, the FPS is now a very different beast. Military blockbusters command the battlefield. Cinematic, Hollywood inspired set-pieces explode onto our screens with regularity. Right stick melees, left stick sprints. Snap down your iron sights and bring death to everything in your field of vision.
So where does this leave RAGE, a fledgling IP with a four year plus development cycle? Numerous delays imply spiralling costs, and with the market already ruled by a couple of mammoth franchises, making any meaningful impact could prove challenging. But If it’s beyond all possibility to chink the armour of the CODs and the Battlefields, the next best thing Doom and Quake’s creators can provide is a credible alternative.
But RAGE is a frustrating game. Not in the traditional sense of being irritatingly hard, or obnoxiously obtuse, rather that its vast potential is never fully realised. Imagine a post apocalyptic wasteland full of bandits and mutants, watched over by a tyrannical government. A dusty expanse littered with towns, outposts, dank sewer systems and crumbling cities. Throw in RPG inspired quests, intense gunfights and tight vehicular combat, all underpinned by an intriguing conspiratorial narrative. This is RAGE on paper: an ambitious open world FPS that marches from the shadows and carves its own niche. Out of the corridor and into the sandbox.
It’s a vision that never really comes to fruition. Its storyline initially shows some promise, but all interest quickly becomes buried under a pile of shell casings and spent bullets. The pseudo-sandbox of the wasteland, the few sparsely populated settlements and towns - these are more or less superfluous. They merely serve as a base camp. Somewhere to accept an elementary quest and arm up before heading off into more linear territory: the corridors of bandit hideouts, sewer tunnels and close quarters city streets. RAGE may masquerade as something big and bold, but at its heart its as close to Doom or Quake as anything since, well, Doom 3.
Gunplay is what id do. It’s their bread and butter. It doesn’t do driving, although RAGE wants you to race around on quadbikes and dune buggies to get from A to B. It doesn’t do RPGs, but RAGE sanctions the bloodshed through ‘character building’ and fetch quests. It doesn’t do story but RAGE asks you to become invested in a tale barely worth thinking about after the first hour. It does shooting, lots of shooting, and it does it bloody well. While RAGE’s other composite parts (those that if pulled off with aplomb could strengthen the game immeasurably) range from mildly entertaining to subpar, its combat excels.
Your initial weapons have that cobbled togetherness that sits nicely with the wasteland aesthetic. Taped up handles, and rusty, scratched metal lends to a worn but reliable feel. As you progress you’ll get your hands on equipment hatched from emergent technologies, usually found in the clasp of the nefarious Authority. Each gun feels unique, assured and packs a hefty and satisfying punch. RAGE’s only genuine moments of player to character affinity come when you lay your hands on a fresh piece of firepower. Your voiceless protagonist gleefully surveys the latest addition to his arsenal; turning dials, adjusting scopes and examining barrels. He sees the potential in your acquisition and so do you, eyes lighting up, eager to test out your new toy on mutant fodder.
A nice and accessible engineering mechanic allows you to fashion various items and weapons from wasteland clutter: lethal sentry turrets, RC cars or bandages for the medically inclined. Varying ammo types also means that you won’t be reeling off round after round of the same generic slugs. This gives birth to a degree of combat options. Bandits standing in a pool of water? Whip out the electric crossbow bolts and watch them fry. Normal pistol ammo too puny for the job? Load up the Fatboys instead and pierce through armour, skin and bone to your heart’s content.
Heads explode in unsettlingly joyous fashion. Frag grenades turn hostiles to crimson mush and the boomerang inspired Wingsticks slice necks clean from shoulders. The BFG also makes an appearance in one form or another towards the game’s conclusion. If that wasn’t a blatant enough nod to RAGE’s heritage, then the gratification you’ll get from mowing down legions of enemies with ever ascending firepower is pure, unadulterated Doom. It’s when you’re caught up in this killfrenzy, with Doom and Quake seeping out of RAGE’s every pore, that you forget about what could have been. For that period of time all misgivings are forgotten in a haze of visceral, adrenaline fuelled combat. But venture out from of one of its beautifully detailed hideouts, sewers or crumbling city streets when the dust has settled and that nagging question returns. What if?
What if that vast potential was met? If the RAGE on paper became the RAGE of reality? If they fleshed out the dull quest structures, employed meaningful characterisation, a more adventurous story and investable world? Could we be talking about RAGE in the same way we talk about Bioshock? Questions, questions. But weren't gamers taught to shoot first and ask questions later?
It’s ironic really that whilst trying to broaden its scope beyond linear corridor shooting, RAGE’s very strength lies in just that. That’s id’s heritage, its comfort zone. When inside that comfort zone we get a masterclass in brutal combat - a graduate from the Doom and Quake academy. Outside it we see a genuine attempt to step out of the shadow of those very classics (commendable in itself), but without great success. This is what makes RAGE a rather confused, and confusing game. A game which sticks to its guns (literally) but tries to branch out; a bullet fuelled pleasure to play in bursts, but a frustrating exercise in missed opportunities in others. What next for id? All roads lead towards Doom 4. Full circle, and back to more familiar, if no less daunting territory.
Disclaimer: The single player campaign was played for 12-13 hours and to the games conclusion
Re: Please Rate this Review: Rage
Has this review actually been here for a month and a half? I totally missed it.
To the review:
Really nice review, I like it a lot. You obviously have a facility with language and a deep knowledge of games.
If I had a complaint, it would be that the language is just a little bit elaborate, a teensy bit overblown. It's very polished, but a little purple at times - it seems a bit churlish to complain about that though.
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