ID Software are legendary. They invented the First Person Shooter genre with games like Doom and Quake and helped defined some of the guidelines FPS follow today. Their last AAA title was Doom 3 released in 2004. Since then, they’ve been happy to sit in as producers and let others do the hard wards. RAGE marks their return in the developer chair with a promise of an open-world, post-apocalyptic FPS and light RPG elements, powered by a brand new engine: iD Tech 5.
A giant meteor crashes into the earth and threatens humanity. You are put to sleep into a stasis pods to weather the storm but things don’t go according to plan (anything rarely does in video games). You wake up to find that your stasis pods buddies have turn into dried fruits: they are not waking up any time soon. It’s not long before you are whisked away by a stranger eager to let you loose in the Wasteland to kill some mutants: way to make a good first impression on the locals.
It’s clear that RAGE took some cues from Half-Life 2 for delivering the story: your character never speaks and his motives are never properly explained. He could be a mute-robot for all I know. The game wants you to fill in the blanks. This might work for some, but I never felt engage with the main protagonist, the characters or the plot. As the story progressed, the clichés came thick and fast. Everything is treated with a superficial approach without going deep into the history and the motivations behind the characters. I would have liked to get into the Mutants back stories for example or get to meet with a defector of another faction to get their side of the conflict. As it stands, it’s an “us versus them” scenario with no grey area to speak of. The last few chapters are especially disappointing in terms of reveals and overall conclusion.
RAGE is at its core a corridor shooter. The open-world feature of the game is a bit deceiving as most of the action takes place inside buildings. The buggy you get early on is mainly there to ferry you from one level to the next. Sure you can get out and start walking but you’ll either get bored by the lack of things to do or get mowed down by bandits using their own buggies. You basically get 2 genres of games with RAGE: an FPS and a Racer (with guns).
As expected, the shooting portion of the game doesn’t disappoint. It’s fast, precise and the AI offers a good challenge. The weapons arsenal consists of a pistol, a shotgun, 2 kinds of machine guns, a crossbow, a sniper rifle, and few special energy based guns. They feel weighty and satisfying. They also boast several types of ammo. The shotgun can fire exploding pellets, effectively turning it into a grenade launcher. The crossbow can use mind controlling darts giving you control of an enemy for a limited time before he explodes. The machine gun can be equipped with energy bullets capable of tearing through armour and shields. Some weapons are upgradeable via items you buy in shops, but they are too few to make a substantial impact on the gameplay.
Levels are littered with crap to collect. There’s no limit to how much you can carry and you’ll end up with a LOT of stuff. Some of it is useless and promptly sold off for a small profit. The rest are used for crafting items, providing you’ve bought the blueprint or learned it via a mission. You can make bandages that acts as medkits or more exotic stuff like a remote controlled toy buggy strapped with explosives. I really liked the spider robots with machine guns which worked great for crowd control. You can summon several at a time also.
The driving segment works well. Goons will try to take you out as you travel from one level to the next. Vehicle can be upgraded (longer boost, better traction) via currency you earn by winning races. However, like the weapons system, the improvements are only slight and I upgraded everything I could early on.
Shops and Quests are found in the main towns, of which they are 2. They are also home to a few mildly entertaining mini-games. A Magic The Gathering style game was the most interesting out of the lot. You use cards that you collect throughout the world and select a set number to use in a round.
The side-quests felt a bit cheap. They make you revisit levels that you’d previously cleared and populate them with a different type of enemy. You might go through them in reverse at times but even then, the experience felt like I was playing the previous mission again.
There is no levelling up in RAGE. Your health will increase at some point and so will your armour but aside from that, there are no RPG elements to speak of. This is an FPS and skills is what matters here.
Looking at the single player experience as a whole, it’s clear that a lot more care was given to the first half of the game. There are some good boss fights and I preferred fighting The Mutants instead of The Authority. The second half doesn’t have as many memorable moments. In fact, I can’t remember fighting a boss in the second half. The final level was utterly underwhelming. I was saving my big guns was some big encounter that never came and the end of the game fizzled out with me thinking “That’s it?”.
Multiplayer only offers competitive games with the buggies which is surprising. Their is a Co-op FPS component, but a team-deathmatch of some sort is sorely missing.
From the moment you step out in the open world and marvel at the detail of the texture on the rocks above, you realise John Carmak can still pump out a great looking engine. The level of details is impressive, but this comes at the cost of seeing textures load in which can be distracting when you’re just looking around. However, once you’re the action kicks in, it’s hard to notice. The Art Direction blends bright sunny light with grungy aesthetic successfully. The NPCs are well crafted but the speaking animations were a bit strange. They are well done in a Disney kind of way (no motion capture) but didn’t fit well in the context of a post apocalyptic world. The sound design for the guns is well done with the shotgun being my personal favourite.
RAGE made a great first impression in the first few hours I played. The shooting portions are great fun and the impressive graphics lures you onwards to see more. Driving a buggy around is a fun distraction also. But once the dust settles, big cracks start to appear. The RPG element is pretty much non existent and the story becomes just a mechanic to funnel you from one corridor shooter to another. By the second half of the game, it becomes very predictable and almost unexciting. RAGE is ultimately a pretty and competent FPS but the weak story sporting one of the worst endings stop this title from becoming a classic.