id Software has done much to alter the landscape of gaming for the better.
After a rather long hiatus, the newest title by these once revolutionary creators comes at a time where single games no longer show the way forward as they may have done in the past. At a time where the first-person shooter genre is stuck in a bit of a rut, the announcement of a new title by id Software had many foaming at the mouth.
Rage is a first-person shooter set 106 years after the global chaos forced upon the earth by a meteor strike. The player takes control of a nameless Ark survivor – a fellow full to bursting with nanomachines who has recently awoken after snoozing through the end times in a subterranean shelter. id Software's John Carmack once likened stories in games to stories in porn, and a lot of the time in Rage it feels that the narrative was not a major part of id’s planning. There's the big bad Authority who rule over the wasteland, and those fighting against them in the Resistance, but there's really not much to this story worth investing in.
Don’t read too much into the above; it's not as if Rage is just an empty vessel with a load of shooting. This is a game full of personality, most of which can be found in corridor combat by blasting mutants, bandits and Authority grunts. The weapons available are recognizable, but they're all a grand event; the shotgun hits like a truck, the sniper rifle attaches that truck to the front of a train, and the first encounter with a rocket launcher makes the world feel a little brighter.
The manipulation of weapons can be facilitated with a quick flick of the right bumper and left stick. Simple buckshot not holding water against the technological might of the Authority goons? Flick the stick and the shotty now sets off an electromagnetic pulse rendering technology such as energy shields useless. A bunch of pesky mutants rapidly approaching in ankle deep water? Convert crossbow bolts to electrical power and take out the entire group as the current rips through the water. With each weapon having roughly four ammunition types, the ways in which to deal with a threat can change dynamically.
If cheap, extremely helpful ammunition types simply aren't enough, combat can be taken to the next level with the ability to modify weapons utilising bits and pieces found throughout the wastes, as well as creating little ditties like sentry guns or the silent-but-deadly wingstick, a three-bladed boomerang capable of decapitating enemies at range. The engineering tab quickly fills out to a list of devastatingly powerful or devastatingly helpful tools to ease game progress.
Enemy AI is acceptable – they will take up some pretty good defensive positions yet present enough of a target to allay any Skynet-related fears, and will often fall back and regroup after their numbers have been thinned.
These battles take place in linear, invisible walled environments that corral the player through a level before guiding them back to the entrance, or an easy exit. While outside these linear FPS instances, there's opportunity enough to explore the wasteland in a range of buggies and cars acquired from city hubs. Whilst not open world, there is much to see and do around these dusty highways, but generally speaking the wastes are just a series of different roads leading to the next FPS level or quest location.
Rage is a beautiful game. From the moment the player steps out of the Ark (and gives the textures time to load) the grand beauty on offer in the initial stages is at times breathtaking. But it is not just the distant views of mountains and a broken-down world – the little aspects, too, have been lovingly crafted. Wellspring, the first major hub, is a dusty, rusty, leaking patchwork town full of character with settlers playing a variety of games that can be joined in hopes of turning a quick profit. Holographic dice games, collectable card games and the opportunity for the player to not stab themselves in the hand are all available to throw some money at.
Mission locations, the aforementioned FPS levels, are also memorable. From abandoned garage complexes to rundown hospitals stalked by mutants, there is a beauty to most of the visual nature of Rage. At times it's possible to get a bit sick of one location as the game does require the player to go back to a place recently visited, but at least this generally involves repeating the area in reverse.
This beauty, though, is occasionally flawed as the technology is not quite where it needs to be. There is an all too noticeable degree of pop-in to textures as new areas are loaded. This can be slightly alleviated by installing the game to the hard disk, but it still remains as a bit of an immersion buster.
The driving in Rage is most fun when exploring the wastes, shooting bandit vehicles and uncovering unique jumps. Races are available in each hub town, but the AI either struggles to keep up or unleashes a torrent of rockets, which takes a lot of the shine away from this aspect of the game.
It is a thoroughly different matter online where the competitive racing modes should set up hours of entertainment. Generally playing around racing to checkpoints or gathering objects; enemy machineguns and homing rockets create a frantic and frequently comical battle that makes the most of the terrain and easy handling. As higher levels are acquired through play, new cars and weapon load-outs can be obtained.
Whilst there is no competitive first-person shooter available, there are nine "Legends of the Wasteland" co-op missions for two players. These are mostly rehashed locations from the solo campaign slightly retooled with less focus on looting, and some new areas available to use a preselected arsenal of weapons.
Rage is a strange beast, at once very deep and very shallow. Though unlikely to win game of the year, there is still much to like about what is on offer. There is heart here, and there is fun to be had, but unlike in the past this most recent release by id Software is not going to change the world.