Rage: PC performance not perfect, but greatly improved

When id Software released Rage a week ago, a significant number of users reported problems with getting the PC version to run properly. My written assessment and subsequent video review of the Xbox 360 version of the game were quite positive, but I've also put about nine hours into the PC version since launch. While the post-release patches have markedly improved the PC experience for me, some issues remain.

For the sake of full disclosure--and because, as with all PC games, one's experience can vary a great deal based on individual system performance, drivers, and configuration--I'm running the PC version of Rage with an i7 2600 chipset, 8GB of RAM, and using a Radeon HD 6950 video card.

When I first fired up the PC version Rage on launch day, I was dismayed by consistent and extreme texture pop-in around the periphery of my view. It was incredibly distracting, to the point that after about twenty minutes, I'd had more than enough. The video below, posted in the Steam forums shortly after launch is a fairly accurate representation of what I experienced on Rage's first day.

Other users reported "artifacts, frame rate issues, and audio stuttering," as other issues they experienced with the launch version of the game. After quick post-launch investigation, it was noted by ATI/AMD that the currently available Rage drivers were outdated, and they pushed out a new hotfix later that day. Nvidia users were also encouraged to download the latest beta drivers.

After applying the initial AMD Catalyst Rage performance driver update, the issues of texture pop-in vanished for me. That said, I noticed the manifestation of irregular quick hitches in frame-rate, and very noticeable and consistent problems with screen-tearing. Though infrequent and difficult to consistently replicate, I also experienced a couple of crashes.

By now, I'm sure some of you are asking why I didn't just use Rage's in-game menus to tweak my graphics settings to improve performance. It's because when Rage shipped, it didn't include the option to adjust much more than screen resolution and brightness. Much like trying to create an engine that's effective at assessing the performance capabilities of individual PC configurations, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

id Software explains the initial decision to structure the engine this way in the patch notes for the most recent Rage update, which added more user-facing performance settings to the PC version this past Saturday.

"Due to popular demand for more video and graphics options, this patch updates the video settings menu and exposes several quality and performance settings," the recent patch notes read, in part. Among the additions are the ability to adjust things like VSync, anisotropic filtering, texture cache size, and field of view options.

Given the pre-patch glitchiness I experienced, I was surprised to find that after Saturday's patch, I'm able to run the game with all of the available settings maxed. With the exception of a couple of areas, enabling VSync has all but eliminated the screen-tearing issue. The tiny frame rate hitches have disappeared, the on-screen action is now blazing fast--whether in a vehicle or on-foot--and I've only suffered one seemingly random crash in the last five or so hours of play.

It's still not 100% perfect--the textures on flapping banners in dungeons now flicker a bit--but it's a relatively minor annoyance that doesn't really impact the vast majority of the experience. I was, however, heartened to find this specific issue mentioned in Saturday's patch notes, and that it's a known driver-related issue that they're currently trying to fix. In fact, if you're all patched up with the latest drivers, but are still experiencing some issues with Rage, the recent patch notes also explain a few possible more in-depth workarounds, and shed some light on many of the known issues that folks have reported.

If you're thinking about picking up Rage for the PC, I'd recommend doing some research first. (Unfortunately, without a demo, there's no way you can properly "test drive" the game yourself.) The game is running well enough now that I'd recommend that someone with a similar system configuration to pick it up but, you'll need to decide if you think your system can handle the game effectively.