id Software has a pedigree, there's no denying this. In fact one could argue that they defined and created the First Person Shooter genre. With seminal titles like Wolfenstein 3D, DOOM and Quake under their belt they spawned a whole type of game. And now they're back with RAGE and for those who can't be bothered to read the whole review - it's a good game with some decidedly old-skool shooter mechanics wrapped in brand new technology.
Simply put. I don't get all the negative press this game has been getting. I've spent my time in a chunk of the Wasteland of RAGE and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. Before we dive into the review though, let's get a few things straight.
RAGE is a FPS, delightfully so. It's not an RPG, it's not a rip off of Fallout and Borderlands, and in fact Borderlands is nothing like RAGE. The idea of a post apocalyptic wasteland isn't new Fallout fans; it's as old as the very hills.
What RAGE is like is a mix between a First Person Shooter and the ideas set forth in films like Mad Max 2. RAGE has some RPG-lite-lite elements that mix in with the FPS gameplay and I feel it's much richer for it.
Earth is in trouble, the giant asteroid nicknamed: Apophis is on a collision course with the planet and it's going to hit. This is based on a slim chance that the actual asteroid itself will really hit our own planet in the future and as thus, it is a pretty sobering thought to see this vision of a possible future outlined by the game. Selected lucky individuals (you are one) are given a chance in the Ark project, buried deep into the ground and sent into cryogenic suspension. You awaken +106 years later and things have changed.
The story is told through a few cut-scenes at the start. For the rest of it, it's presented in first person to keep you as the central focus and directly involved in events around you. You learn more about the world and about the game itself through interaction with the characters, NPCs if we're using RPG terms.
I won't spoil the story, but there are a few interesting surprises along the way.
The controls of RAGE are simple enough and they're intuitive. There's no cover button, so you crouch and hide behind cover. Rather like the good old days before sticky cover was invented, the rest of the controls let you shoot, sprint, throw grenades and swap weapons with an in-game system that lets you pick 1 of 4 assigned weapons and swap out ammo types with a few flicks of the stick.
The driving controls are excellent, and they offer a great deal of responsiveness. There are also controls presets that let you change things around if you prefer a different button combination.
RAGE has a hard save option, along with auto-saves. Please use the hard save option at every possible chance, some of the load times are just a smidge longer than I would have liked and the hard save makes it much better.
RAGE is a huge game on 360, it comes on 3 discs - 2 are for the game's single player and 1 is for the vehicle based multiplayer, this includes the cooperative mode as well. It is worth installing the whole thing on your HDD - you'll use just over 22GB of space and the game will run much smoother because of it.
Shooting: The game is a core shooter; it's about shooting things and not immersing you in the next Oscar winning game story. RAGE is about the player feeling just as lost as the character, then getting hold of some firepower and becoming a little braver until they tote around an arsenal of the gods that they can use to decimate their enemies in fun and unfriendly ways.
RAGE is about getting hold of cool things, from shotguns (really well done id Software, I love this shotgun), rocket launchers, sniper rifles, specialist weapons and pistols. It's about using those to end the miserable lives of whatever gets in your way next. However and here's the RPG thingy - RAGE has upgrades for those weapons, you know, little mods that change the way they work say like: Deus Ex. It's got ammo types, ammo types are basically another way of turning that weapon of yours into an awesome death dealing machine.
Let us discuss for a moment some of the cooler types of ammo and one weapon in particular. The Desert Striker Crossbow: Not only is this weapon cool to look at, it's got a few useful ammo types that make it a must have in a fire-fight. Normal crossbow bolts are powerful enough and the crossbow is quiet for stealth, then you have dynamite bolts, electro bolts (fantastic for groups of enemies in water) and my favourite - mind control bolts. They embed in and then let you control the poor target until they explode or you detonate them.
Every weapon in RAGE is balanced really well, the ammo types actually make sense and they are useful to deal with different kinds of enemies, from weak bandit types to the heavy armoured psychos and other things. Fat Mammas are fantastic pistol rounds that really bring on the pain for your enemies.
The arsenal builds as you play the game and RAGE offers weapons, gadgets and other things as you continue the story.
You can get a lot of fun out of RAGE's shooter aspect and it is pretty badass when you're dodging gunfire, snapping off a few shots here and then and retreating to cover.
RAGE handles health loss by letting you regenerate, due to some little machines in your bloodstream. You also have a defibrillator built into your chest, which can revive you upon death once you play a little mini-game to restart your heart. It has the added effect of stunning nearby foes too, and it can sometimes take them out of the fight altogether. Once you're defibbed though, it's not a get out of death free card, it needs to recharge...so if you're pegged again before it has - you're dead, reload save. Bandages can be used if your regen isn't quick enough to help save your life.
The HUD isn't cluttered and there's even a small mini-map when you're out in the Wasteland. I note, this game is old skool - once a job is over you'll need to remember where in the Wasteland the place you visited was, like in the days before we had mini-maps and were handheld through games.
So that's the shooting aspect. It's really good fun too, because the enemies are not predictable...I'll cover that in the AI part of the review.
RAGE is a shooter, but it does owe some of its mechanics to RPG-LITE systems. It has an inventory where you store all your objects and assign quick use gadgets etc. It has a weapon upgrade screen, where you can see weapon upgrades and switch weapons, ammo types and the like. There's an engineering screen where you can build a plethora of cool things to help you survive, from gadgets to bandages and even health increasing formulas. There's a job screen, which is basically a quest log and so on.
There are various shops that will buy junk off you that you find in the game, or sell you things like engineering recipes, gadgets, ammo, ingredients etc.
There are NPCs, people you can talk to for information or jobs. There's a job board where you can pick up some pretty simple but rewarding quests and whilst there are no dialogue trees it is definitely RPG-like.
In fact if you want to get everything out of RAGE, you need to invest quite a bit of time into that side of the game. Talk to everyone and you never know what you're going to earn as the reward.
There are mini-games, from mumbly-peg (that's five finger fillet to you and me), to a simple game of chance and the rather deep and addictive: Magic The Gathering style card game dubbed Rage Frenzy. Where you literally build a deck and try to win...this can soak up quite a bit of time if you're into it.
There are races, which you can use to upgrade your buggy/vehicle and earn new rewards. The racing is pretty deep and there are a lot of upgrades to get if you want a truly rugged machine capable of tearing bandit cars a new one.
There are other hidden things...other ways to make money. If you're a retail adopter of RAGE, you get access to the Wasteland Sewer Missions and these are packed with goodies that make your life out there a lot easier.
The gadgets are extremely useful, from lock grinders that get you into some pretty neat areas, to the sentry bot and turret that can really turn the tide of battle. Also the bot is an amazing companion that will really turn up the heat in a fire-fight. Then you have RC cars that can be rigged to blow up and that just about tops it off...it's the icing on the cake death for the bandits!
RAGE is a big game (in terms of the game world) you'll probably take 10-15 hours to complete it and even then, you'll miss something no doubt if you rush through the story. The Wasteland is pretty large and opens up after a few hours into quite a sprawling area that requires a vehicle to get around. As previously mentioned, this vehicle is upgradeable and there are rockets, miniguns, special one shot items and more to earn/buy for your chosen ride. You'll need to keep your eye on your cashflow too, because RAGE requires that you spend money to get ammo and everything else you need.
Driving is another important part of RAGE. The vehicle handling is pretty tight, it gets better as you earn your rewards and get more upgrades for your vehicle. The single player races themselves are pretty fun as well, and you only need to do a few to proceed with the story if racing isn't your thing. However, driving around the Wasteland you'll get attacked by bandits and well, you'll get rewarded for every bandito you turn into a smoking wreck. Simply put, driving is cool and it feels cool. It gets so much better when you get a new ride and some upgrades. The control system is solid and there are no complaints here.
With all of these systems (and I'm sure I missed something) there's a lot to RAGE that you won't see until the game lets you roam wild and free. Stick with it and RAGE is truly something that has raised the bar in terms of putting all of these things together nigh-on seamlessly.
It's a game where the money matters...don't hoard it or you'll find that you're stuck when you really need something important. Also, as per id Software there are Easter eggs and secrets in the game.
There is some pop-in if you really make the game work hard. It's 60fps and smooth, but if you whip your view around really fast, you'll get some textures that fade in quickly. If you play the game without making RAGE look for pop-in, you're just fine. This game is nothing short of amazing visually, id Tech 5 and the megatexture technology is something that really makes the 360 version look fantastic. There's no detail drop on the textures, rocks look like rocks, the environments are stunning and the character/vehicle textures are all highly detailed. You can see the rust patterns in the metal, the striations in the rocks and you can identify sedimentary rock compared to other types.
I could go on and on about the visuals but you have to see it to truly appreciate it. The lighting is pretty neat as well, it's not as dynamic as it could be, but when you're tearing across the landscape leaving tracks in the dust - you don't really care. It totally immerses you in the game world and leaves you breathless when you see the environments for the first time. RAGE is a beautiful stunning game with a high fidelity and detail that makes the head spin. The texture and design artists literally were able to paint this world to life and they did a fantastic job. When your character gets his hand on his first pistol and looks it over, the level of detail alone is nigh-on jaw dropping.
There's a lot going on in RAGE and let me say right now, these are some of the best animations in a game. From when you get a new weapon and the character checks it, showing it off and seeing how the heft is, to the places you visit packed with people and objects, most of them animated in some way/shape or form. RAGE truly delivers solid animation. But there's one place where RAGE shines above all and that's the combat animations, those are tied into the AI and basically when the bad guys are hit, they know it, they know where and they react to it. So there are no canned death animations that repeat time and time again.
If a bad guy dies in RAGE, they can do so with physics, animation and AI all bound into one euphoric moment. It's not Euphoria Animation, but it works just as well. To see a bandit clutch their shoulder and then stagger off in retreat, or come stumbling at you only to drop at your feet is something else.
There are some great explosive physics in the game, there is weight to the weapons...the shotun causes weaker enemies to fly backwards if you get a nice shot on their midriff, or it can literally knock someone off their feet. Then you have the vehicle physics which are all different depending on what you drive, what you have upgraded and what the surface you're driving on is composed of. So the physics are pretty solid and the combat physics doubly so.
It's rare to see AI that knows it's injured, has mental states and various personalities. RAGE has all that and more, RAGE's AI often knows how to get around the environment and it can duck, roll, dodge and use cover really well. It can coordinate tactics and flank you, it can use grenades with precision and depending on armaments it can really make for some absolutely exhilarating shooting action. There are a few times where the vehicle AI went a little awry and the bandits just crashed into a wall or something, but I like to think of that as the fact they were awed by the two rockets that just smoked their best buddy and they panicked.
A game like RAGE is defined by its atmosphere, and audio is just as important as graphics to the creation of an environment like this. RAGE's sound palette is a truly impressive thing - from the Wasteland sounds, to the sounds of the settlements and the various weapons, vehicles and everything else in the game, it never puts a foot wrong and there are subtle cues to your vehicles health that you can pick up on when the music fades back and you can listen to that v10 engine roar, with a slow sputter and a sound of an axle grinding.
RAGE's music is excellent, it's evocative and composer Rod Abernethy has done a bang up job with the soundscape of the whole thing. It is deeply sad in the opening cut-scene and then through the game it becomes more and more militant as locations change. When you're in a place like Wellspring, it has a very Wild West twang to it and it reminds me of Firefly, Starcraft 2 and of course Red Dead Redemption. So, yeah, the music is excellent.
A game like RAGE lives or dies with the voice cast and id Software has assembled quite a cast for this one. There are the likes of Nolan North (of course), Claudia Black seems to have taken a role or two here as well. Then you have John Goodman as Dan Hagar. Everyone puts in 100% and the voice work is sterling...it's solid and it is extremely well recorded.
I'm a fan of this kind of writing so it hits all the right spots for me. RAGE's story is told through your interaction with the people around you, and whilst you are a silent protagonist (the main character has no voice) - they react to you as though you've just told them something. I imagine that the character spoke in a dusty voice and whatever he said to Dan et-al made a whole lot of sense. It is well written and there are some great lines.
id Software upset a few people it seems, they decided not to put adversarial shooter action on the 3rd disc. I commend them for this action, because whilst RAGE's Road Rage might not appeal to everyone, it's a refreshing change from the already swamped market - I mean come on, MW3, BF 3 and so on...RAGE didn't need to add yet more deathmatch to that, even if id are the creators of that whole shebang.
Road Rage is fun and frenetic driving action for 4 players. It's quite intimate in that good old Interstate 76 kind of way. There are various modes that you can play in, from a few races here and there to an out and out deathmatch with cars. There's quad damage and a slew of pickups, there's a level and rank system and new cars/upgrades to unlock. I'm not sure where people are getting the idea that RAGE's mp is tacked on, because from where I am looking it actually feels a pretty well developed component to me.
The maps are pretty large and sprawling affairs mostly and there's no lag. It's a smooth experience and a whole lot of fun. It's kind of like playing the single player races only with real people as your opponents. I for one like it and I'm glad id put the mode into the game.
Then you have the cooperative, system link, live or split-screen madness that is Wasteland Legends. 2 players engage in several scenarios using maps that are drawn from the main story and objectives that tie in to legends that you will hear as you complete the story of RAGE.
This one time at RAGE-camp.
These small stories are bite-sized chunks of gameplay that give you a wider glimpse of RAGE's world and let you play with a friend. There are no lag problems and there's the usual assortment of RAGE's arsenal and gadgets from single player. There's also a mechanic that lets you revive a downed comrade, one we've seen before in games like Gears of War etc.
RAGE's multiplayer is added value to the whole single player experience and it works really well.
So if you skipped to the end...
Buy RAGE if: You want a solid FPS that does things a little differently. You like id Software and their ideas. You want something that's not the next Call of Duty rinse-repeat action game...and you like the idea of mixing some lite-RPG into your moment to moment shooting. You don't mind some old school shooting action and a little bit of graphical twitchiness in terms of texture pop-in.
Don't buy RAGE: If you want to miss out on a really solid game. If you can't get it through your skull that RAGE isn't the next coming of Christ (Borderlands) in RPG form. If any kinds of texture pop-in offends you at all, even the tiniest amount.
RAGE is a game that puts all of its elements together and delivers a fun and exciting FPS, not an RPG and once you understand that, you and RAGE will be best friends.