Rage review

By Jeff Mattas, Oct 04, 2011 9:15am PDT

With an impressive pedigree of games like Doom and Quake, developer id Software has quite the reputation. It’s been seven years since the company released a game developed in-house, increasing expectations for id's next title: a post-apocalyptic, shooter-racer hybrid called Rage. Rage is not only a new game, but it marks the debut of the studio’s new id Tech 5. The new engine proves its mettle, despite minor shortcomings, and powers the developer’s most robust game to date.

The post-apocalyptic world envisioned by id is inhabited by roving gangs, mutants, and a totalitarian military regime called The Authority. As in past id games, our hero makes his way in this brave new world done down the barrel of a gun.

The wasteland is huge, consisting of city-hubs, enemy-filled “dungeons,” and secret areas joined together by sprawling roadways and large arena-like basins. Traveling the wasteland is done almost exclusively by car, and while there are roving bands of enemy vehicles to blow up along the way, the bulk of the combat is reserved for the numerous dungeon areas entered on-foot. I liked the free-form progress of the game, being able to decide whether or not to pursue the main story, go on an optional side-quest for an upgraded weapon or crafting schematic, hit the race track, or gamble for a bit in the collectible card game.

The action in Rage--whether on foot or on wheels--runs at blazing-fast speed on the Xbox 360, and is an absolute blast to play. Whether it’s a wide-open sniper’s paradise, or a claustrophobic kill-room great for shotguns, the variety of enemies and their dynamic behavior make the FPS action fun and frantic. For example, even when enemies charge you, they rarely do so in a straight line, often changing their posture mid-shamble to thwart your perfect headshot. Rage also demands a bit more aiming skill than other shooters which offer more assisted targeting. Different types of ammunition, coupled with gadgets like deployable turrets, add spice and variety.

Curiously though, in spite of the fun toys the game lets you play with, it limits weaponry to four quick-access slots. The same applies to the four spots given for gadgets and power-ups. There’s no inventory limit, though, so this just meant I found myself pausing in the middle of combat to adjust my quick-slots. A weapon-wheel would have been helpful here.

Those used to the inclusion of copious automatic checkpoints will also need approach the game a bit more cautiously. Rage saves automatically when entering or leaving a new area, but players concerned about losing progress will want to pop into the menus to save often. The developers are aware of this; tips in the in-game menus even support this methodology.

Rage offers some spectacular set-pieces, but suffers from some uneven pacing. Some of the game’s most memorable encounters occur long before the final mission. While the level of difficulty scales well, and the story has a decent (albeit brief) conclusion, I felt that some of the later missions were a bit anticlimactic compared to earlier set-pieces.

Although id has focused a lot on Rage’s racing component, it ultimately feels like a great bonus, one that showcases the capabilities of the new iD Tech 5 engine. Vehicular events are quick and fun, and offer time trials, rallies, and races, with or without weapons. The physics are decidedly more arcade-like than simulation, and are reminiscent of Twisted Metal. The rally-based events also have four multiplayer variations, though straight-up races are strangely absent from Rage’s online component. Lacking real depth, the four-player, vehicle-based multiplayer matches are nothing but a raucous fun distraction.

Rage's Wasteland Legends online cooperative mode offers something a bit more traditional, pitting two players in a string of increasingly difficult on-foot shooting scenarios. However, it doesn't make up for the lack of true competitive multiplayer. Cleverly structured as a series of stories told by a folksy narrator, Wasteland Legends’ suite of 2-player adventures is a lot of fun to barrel through with a friend. And, though its locations are repeated from the single-player campaign, some of them take place in the city-hub areas where shooting is forbidden during the single-player experience, which is a nice twist. Still, given the strength of the game’s gunplay, the lack of competitive FPS multiplayer seems like an odd choice.

Fantastic as Rage looks running on the Xbox 360, there are a few shortcomings that bear mentioning. The developer recommends installation of all three of the game’s DVDs to the console’s hard drive. This amounts to a footprint over 21 GB, which may not be an inconsequential consideration for some. (For more on the game's installation requirements, read this.)

While the game’s environments look fantastic when viewed at mid to long range and in the midst of the action, textures tend to look washed-out when viewed close up, with the exception of the character models. While not a huge issue, it’s certainly noticeable when looting the corpses of fallen enemies or searching the environment for crafting materials and collectibles—which you’ll do quite a bit of. It’s mainly distracting because the rest of Rage looks so great.

In spite of its shortcomings, fans will be pleased to note that id Software still has what it takes to still make meaningful and fun contributions to the genre they created. All told, Rage delivers an incredibly solid experience that’s an arcade racer and a FPS wrapped in Mad Max’s dusty, leather jacket.


[Rage review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game, provided by the publisher. Rage is also available on PC and PlayStation 3.]

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