Review: Rage

Rage.jpg

When you first glance at Rage, you may be led to believe that it is id Software’s attempt at an open-world role-playing shooter, in the mold of such recent hits as Fallout 3 and Borderlands. Rage does show signs of inspiration from these games — mixed with a dash of Jak X-style dune buggy mayhem and a generous sprinkle of addictive item scavenging, à la BioShock. But make no mistake about it — Rage is a first-person shooter, not an RPG, not a free-roam sandbox of fetch quests and masses of loot to harvest.

Structurally, Rage is a prototypical, id-style corridor shooter consisting of many instanced levels connected to a larger overworld called — get this — the Wasteland. It’s Doom in Fallout’s clothing, basically. This Wasteland is an enormous setting visually, but in actual gameplay it is nothing more than a hub environment, serving as a go-between for the main mission levels and the town areas where you talk to mission-givers, chat with the locals, buy and sell gear, and gamble for extra cash in a slew of fun mini-games.

The story driving Rage forward is fairly generic. A catastrophic meteor strike has transformed Earth into a barren wasteland, with human survivors banding together to form small, civilized settlements, splintering off into various bandit gangs, or — worse case scenario — turning into mutants.

You, the player, are a nameless human, emerging from a life-preserving (or so it was meant to be) vault as its lone survivor, only to be pulled into a shit storm mere seconds after your eyes adjust to the bright sunlight shining down outside the cryogenic pod you once called home. You start off lending a helping hand to local wastelanders – as usual you are the only person capable of undertaking dangerous tasks – but later on you become aligned with an underground group known as the Resistance and join their fight against the Authority, a shadowy organization rumored to be involved in mutant experimentation, with the ultimate goal being to establish a new world order.

Other than Authority soldiers and the various other leaderless factions and mutants, there really isn’t an identifiable villain you are aiming to take down, nor does there ever seem to be a unifying objective to your actions throughout the game. In terms of plot, this lack of a carrot dangling in front of you, motivating you towards a greater goal, is Rage’s weak point.

But while the main storyline is far from being a narrative masterpiece, id has managed to create a fascinating, stunningly detailed post-apocalyptic world to sink into, a rugged Wasteland universe exuding a remarkable sense of place and brimming with a population of interesting, expressive, well-acted characters you’ll enjoy chatting with and bad guys you’ll take pleasure in pumping full of lead.

And that last part – the pumping bad guys full of lead – is exactly what Rage does best. The guns look, feel, and sound universally powerful – particularly the shotgun, id proves once again it knows how to make a thumper of a boomstick – and there are a bunch of handy gadgets to craft and call upon when in a pinch, such as turrets and sentry bots that draw attention when a swarm of mutants are hot on your trail, or RC bomb cars you can sneakily drive into a crowd of bandits and detonate, causing a gruesome fireworks display of meaty man-parts.

The AI does a wonderful job of keeping you on your toes as well. Hostiles use cover and retreat or push ahead at appropriate times, and also wisely lob grenades your way if you hunker down for too long in one position. Enemies armed with melee weapons aren’t afraid to kamikaze right at you either, but they do so with parkour skill, monkey-barring across ceilings or overhanging fixtures, scampering across walls, dodge-rolling forward, and doing pretty much everything to be a live, moving target as they work their way in for the kill.

If you don’t space out your fire to maintain accurate aim for headshots or get close enough to land a one-hit-kill shotgun slug to the chest, armored-up enemies later in the game can become annoyingly absorbent bullet sponges. There were numerous times when I would unload a full assault rifle clip into a bandit, watch him fall down behind cover, presumably dead, and turn my attention to the next target only to start taking shots from the other dude again, who somehow wasn’t quite dead yet.

Your main arsenal of guns consists of the usual mix of machine gun, assault rifle, pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, crossbow and so on, and at any given time you can have any four assigned to a weapon wheel accessed by holding down R2 (four gadgets are also mapped to the D-pad). The levels are all pretty linear, with very little choice ever provided in terms of branching paths or multiple ways to complete mission objectives. But part of the fun of combat is flipping back and forth between weapons, gadgets and ammo types to dispatch enemies who are simultaneously attacking from long range and stampeding straight at you. During these heated moments, however, I did begin to wish that id would have expanded the weapon wheel to contain a spot for every gun. Four is good, but there were plenty of times when I had to stop in the middle of the action to pull open the main inventory screen to reassign a gun running low on ammo or to swap out a gun ill suited for the current circumstances.

In between town downtime and missions stages, a lot of time is spent behind the wheel of upgradeable dune buggies, off-roadin’ it across the Wasteland terrain, bandit buggies in pursuit. The vehicular combat aspect, though, didn’t really do a whole lot for me. I mean, it fits with the themes and design of the game, I understand its place in the world, and blowing up bandit buggies has its appeal — they do explode quite beautifully, I have to say. But before long I grew tired of what became filler time spent slogging back and forth between towns and mission zones, with bandits and turrets constantly pestering me in transit. There are things to do in the Wasteland besides combat, such as meteorite collection challenges and stunt jumps. But for the most part the map is an empty environment, with little to see or do off the beaten path.

Completely in reverse, the dune buggy competition found in the game’s online Road Rage mode is an absolute blast. Instead of wasting time on just-for-the-hell-of-it FPS deathmatch modes like every other shooter, id centered Rage’s multiplayer around 4-player online car combat, and I very much approve of that choice in direction. While I doubt it has the type of longevity to remain lively for months and months down the line, Road Rage’s four match types (free-for-all battles, meteor collection, rally point capture, etc.) and robust ranking and unlock system should keep you busy for a good while. Plus, there is also a co-op mode to rage on as well.

Called Wasteland Legends, Rage’s co-op is a standalone collection of nine missions you can take on with a friend online or in split-screen (they can be soloed too). In contrast to the campaign, co-op has an arcade flair to it, with teammates sharing a single score multiplier, racing to complete objectives and fight through waves of enemies while wracking up points by performing kill streaks, multi-kills, and headshots. Each mission typically takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, so you’re looking at 3-5 hours total to complete them all once. They aren’t exciting enough to warrant replaying multiple times, but a few extra hours for a one-shot deal is good enough on top of everything else.

These light – but fun! – multiplayer modes come on the back of a meaty campaign that carries on for 10 hours at the very least (my completion time was just over 12 hours, and I didn’t bother with any of the optional racing missions). You can surely double or triple that time, depending on chosen difficulty setting (Nightmare gets pretty damn tough) and how enamored you become with the game’s plentiful side attractions, hidden Easter eggs, and crafting component collection. There is a full-fledged trading card game, with collectible cards hidden throughout the world providing additional meta-game incentive, as well a dice board game, 5 Finger Filet (hold your hand out and stab a knife down between each finger), and a guitar note memorization game. The two main towns have job boards offering optional missions which often take you back through previously completed levels on character-specific objectives, as well as race tracks with buggy challenges to complete for tickets, which can then be put towards purchasing vehicle skins and upgrades. There’s even a televised deathmatch challenge called Mutant Bash TV, where you fight for survival (and cash) in a series of trap- and mutant-filled arenas themed after a carnival fun house gone insane.

The sad thing, though, is that at the end of your wasteland quest, the game’s closing moments fail to provide satisfying resolution. The final stage plays out sort of like a glorified horde mode mission of predictable wave battles while you wait for terminals to upload data, a momentum-killing final half hour leading up to an abrupt, anticlimactic ending that’ll leave you thinking, “really, is that it?”, waiting out the credits in hopes of a delayed conclusion that never materializes. Hell, a cliffhanger for a sequel would have been more rewarding — and I hate cliffhangers!

My feelings for Rage are incredibly torn, as you’ve probably noticed. On one hand, I had a blast plowing through the campaign, thoroughly enjoying every bullet I pumped into the mutants and bandits of the Wasteland, so much so that it was a struggle to pull myself away from the controller when I sank myself into id’s gorgeous post-apocalyptic world (and boy is it gorgeous, save for some occasional texture load-in). For 12 hours, I was absolutely enthralled. But then the ending came, and once the credits began to roll I was left with a bitter, unfulfilled taste in my mouth that I am still trying to wash out.

All that being said, there can be no denying that Rage, taken as a whole, is a finely polished and well crafted game, featuring greater depth and longevity than what games like Call of Duty and Halo have established as the FPS norm. The final moments are disappointing, and it’s not without some serious flaws, but in the end Rage rises above its blemishes and delivers a scintillating journey through the apocalypse.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Fun, intense shooting mechanics
+ Great arsenal of powerful guns and handy gadgets
+ Evasive enemy AI keeps you on your toes
+ Immersive, visually stunning post-apocalyptic universe
+ Lengthy campaign chock full of side jobs, mini-games and Easter eggs
+ Addictive hidden item and crafting material scavenging
+ Surprisingly fun multiplayer car combat and co-op

Cons:
– Abrupt ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth
– Fairly generic storyline overall
– Car combat and Wasteland travel become filler
– Linear, corridor-style level designs offer little variation
– Multiplayer modes likely won’t hold up over the long haul
– Weapon selection wheel only equips four guns at a time

Affiliate Links:
Buy from AmazonXbox 360 Games) or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available for PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software
Release Date: 10/4/2011
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4 (2-player co-op online and split-screen; 2-4 player online car combat)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

[nggallery id=1914]

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!