There isn’t anything innovative or revolutionary about RAGE. The graphics are some of the best you’ll ever see, but the gameplay is definitely “been there, done that.” …oh, but wait. Is it? Why does very little feel rehashed or reused or recycled from other shooters, and why can’t I stop playing? Well, it’s a combination of entertaining, addictive elements that come together to present us with an irresistible adventure that moves beautifully and captures your interest from the start.
You’re going to see some perfect 10s in the graphics department for this game. That’s because it’s just…insane. The detail and clarity is absolutely astounding and when you take into account the size of the world, it’s even more mind-boggling. Characters are meticulously designed, animations are unbelievably fluid, and the landscape, while stark and mostly barren, is still jammed with a ridiculous amount of pinpoint detail. In short, this post-apocalyptic environment is so gorgeous and effective, you just can’t stop staring. The only slight downside is that the aforementioned sharpness can take a moment or two to kick in; blurriness (and clipping) can be spotted.
The audio features plenty of great voice work from multiple characters, a soundtrack that feels a bit too subtle but ramps up during hectic sequences, and sharp, “impactful” sound effects. The ambient sounds of a town – mostly generated by citizen chatter – works well, and enemy groans, roars and exclamations are plenty intimidating. The orchestral score selects the correct moments to swell and enhances the experience, while the crack of your shotgun and the icy crispness of a machine gun cement a solid and diverse audio presentation.
Perhaps the best way to describe id Software’s latest effort is to say it’s Borderlands…only a lot more robust. Not only does it look downright amazing, but there’s usually plenty to do. This is where the role-playing feel comes into play; accepting odd jobs, performing delivery tasks, doing side quests, and stocking up on goodies made it feel a bit like Deus Ex: Human Revolution. However, we don’t have experience in RAGE; it’s all about money, items, and racing certificates.
However, there is depth within the gameplay as well. Your engineering skill allows you to take various raw materials and combine them into something useful. You can make Bandages, RC Remote Cars (which go boom), Lock Grinders, and various pieces of cool ammunition, like new rounds that turn your shotgun into a grenade launcher. Furthermore, you can purchase new “recipes” from shops, which will let you make more stuff. You can also buy upgrades for your weapons, like stabilizers and ammo capacity enhancers.
Now, you should probably be aware that driving is a big part of the game. Walking around outside towns is almost pointless; you’ll never get anywhere if you aren’t driving. This may sound like the world is massive – and it is, to some extent – but it’s mostly comprised of roads for your vehicle, so it’s not like a huge, open landscape to explore. Some may find this a little disappointing, as it cuts down on the freedom and makes the game feel a bit more linear. It also sometimes feels as if there’s little to do besides jump your vehicle into authority drones.
But id spices things up by tossing bandits at you; they drive around in their own vehicles and attack you on a routine basis. So, you can outfit your vehicle (there are four in the game) with all sorts of equipment; you can increase its armor and add weapons like miniguns and rockets. It also helps to use the turbo a lot; you don’t always want to fight and the turbo comes in handy when you just want to reach your destination. Combine this with the well designed towns and extra stuff to do, and this one will take up a lot of your time.
Initially, I was worried about the driving part. It’s difficult to get all aspects of both control schemes – FPS and driving – exactly correct and while I still say the buggy is just way too loose, and the normal handling of your character is a tad touchy, the developers do get it right. It’s always a blast to drive around, and it’s always a blast to play. The shooting elements are almost perfect, as the weapons are cool, the enemies – ranging from mutant to heavily armored human to giant monster – are diverse and challenging, and the collision detection is exact.
You can also enter races to earn racing certificates, the only way to upgrade your ride. If you really sink some time into these, you might say there’s too much of an emphasis on racing and driving. But most all of it is optional; it’s only for the purpose of upgrading your vehicle, which isn’t essential. And while the competitors in the Rally events cheat (it feels like you’re competing against ten other cars rather than three), it’s still fun. And it adds another dimension to the gameplay. In truth, the game would feel a little bland without it.
I should also mention the interesting approach to death. Thanks to a built-in defibrillator, you can resurrect yourself if you succumb. You enter a brief mini game that utilizes both analog sticks, and then you press the R2 and L2 buttons at the right time; getting close to the indicators will give you more health when you come back. It also releases an electrical charge that fries enemies standing too close to your fallen body. Later, you get a second defib to help; if you don’t have any and you die…you die. So keep some bandages handy.
There are only a few significant issues. Firstly, it doesn’t feature a great story, and that storyline doesn’t really end with a bang. It’s not the plot-driven shooter that Resistance 3 was, and I also think Insomniac’s shooter has the best weapon arsenal of the generation. It often feels as if there aren’t enough weapons in RAGE, although all of them are effective. Secondly, the loading times can get a little irritating, especially if you do a lot of racing. Thirdly and lastly, the AI isn’t the smartest. It's competent but not top-tier in this day and age.
I’m referring to the human enemies, by the way. They’ll take cover and even run to a better position, but they’ll often stick around long enough to get nailed. The mutants are a different matter; they’re about as challenging as rushing foes can be. They’ll dodge and roll and avoid a lot of gunfire from a distance. But they do have a pattern and they’re easily dispatched once you learn it. That all being said, the various element of the game are so fantastic, and so wonderfully designed and implemented, it’s a joy to play. You just can’t stop.
The campaign is definitely the focus but the multiplayer is fun, too. You can unlock new stuff like cluster bombs and pulse cannons for your vehicle, and I’m a fan of the not-too-serious arcade-y nature. Remember, this is id Software. So don’t be surprised to see power pick-ups like 4x damage, even if you remain surprised at the vehicle element in the multiplayer. You also have the option of co-op play, but only for missions that don’t involve the main plot. With multipliers and tremendously paced action, going online with the game is definitely an invigorating experience.
RAGE doesn’t really do anything new. I’ll repeat that for those who are looking for the innovative and revolutionary. But what it does do is pretty damn incredible. It features an excellent FPS mechanic, surprisingly solid (if a bit loose) driving control, competent and diverse foes, unbelievably detailed environments, great audio, and an overall combination of multiple gameplay elements that gels into a cohesive, riveting production. The story isn’t much, there aren’t quite enough weapons, and that huge world seems smaller with roads and vehicles, but otherwise, this game is awesome.
The Good: Best graphics of 2011 (possibly of the generation). Great voice work and soundtrack. Excellent shooter control; solid driving mechanic. Depth and freedom combined with standard elements. Arcade-y, fast-paced online multiplayer. Immensely addictive.
The Bad: Story doesn’t play a big role. Long load times. AI is partially intelligent, partially brain-dead.
The Ugly: “A lot of ugly creatures, but man…they look great.”
10/4/2011 Ben Dutka