Review: Rage (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Rage
Genre: First Person Shooter/Driving
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: 10/04/11

It’s really hard to believe, but id Software hasn’t had a “major” release that they’ve developed since DOOM 3, way back in 2004. Oh, don’t misunderstand; it’s not that id hasn’t released ANYTHING in the past seven years, as they’ve been involved in getting plenty of games to the market. It’s just that the games they’ve released have either been re-releases of older titles or games that other companies developed, such as Quake 4 and Wolfenstein. Rage is the first “major” release from the company that has been developed in-house in seven years, and as expected, the expectation is pretty high, given that id is one of the main reasons the first person shooter genre exists at this point. My initial impressions of the game made it seem like it was basically going to be a prettier but less involved Borderlands, between the post-apocalyptic environments, weird mutated enemies and bandit groups, and general game design and flow, though id is nothing if not a smart and innovative developer, and the expectation was that they’d do something to make the game its own thing. Four months later, the final product does indeed pay off that expectation, and while the game certainly feels familiar in several obvious respects, id has more than made Rage its own game, and it’s a very good game at that.

So the story in Rage starts off pretty much at the point where things can’t get much worse. The Earth is struck in the year 2029 by the asteroid Apophis (which is actually a real, if presently small, concern, though science thinks it’ll be in 2036), and everything pretty much goes down the toilet for society as a whole. Prior to the asteroid strike, however, humanity invested their hopes into the Eden Project, which loaded a bunch of valuable people into Arks with the idea being that these groups of survivors could rebuild society. Well, when you wake up, this scenario is pretty much a wash, as you’re the only survivor in your Ark and the world is a wasteland, but on the plus side, you meet some reasonably okay people who try to help you out, since you have no Earthly idea what’s going on. This then evolves into trying to figure out what’s going on, while dealing with bandit clans, mutants, and the shadowy and none-too-pleasant Authority that runs the wasteland society (more or less). Aside from the novelty of using an actual scientific event as the catalyst of the storyline, Rage‘s plot is fairly by the numbers, but the execution of the plot makes up for this. id knows how to make their dialogue compelling, and it shows here, as the characters you meet and the events you face are compelling and make you want to see more of what’s going on in the game world. It’s not so much that the ideas themselves are unique as it is how they’re handled, and they’re handled in a strong and interesting fashion, enough so that the game is carried well by the plot.

Rage is working with id’s new id Tech 5 game engine, and if this is an example of what the engine can consistently produce, the work was certainly worth it. Rage is an absolutely amazing game, visually, starting from the visually well designed, varied and well animated characters and enemies and continuing into the vast, varied and stunning environments you travel through. The game features a lot of excellent small touches as well, such as enemies that respond to the area they’re shot exactly as one would expect, environments that show movement and change (if not life) and fantastic lighting and special effects. Aurally the game is pretty fantastic as well, thanks in large part to the excellent voice acting. The voice cast delivers some excellent performances across the board, including a surprising and very good performance from John Goodman, but while the voice cast delivers their lines admirably and gets the plot across very well, that’s only part of the positive in the voice work. The other part comes from the combat voice work, or more specifically, how it works in context. Enemies in battle don’t just scream obscenities as you as they try to take you out, they call for allies to retreat when you’re ruining their team and shout obscenities as you as you bear down on them bringing death, making for some excellent set pieces in battle that add personality to the game. The music is also plenty fantastic, and while most of it is your now-standard orchestral score, there are the odd bits of guitar-heavy music here and there that punctuate the experience nicely. The sound effects are especially powerful as well, between the roaring engines of your vehicles, the powerful gunfire effects that fill your various battles, and the grunts and groans of the mutants you’ll face down throughout your trek across the landscape, and they all add something important to the experience as you work your way through it.

Rage is, at its heart, a first person shooter, and as such, fans of the genre will be able to jump into the game with little effort, though the game makes a good amount of effort to explain how things work all the same. The left stick moves while the right stick looks around, the right trigger fires weapons, the left trigger aims weapons, and the right bumper allows you to cycle between the up to four weapons you have equipped when pressed, or choose one from a radial menu, as well as the ammo loaded, with the sticks when held. The A button is your default context sensitive interact button, B ducks, X reloads weapons, Y jumps, pressing in the right stick melee attacks enemies, pressing in the left stick allows you to run, and the D-pad lets you cycle through the four “Quickuse” items you can equip, such as grenades, bandages, and other useful items, while the left bumper uses whatever item you chose. You’ll also spend a fair amount of time driving, which works in a somewhat similar fashion. The left stick steers, the right stick turns the camera, the right trigger accelerates, the left trigger goes in reverse, Y jumps out of the car, B is the E-brake, X uses turbo boosts, A shoots, and the Quickuse options listed above remain the same. Pressing Back brings up the in-game menu, which you’ll spend a decent amount of time in, as it allows you to change your weapon and Quickuse loadouts as needed, as well as check your objectives, look over your stats and inventory, and other useful things. There are a few different control maps to choose from, though, so if the above doesn’t seem intuitive the game offers you alternatives should you wish to choose one of those, but the above works perfectly fine with a little practice and, for the most part, is easy to adjust to.

As you might have surmised from the above, Rage features a decent amount of driving, and in all honesty you’ll spend a good amount of the game doing this thing, as you’ll be driving to and from objectives if nothing else. The driving aspects of the game aren’t just limited to “driving from place to place”, however, as the car side of Rage‘s mechanics gets a pretty good amount of focus and development. Early on in the game you’re given little more than an ATV to putter around in, but as the game progresses you’ll get more and more powerful cars with additional weapon slots, better armor and more options available to add things onto the car. You do this by collecting race tickets, either from winning actual races the two main towns in the game hold or by obliterating bandits out on the roads for the bartenders in said towns. Said tickets can then be turned in at the vehicle shops in town to buy new weapons, decals, and upgrades for the vehicles, which can improve their handling, upgrade their armor or add novelties like wheel spikes and ramming bumpers to the front. You don’t need to do too much with the cars if you’re not inclined to do so, but the vehicle mechanics are actually quite solid and easy to work with, to the point where even if you’re not interested in acing all of the races, you’ll likely want to take on a few to upgrade your cars if nothing else, as they’re actually rather fun and offer a nice diversion from the FPS gameplay at times.

Of course, the FPS gameplay is the star of the show here, and Rage performs nicely in that department as well. You’re left to start the game with little more than a pistol and a pat on the back, but you’ll quickly find yourself loaded for bear with all sorts of nice weapons to work with from a wide variety of weapon types. Your standard pistol, combat shotgun and assault rifle make their appearance here, but you’ll also find yourself hauling around a sniper rifle, a silent crossbow, a rocket launcher, and a heavy energy machinegun before the endgame, and each of these guns is surprisingly useful all the way through the campaign. You can only have four guns equipped in your radial weapon wheel at one time, but you can change those four weapons out whenever you wish, so you’re not stuck with a given configuration should you decide something else would be better for the current situation. Each gun also has different ammunition types available that you can pick up as you play through the game which can do anything from adding an armor piercing effect or explosive effect to a bullet to generating an EMP pulse or creating a massive energy ball that turns enemies into nothing more than wet meat, so, frankly, there is a lot of variety to how you can approach any given situation at any time. You can also buy the odd upgrades here and there for some of the guns, as well as ammunition of various types, from the local vendors you meet, so as long as you have money you have ways to end the existence of anything you meet as effectively and quickly as possible.

Rage also puts a good amount of emphasis on its engineering system, which basically allows you to craft various things you might need at any given time. Basically, you’ll find trash out in the wasteland that you can combine with other trash to make awesome tools to help you out, ranging from specialty items Lock Grinders that open doors to Quickuse items like EMP grenades and bandages all the way to fully functioning auto-turrets and stat boosting items, depending on what garbage you have available and what you need at the time. You’ll constantly find recipes as you do odd jobs for people in the wasteland and poke around the various locations you go to, giving you plenty of things to create to help you survive the wastes. You’ll also find the odd trash as you poke around, though the game helpfully labels it as something you can just sell off at the local vendor to improve your cash flow. Should you end up on the losing end of an encounter, however, you’re also equipped with a handy auto-defibrillator that kicks in, if it’s properly charged up, that allows you to generate a charge by aligning the sticks with charged areas on the grid that pops up and pulling the triggers. This then allows you to return to life while also zapping any nearby enemies with an electric shock, which is as handy a recovery option as one can think of. You’ll regenerate any non-lethal damage in time, however, so it’s certainly better to avoid getting to the point where resuscitation is needed, but you have that backup available at the very least.

There’s a lot to see and do out in the wastes, between the different NPC’s you can take quests from, the different side missions that are available and the different locales you can visit, but should you tire of the campaign or want to try something different, Rage also offers you online play. You can either jump into Road Rage or Wasteland Legends, with the former acting as your online competitive mode and the latter allowing for co-op play. Road Rage allows four players to jump into online matches in what essentially boils down to Twisted Metal with upgradable vehicles. You’re offered four modes to play: Meteor Rally, which has you drive around collecting fallen meteors and deliver them to Capture Zones that change every thirty seconds, Chain Rally, which has you take Rally Points and chain them to increase your score (up to five times the normal), Triad Rally, which has you capture three consecutive rally points to score (which is more challenging, but features higher scores), and Carnage, which is vehicular Deathmatch. You can collect power-ups on the field that recharge your health, boost, weapons and Quickuse items, as well as more obvious stuff like the ol’ Quad Damage modifier we know and love. You can also unlock new car types and abilities by going up levels, which is done by playing the game modes, as you’d expect. You can unlock new Chassis, Body Types, Primary Weapons, Secondary Weapons, and Quickuse items by leveling up, allowing you to customize the loadout of the car as you see fit. Wasteland Memories, on the other hand, basically offers you various side stories that have previously occurred in the world of Rage, and allows two players to take on the missions together or one player to tough it out alone. You’re given a set group of weapons and the defibrillator to bring yourself back, which will charge as you wipe out enemies, though if you’re playing with a friend they can also revive you. You can also play these missions locally in split-screen mode, which is good for those who want to play with someone in the same house, as the option is there.

The game also offers an “Anarchy Edition” that is free for people who pre-ordered the game and may be available at your local store, which features five additions: Fists of Rage, a Double-Barreled Shotgun, the Rat Rod, the Crimson Elite armor, and a set of missions that take you into the sewers. The sewer missions are inoffensive, though ultimately not especially impressive on their own, and while the added content is certainly nice, said content in and of itself isn’t going to come across as being particularly exciting on its own. The four mentioned toys, on the other hand, are quite useful and are absolutely worth acquiring if at all possible. The Rat Rod is an upgraded version of the buggy you get in the beginning of the game that generally performs much better in all respects and will likely be your go-to car until you unlock the Cuprino a bit further into the plot. The Fists of Rage are bladed gloves that deal excellent melee damage and are absolutely awesome for slaying mutants, and they’re exceptionally useful all the way up to the endgame. The Crimson Elite armor is offered to you in the first main town you come to in addition to the other three sets on offer; each set offers you specific benefits to damage, selling, and such, but the Crimson Elite, aside from looking cooler than any of the others, also gives you all of the benefits, making it the best possible choice. Finally, the Double-Barreled Shotgun does what it says on the box, and it’s a great addition to your arsenal that makes things dead real good. As pre-order bonuses go this is certainly one of the better ones, and if it’s it all possible for you to get the Anarchy Edition, do so.

You can plow through the storyline of Rage in around ten to fifteen hours, but there are a lot of other things for you to do in the game aside from that. As we’ve mentioned, there are plenty of races for you to take on, recipes to find, and locations to explore, as well as the online content you can jump into alone or with friends. However, there are also a whole lot of side missions scattered around the wasteland, from making deliveries to playing sniper for repairmen to picking up random items in out of the way places that are both rewarding and fun, if you keep your eye out. The world of Rage is also filled with little things do play around with, from random meteor showers, jump targets and car battle bonuses that pop up out in the driving sections to card games, battle games and “Five Finger Fillet” (think Bishop in Aliens) that you can use to goof off and test your skills at in other ways. The game also features a whole mess of Achievements for you to plow through that generally aren’t too bad to work on, as many of them will pop if you make use of all of your tools, though some will test your skills and creativity a bit. Basically, Rage is a game that is stuffed with content and personality, and for anyone who is looking for a lot of value in their purchases, the game has more than enough of that to go around.

Which is problematic, because for all of the good that is in Rage, the game is also very confusing in a few respects. The most obvious confusion point is that, as this is an id Software production, you would expect there would be some form of standard FPS Deathmatch in the game, but no such thing exists. In fact, the multiplayer, while fine, is really unimpressive given both the developer at the helm and the actual product offered; while Wasteland Memories is a fine co-op mode, Road Rage is very likely not what players were expecting or wanting, and with a four player limit, is not likely to hold anyone’s interest for long. Further, while the campaign is very powerful and well designed, the end sequence to the campaign isn’t. It’s not that the ending is bad; it’s short, yes, but it ends the game in a way that allows for a sequel but can also be considered an actual ending. But the sequence of events leading up to it just feels like another normal mission, leaving the player expecting some kind of gigantic boss fight or swerve prior to the end of the segment, only to see the Achievement pop indicating the game has been beaten as the end sequence plays. Rage has a few really excellent “huge monster fights”, which makes this all the more confusing, as there’s really nothing that says that the last mission is the last mission except the fact that the ending plays when you finish it. The game also recommends that you install the game to the hard drive to play it without obscene loading times, and while the loading isn’t that bad without installation, and there aren’t any obvious technical flaws if you don’t, doing so does improve the experience. However, the installation takes up a whopping twenty two gigabytes of data, so if you have a 360 with a smaller hard drive, you’ll either need to buy a huge flash drive, upgrade or deal with the loading times, which is unfortunate.

Frankly, however, your time spent with Rage will almost definitely be time well spent, as the game is so expertly crafted that the negatives that do exist are, frankly, so minor as to not detract from the final product significantly, and this is easily a return to form for id Software. Rage features an interesting and compelling story, excellent visuals and audio, and some incredibly tight and functional gameplay that helps carry the experience along, as well as some well implemented and pleasing shots of personality that pop up to give the game a life of its own. There’s also a whole lot to do with the game, between side quests, collectibles and mini-games strewn throughout the main campaign as well as competitive and co-op multiplayer that offer some solid fun to keep you coming back after the campaign is finished. However, the game lacks any sort of online FPS competitive play at all, instead relying on a competitive car battle game that, while fine, isn’t likely to keep you from your go-to online games for long. Further, the game’s excellent buildup peters out in the ending sequence, gameplay-wise, and the game asks you to perform a twenty two gig install, which leaves players with smaller storage consoles to deal with some less than optimal loading times. Frankly, however, even taking those issues into account, Rage is one of the best games released this year and will likely be all over a few top ten lists when the year is all said and done, and bravo to id Software and Bethesda for bringing it to us, as it’s honestly a mostly exceptional piece of work.

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: UNPARALLELED
Sound: UNPARALLELED
Control/Gameplay: CLASSIC
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: UNPARALLELED
Originality: GOOD
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Look, I don’t know what to tell you here. Rage is a game I expected would be a Borderlands clone without the RPG elements and it ended up being a game I literally didn’t want to stop playing until I completed it. The car battle multiplayer might not be for everyone, the last mission was a little weak in comparison to everything leading up to it, and it’s taking up a decent amount of space on my hard drive, but really? None of that is a problem, and I suspect it won’t be for you either. The game is expertly presented, masterfully developed, and a joy to play through, thanks to some solid storytelling and phenomenal visuals and audio, and the gameplay is not even a little bit frustrating or problematic. How often can you say “the worst things about the game are that the multiplayer isn’t as strong as the campaign, the last mission isn’t as awesome as the others, and you need to install it or face long load times” and say those are the ONLY complaints you have about a game? Exactly. If you have even a little bit of a soft spot for FPS games, pick up Rage, waste some mutants, shatter some faces, and enjoy yourself. You won’t regret it.

2 Comments
  1. Mark B.

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