After spending just a few hours in Rage’s world, we were overcome with a feeling not just rare in videogames but in any work of fiction: We actually wanted to live there. It’s a more comfortable version of Mad Max, with all of the cobbled-together and lawless excitement but without the horrific desperation. Sure, the people have it rough – it’s the apocalypse, after all – but the towns we visited are downright cozy with their rustic charm and endearingly crusty characters. If we didn’t have to worry about raving mutants or the oppressive Authority, we’d totally rent out a little shack in Wellspring, hang out at the bar, and play some cards or participate in the races.
Note: The PC version of Rage has encountered some serious issues with graphics cards. See the end of the review for specifics.
It’s not just the sheer amount of detail that makes Rage’s world feel real; it’s also the imagination used to make it a place we want to just hang out in, like the aesthetic touches that make the towns feel both futuristic and retro-western, with a sprinkling of steampunk for good measure.
Rage is id’s attempt to create a hybrid game, both in its genre and in its multiplatform approach, which is quite the departure for a traditionally FPS focused, PC-centric company. Rage is still an id FPS at its core, but it’s also an RPG complete with chatty townsfolk and plenty of items to purchase and craft. Oh, and it’s a racing and car-combat game as well.
It’s a rather different turn for an id game. We whiled away the hours with RPG-ish distractions aimed at increasing our money and options. There’s no experience to earn, but we increased our power all the same through savvy purchases. Side missions provide money and items as rewards (or engineering recipes, which really boosted our power with high-end items). There’s also a special currency earned by winning races, and this currency is the only way to upgrade a vehicle, so players who want a totally intimidating Mad Max set of wheels must compete in races.
Above: The buggy is the main vehicle during the game, but there are a couple other sets of wheels available
The racing – which includes time trials, conventional races, and Mario Kart-style combat races – is fun and well-designed to the point of not feeling tacked-on, but we wish it had been a required part of our progression. Since the only way to buy vehicle upgrades is through race winnings, races were obviously meant to be an integral part of the game, but they turn out to be totally unnecessary, at least on Normal difficulty, because all the vehicle upgrades aren’t needed to survive out in the wasteland – we could easily just race past enemy vehicles on our way to the next on-foot FPS section, ignoring the car combat completely.
This would be a mistake, though, because the car combat in Rage is great. Once we equipped our vehicle with machine guns, rockets, pulse cannons, mines, spiked wheels, shields, mini-drones, and other goodies, the combat is sublimely satisfying in its explodiness: enemy cars burst apart with gorgeous burning wreckage, making destroying them addictive.
This solid foundation transitions into the multiplayer, which tosses aside the expected deathmatch and anything else resembling a shooter. The multiplayer is purely car combat, with several modes designed to take advantage of the speed vehicles permit. Our favorites are Triad Rally, where we had to drive through three consecutive beams of light to score, and Meteor Rally, where fallen ore must be collected and then returned to a randomly spawning capture zone. Mastering usage of different weapons and items becomes increasingly fun due to unlockables, and the well-designed maps engender exciting close-calls with swooping turns and huge jumps (with one jump leading to id’s iconic quad damage bonus). There’s nothing quite so heroic as flying off a huge jump to soar over half the map and then rain a cannon shot into a group of enemies while still in mid-air. We doubt the multiplayer will have long-lasting appeal, but it’s a fantastic change of pace from typical multiplayer – at least for a few hours.
Above: Surviving an encounter with two players giving chase isn't easy, but man is it exciting
There’s also a mini co-op campaign, but there’s not much to say about it. It’s a separate series of two-player levels that take place in environments we had already seen in the single-player campaign, with minor adjustments. Those who need to squeeze everything they can out of a game will be glad these missions are here, but for us they were only fitfully entertaining.
Rage also manages to avoid a standard weakness of open-world games: “mushiness.” Oftentimes in large, nonlinear games, there’s too much world for it to be all carefully designed –missions seem to occur within random buildings tossed together in the same manner as all the other unimportant set-dressing strewn about the world. Rage accomplishes the unexpected: it’s an open-world game, yet when we entered a “dungeon” it felt like a fully detailed, painstakingly crafted level from a strictly linear FPS. Rage is as if id took Doom or Quake and then broke the levels into chunks and then peppered a huge outdoor world with the pieces.
Above: The wasted world is consistently beautiful in its desolate starkness
Rage also introduced us to one of our new favorite weapons: the wingstick. We never expected something as innocuous as the wingstick to become such an addictive, crucial part of Rage’s gameplay, but we love the darn things so much we’re going to miss them when playing other shooters. Despite the underwhelming name, wingsticks are totally badass: a three-winged bladed boomerang with homing capabilities. Toss one out and the pleasing electric whirr it emits as it seeks to behead our enemies is always satisfying. But what makes wingsticks integral to Rage’s gameplay is twofold: they one-shot most enemies, and they sit in a quick-use slot, which means we didn’t have to equip them like a standard weapon. That meant we can throw one at any time, no matter what weapon we’re using or what we were doing. Caught with our pants down while reloading? No problem! A wingstick was soon protruding from our ambusher’s face.
Along with the wingsticks, Rage provided us with other nifty quick-use items like turrets, sentry bots, and exploding RC cars – all necessary, because the variety of enemies in the game had us constantly switching up how we play. Even the way that enemies clamber around the environments adds another layer to familiar FPS combat. Enemy gangs each have a theme, which also affects their weaponry, but we really enjoyed how they simply have different movement styles. The Ghost clan used acrobatics to run at us, somersault, and suddenly spring up and swing from the ceiling. The Jackals make use of ziplines and perform captivating handstand-slides along railing. This adds not only an element of novelty to each enemy type, but it also changes their silhouettes, meaning that the way we tracked targets constantly changed throughout the game.
Above: The crossbow is also a cool stealth weapon, with electro-bolts, dynamite bolts, and our favorite, the mind-control bolts, which turn your enemies into walking bombs under your control
Rage also mixes it up with it comes to shooter conventions. You can save the game anywhere, but there’s also regenerating health and even a defibrillator that gives you a free “extra life” every few minutes. With so many ways to avoid death, the game is able to increase the threat level of enemies. That said, with so many tools to save your ass in a pinch, the game isn’t particularly difficult on Normal. If you’re decently skilled at first-person shooters and want a challenge, we’d suggest starting the game on Hard mode.
Rage sports something called the megatexture – it uses a single texture for the entire game and then continuously streams it. The result is a world without repeating tiles and also a bit of magic: for the console versions, you get a game that simply looks better than anything yet achieved this generation. Rage has the best-looking rocks we’ve ever seen, and man we never knew rocks could look so cool. As a side bonus, Rage has a framerate that just won’t quit – we’re talking 60 frames-per-second, no matter how amazing things look or how far the draw distance gets or how many enemies clog the screen. It’s just flat-out amazing what this tech has achieved. It’s not perfect, though: There is considerable pop-in where textures go from blurry to detailed.
Above: When the game looks good, which is most of the time, man does it look damn good
The problem with such graphical splendor? It raises the bar on what we expect from the game while we’re playing it. Everything here looks so ridiculously detailed that when the levels of detail pop in or don’t load properly and leave blurry textures, it stands out like crazy. Unfortunately, there seems to be a difference between PS3 and 360, and the odd part is, despite the PS3 having a mandatory install and the advantage of Blu-ray cramming everything on one disc, the pop-in is more noticeable than with 360’s optional install. Your worst bet is playing the 360 version without installing, however – and remember, it’s roughly 25gb to install.
Rage is engrossing, beautiful, and intense for the majority of its campaign, but then it begins to stumble. The first problem is recycled content, where missions forced us to return to locations we’d visited before and replay them with only minor variations in the enemies and layout. Most of these are side missions, but there’s one main mission that had us play through another main mission backward, and it’s a fairly long section, which is disappointing. Rage’s gameplay is so good, though, that it’s not a huge deal.
Above: The Authority, despite being the climactic faction to fight against, turn out to be the least interesting enemies
What’s more disappointing is Rage’s final act. For a game that has all the appearances of an epic RPG, the reality is something much shorter – we beat it in about eight hours, which included completing some, but not all, of the side missions. Length on its own is not an issue, but Rage had us believing we’re on a sprawling, epic journey that will build up to a crazy battle against the Authority, and then it just completely fizzled out. We won’t spoil what happens, but let’s just say the final sequence was anything but epic, and we literally asked as the credits rolled: “Really? That’s it?” We must stress that the last part of Rage is in no way horrible, and that the game as a whole is polished, massive-feeling, and continuously fun. It’s just that, particularly for an id game, it built up and then left us hanging. We’re still talking about a small portion of the game, which means the campaign is great for the majority of its length and the lowest it ever gets is still at least very good.
Far Cry 2? Maybe. Both games feature FPS combat, lots of driving, and RPG-lite elements, but Far Cry 2 is bigger and more ambitious in its vision. However, Rage might be your cup of tea if you prefer more single-player-style design in your open world, and of course the post-apocalyptic setting will appeal more to some over the African Savannah. Rage also features more creative weaponry, but even though it beats Far Cry 2 in terms of looks on a purely technical level, Far Cry 2 has a luminous aesthetic that still hasn’t been topped in any game.
Doom 3? No. Id’s last great game was more epic in scope despite being linear, was crammed with imaginative architecture, and featured absolutely terrifying environments and enemies. It was amazing for its time, but we doubt it would age so well. Rage certainly doesn’t rely on “monster closets” and its world is much more varied, it just never reaches the intensity that Doom 3 achieved.
Resistance 3? No, but they’re not far apart in quality. We know that one game is a linear shooter and the other is an open-world driving/FPS/RPG, but they’re also competing shooters in a crowded holiday season, meaning you’ll be considering which FPS to get in the current crop. Resistance manages to be denser with amazing moments, while Rage goes for more spread-out pacing (not just due to its open world, but also with fewer set-pieces within its FPS levels). Resistance builds up to an exciting climax while Rage just peters out.
Rage is many things: open-world driving and racing game, meticulously designed first-person shooter, stunning realization of a living post-apocalyptic wasteland, and it does all of these things well. It ends just as the party is really getting going, but even the pre-party is fantastic.
Note: The PC version has encountered some major problems, but it's not the same for all machines. First, if you have an ATI card, be extremely wary as many users have reported being completely unable to play the game. There has been apparently a driver released to specifically address this problem, but it seems some users still can't get the game to work. We played the game on a high-end gaming PC with an nVidia GTX 580 - while the texture popping was the least noticeable compared to PS3 and 360, we experienced very bad screen tearing, so much so that it was constantly distracting and making it difficult to pay attention to the game. There's no v-sync option in-game, and we've heard that if you try to force v-sync it can cause other problems. Apparently the game auto-detects your machine's specs, but then there are almost no graphic options you can customize yourself - just resolution, anti-aliasing, and gamma. If you don't have a high-end machine, you may experience texture popping and other graphical bugs that are even worse than the console versions. The game underneath these problems is still a great experience, but we cannot recommend a purchase until the problems are patched.
Oct 4, 2011