|The Title Screen|
RAGE is a (mostly) first person shooter, developed by id Software. Released in 2011, it is available on Xbox, PlayStation and PC (Steampowered); featuring a single player campaign and vehicle based multiplayer. This review will be on the PC single player; on Hard difficulty setting.
Disclaimer: The violence is not extreme, but may be unsuitable for some.
The First Thing
Considering the game is called RAGE, the introduction cinematic completely surprised me. Not only does it perfectly establish the framework for the story, but is also accompanied by haunting piano music that invokes an actual emotional response. Simple, sad and incredibly effective; it is one of my favourite introduction cinematics of any game.
Plot & Devices
To avoid extinction from an unavoidable asteroid impact, selected people (including you) are frozen underground until it is safe to rebuild. However, you awaken from your 'Ark' 100 years later than intended. Society has re-established itself, but the plan to rebuild has gone wrong and the land is dominated by bandits, mutants and an oppressive military regime called "The Authority". You must blend into this new world and find out what went wrong, and see if it can be saved.
|A broken world|
The overall story of RAGE has the potential to be interesting, but is let down by bad implementation. Obviously you have no knowledge of the events that happened whilst frozen, but you are never properly informed of them. The player must guess context from features of the world (i.e. nice people fear The Authority = "The Authority is bad") which diminishes some of their impact. The story ending is hurried to a conclusion - with no build up. I would not be surprised if it turns out that that the developers ran out of money and suddenly had to end the story. Most of the characters are quite forgettable due to being broad stereotypes and limited only to 'quest givers', and it is always hard to identify with a silent protagonist.
It is hard to pin down exactly what type of game RAGE is. It is hub based, in a large area known as the "Wasteland" that the player is free to travel around. Available quests usually involve performing a combative mission in an enclosed, linear level (First Person Shooter style). Main quests progress the story and optional side quests reward in money or items. RAGE never tries to be a sandbox game or an RPG, instead just providing more choice, whilst maintaining linearity. The world is full of items that can be picked up and either sold, or crafted into something of worth using recipes. Slain humans can be searched for money and items and the player has an unlimited inventory. There is a small upgrade system but it is not a core part of the gameplay.
|Exploring the Wasteland|
The player has regenerating health and can use 'bandages' as health packs in emergencies. The player also has the ability to "resurrect" upon death, but this ability must recharge after use and a death during so will result in a "game over". The game has no checkpoints, instead expecting the player use auto or hard saves.. Enemies will employ a variety of tactics that require different approaches to combat. Some enemies will use cover, some will charge fast in packs and some will move slower and be resilient to damage.
The player can carry all available weapons and most guns have a choice of ammunition. For example, the crossbow can fire either normal, exploding, electric or mind-control arrows. Ammunition can be crafted or purchased with money, and choosing which ammunition to use is part of the gameplay. Other items such as bandages, grenades, remote controlled bomb cars and Wingsticks (boomerangs with spikes) can be assigned to independent 'quick access' slots.
However, RAGE is not just a first person shooter. Vehicles are used for exploration, races and can outfitted with weapons for combat. Race victories reward tokens that buy vehicle upgrades. Mini games are provided for fun, or a source of money from gambling. The game features a 'Magic: The Gathering' style card game, a knife-fingers game, a memory dance dance revolution game and futuristic dice rolling. Although not vast, the wasteland is large enough to explore; containing secrets, enemies, and hovering items only obtainable via vehicle aerial jumps.
The art style depends on the location: the Authority is technologically advanced and military, the wasteland is like the 'Grand Canyon', and mutants/bandits live in dilapidated ruins. The aesthetic of each area has received a lot of developer attention, resulting in some unique locations. In-game objects are hardly reused, resulting in a varied visual experience. The graphic fidelity of this game is very impressive and characters and enemy combatants are exceptionally well animated.
The soundtrack is suitable, but the 'battle' music starts to feel oppressive due to the frequency of combat - also often makes the mistake of starting before an engagement, inappropriately alerting the player. The sound effects are solid and give weight to the guns. Many professional voice actors are used for dialogue (including Steve Blum, yay) resulting in a nicely presented characters, but they are still forgettable due to the weak script and brief player interaction. There is no RPG-style dialogue choice system.
The player can move, sprint, crouch and jump - as well as a host of other abilities, all of them rebindable. Due to playing with keyboard and mouse, I never needed to use the quick selection menu intended for consoles - but it is a good feature for gamepad play. RAGE uses a F5/F8 quicksave/load. Despite this being aimed at consoles, I still feel the keyboard will get the most enjoyment due to simply having many binds available.
Wrap Up & Negatives
Texture quality bothers different people. Personally, I did not mind that objects had low texture quality up-close because it is an adequate trade off for the more unique textures (rather then a few at high quality). I've heard that with a cutting edge PC, the textures are supposed to be higher quality at any distance. The characters look nice but end up being broad stereotypes which will either provide amusement or hinder immersion.
|Up-close textures vs. Far away|
The game has limited options with regard to graphics and I had to manually tweak the configuration files. Over time graphical bugs will be patched out but forums still show some people have difficulty running RAGE. The infamous texture popping did occur but it was fast enough not to bother me; however, if it was slow it would be game breaking.
The large developer focus on visuals noticeably diminishes other game elements. The combat levels are linear and limited. Therefore some quests ask you to return to a previous level, although the game usually attempts to vary it by presenting the level in reverse (which does help). More developer focus on plot implementation would have improved the game significantly. I also did not find the game particularly challenging (on 'Hard' difficulty), most of the time - the Wingsticks are fun, but too powerful.
The PC version is a port, and a bad one in some aspects. The default FOV is 80 which is not too bad but mouse support in the menus is a disaster. There is no WSAD menu support, so use arrow keys. 'Esc' does not function as a 'leave current screen' like in most games, but always brings up the main-menu (save/load/quit etc); this resulted in me constantly opening it unintentionally when browsing the in-game menus. There is no ability to keybind specific parts of the player menu, forcing the use of the awful mouse; e.g. pushing 'i' for inventory. Mouse Smoothing can be turned off for the game, but difficult to turn off for the menu. The FPS for the game was a little unstable, but with some tinkering I got it to a steady 60.
I enjoyed most of RAGE. It is certainly one of the best looking games but the extreme linearity of the combat levels was not always worth it. I enjoyed the variety of gameplay offered. It's a decent length and took 11 hours to complete; I did all of the side missions but ignored the races. I was enjoying the game less towards the end as events starts to feel rushed and contrived.
I would recommend it, especially as it is already cheap from many outlets - but to truly enjoy it you do probably need a good system, and might have to tinker with config files. It is a linear experience that has some very innovative, and enjoyable gameplay. I feel this game missed the mark on a few areas, but sets the bar up nicely. RAGE provides a glimpse of how first person shooters 'could' be and a polished sequel would be a phenomenal game.