Id Software hasn’t had a game release since 2004’s Doom 3, nor a franchise since Quake back in ’96. This has lead many to wonder what to expect from their new game and franchise, Rage. While not being completely perfect, Id manages to pull out all the stops to deliver a game that holds its own in the genre that they invented: the FPS.
Earth has been decimated by an asteroid in Rage‘s post-apocalyptic tale. The government, anticipating the end of the world, buried certain humans deep within the ground in Arks: cryogenic time capsules that are set to re-emerge long after the effects of the asteroid have cleared. This was done in the hopes that these people could rebuild society and ensure mankind’s future.
You play as one of the chosen Ark dwellers, and awaken to find all your Ark-mates dead in their cryo-tubes. When you step outside you see that humanity is far from destroyed, but is certainly not civilized. The bare landscape known as The Wasteland has become the home to mutants, roughnecks, bandits, and a tyrannical power known as The Authority.
Over the course of the campaign you help non-faction citizens make their lives a little better by doing odd jobs around varies towns and throughout The Wasteland. After all your hard work, they realize you are invaluable, and request your assistance in forming a revolution.
Rage has the look of an open-world FPS, having two main towns — Wellspring and Subwaytown — as your mission hubs. These towns (and a few smaller areas) are spread across a vast expanse of wasteland, allowing you to drive modified vehicles from place to place at your will. There are a plethora of guns to choose from and upgrades that can be added to them, and you collect vehicles that can similarly be modified. Here’s where the similarities to Fallout 3 and Borderlands end. Instead of being a free-roaming experience, Rage uses the large maps to create an atmosphere, requiring you to gather missions in order to explore its world. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Think of Rage as sort of a Fallout 3/Borderlands “Light”. They left out any serious RPG elements and massive free-roaming maps for technical prowess, amazing visuals, and unique game design.
This atmosphere is extremely inviting, both visually and through its believability. You find yourself completely immersed in the plot from the moment you hit start. The panoramic camera work is so sharp and fluid, that at first it is dizzying. As I scanned the interior of my Ark, it really felt as if I were there. The panning reminds me of those 360 degree cameras used to show houses on the internet. It took a moment to get used to it, but afterward I found it to be incredibly realistic and important to the environment and combat system.
Through most of the game, the missions have that Borderlands-style layout: fetch this and bring it back, clear baddies out of here for me, go turn on this machine for me, etc. Like usual, the inhabitants of this world are pretty useless, asking you to do their every bidding. Every mission involves a little combat at very least — beautiful, satisfying, bloody combat.
When it comes to combat, your first line of defense comes in the shape of your weapons. None of the weapons are a far stretch to the imagination, including crossbows, sniper rifles, shotguns, missile launchers, handguns, and the like. The best part about these weapons is upgrading them to use a variety of ammunition. Crossbows have electric and explosive bolts, the shotgun can be modded for a grenade round, armor piercing bullets can be added to the assault rifle, and so on. There is a need for this, since the Rage‘s three different baddie faction groups are each susceptible to different forms of attack. The weapons have weight to them and the accuracy is spot on, leaving you completely satisfied whether you take on a whole group of Mutants with guns blazing, or sneakily take out Gearheads one crossbow bolt at a time.
There are three main factions that you fight in Rage: Mutants, Bandits, and Authority. It sounds limited, but there are subgroups within these factions (especially among the Bandits) that keeps the combat feeling fresh. It’s not just the outfits that are different, the AI acts differently for each group. Mutants like to come at you in waves, attacking from every angle with bludgeons. Gearheads are armored to the teeth and like to use tech items (like sentry bots) to attack you. Authority soldiers are defensive enemies, taking cover and flanking you every chance they get. Jackals are wild bandits that use rockets to target you from a distance, while others come flying at you using group tactics and their environment to surprise you. Ghosts are extremely acrobatic, singing from bars and flipping around, making it difficult to target them.
What is nice is that you don’t only have guns at your disposal as a means to eliminate your enemies. As you go through the game you are constantly picking up ‘ingredients’. Sometimes these items are good only to sell to the local stores, but most of them can be combined at your leisure to create special items. These items range from sentry bots, to exploding RC cars, to bandages for healing yourself, to a four pronged boomerang known as wingsticks. These items end up being extremely useful while in combat, allowing you strategically plan your every move. What’s fantastic is that all of these items can be made on the fly from your menu screen at any point during the combat . You can throw down a sentry bot to distract the enemy while you sneak into a locked room to gain more ammo and ingredients, then send out an RC car to blow up a group of unsuspecting baddies, and finally take out what’s left of the onslaught with wingsticks flying, heads rolling, and guns blazing. If you want to. That’s the beauty of Rage. No two people’s combat styles will be the same.
To get from mission to mission, you require a vehicle that can take on enemies while on the go. Throughout the Wasteland, various factions will chase after you in their own motorized monsters, and can deal sufficient damage to you. Just like your weapons, the cars you collect can be upgraded and modded, making them stronger and more formidable. Ranging from a four-wheeler to to a sturdy Caprice, each vehicle is given options like overhauled engines, performance tires, better shields, and (of course) lots of guns and explosives. From machine guns to heat seeking missiles, from extra shields to landmines, these cars are ready for battle. This is especially helpful when you receive on-going quests to kill every baddie on the road in return for cash from the local bartender.
Naturally, these upgrades don’t come cheap. In order purchase upgrades you must race for points. These points are turned in for the mods. The more difficult the race and the better you do, the more points you get. This makes racing a vital component to your gameplay. Normally, this would irk me to no end. Honestly though, the racing aspect of the game was well executed and fun to boot. I didn’t mind having to take a break from all the combat to do four or five races before going on the next mission. It kept the game fresh and made the experience that much better.
Some of the races can be a bit easy, ensuring that you end up in first place. Others, like the Rally Races, require you to reach spawned rally points before the other cars and can prove to be quite a challenge. What makes it even more difficult is that like Full Auto, rockets, chain-guns, and landmines litter the course – all being deployed by the crafty AI opponents. If you want to take the racing to the next level, all you have to do is pop in the third disc (that’s right, there are three discs for Xbox 360) and play online against up to four real opponents.
While racing is the only competitive multiplayer option in Rage, there is a two-player cooperative option. In this co-op mode, you and a teammate take on side-stories to the single player campaign — sort of like Uncharted 2. To keep them from being simple and repetitive fire fights, you are given specific objectives for each mission. The level design is nowhere near the complexity of the single player, but the tone and controls keep it married to the campaign, making it a welcome addition to the game.
The voice acting and score are just as fantastic as the environments. All the characters are extremely believable, and some are even recognizable; John Goodman voices one of the first merchants/mission givers that you come across. The musical choices the visuals more epic and the towns more immersive.
Another key component to the already bursting gameplay in Rage are the mini games. In order to buy many of your guns, upgrades, ammo, and ingredients, you have to have plenty of cash. You do earn substantial amounts of money for completing missions as well money that you find on the bodies of the enemies that you kill, but it still isn’t quite enough to purchase everything your heart desires. Here’s where the mini games come in. The two most popular games can be found in each town’s bar: Five Finger Fillet and Rage Frenzy. If you’ve played Red Dead Redemption, you know all about the finger-slicing rhythm game where you press a button over the tiny spaces between your fingers as the pace grows faster and faster. It’s a quick way to earn a little cash without having to work very hard. Rage Frenzy is a card game that requires you to find deck cards that are littered throughout different missions and around the wasteland. The more cards you add to your deck, the better your chances are of winning. There is also a dice-rolling board game that is quite easy, but is definitely more of a risk. Then there is a simple guitar game which plays more like Simon; you watch the dealer play a sequence and you repeat it back, with each sequence getting longer and faster. These mini games can be just as addicting as the campaign itself, and is just as welcome a break as the racing is.
Now we’ve come to the part where I have to burden you with the faults in Rage, which are unfortunately all tied into the conclusion of the game. The first act is interesting, exciting, and allows you freedoms and the ability to take your time exploring the environment. As the second act approaches and you pop disc two into your console, the fun takes a back seat as you are suddenly forced into a mad dash to the conclusion. Act two quickly narrows both in geography and scope. A strange city is mentioned that looms above Subwaytown and there are even conversations that elude to available missions for it, but they never come to fruition. The shady mayor hands you a couple of missions to undertake, then is suddenly banished from the game and never returns. Subwaytown is located in Eastern Wasteland, making you think that there are more regions and more cities to play through, but that is not so. You can access Wellspring from Subwaytown to finish any leftover missions, but it requires another change of discs and there isn’t much benefit to doing so.
While there are still missions that let you explore Eastern Wasteland, they are far fewer than those in the previous act. Most of the missions take place in factories, subway tunnels, and nearby Bandit outposts, requiring much less exploration of the Wasteland. To add to this atrocity, Rage suddenly takes a nose dive in the story and conversational aspects of the game as you are forced into a quick and unexpected ending. There is no boss battle, no difficulty, no imagination put into the conclusion of Rage. It consists of fighting through a facility, pushing buttons and riding elevators through a surprisingly short mission. I knew going into the mission that it was the end of the game, but I was expecting a long, drawn out and creative compilation of cutscenes and combat. I spent a couple hours playing mini games to buy everything I expected I could use during the final mission, from ingredients to missile launchers, and upgrading everything in my arsenal. You can imagine the shock on my face when suddenly the credits were rolling and I’d only had to use my shotgun — which hadn’t even run out of ammo by the time everything was over — in the 20 minutes it took to finish the mission. The final battle lacks narrative, direction, and the creativity that the game had been excelling at up to this point. While Rage ends on a cliffhanger, I was so busy picking my jaw up off the floor that I couldn’t have cared less about it.
Ive played my fair share of great games that have terrible or mismatched endings, but Rage takes it a step further. After providing a stellar action game that combines the best elements of RPG’s, racing, mini games, and FPS’s, Rage abandons its fans’ trust. It’s the old Bait and Switch, pulled on a heartbreakingly massive level. Is it still worth a playthrough? Absolutely. While the end of the game will definitely leave you miffed, the first act is worth playing alone. I would suggest you at least rent Rage, if not buy it used.
I give Rage 4 “Homicidal Gameshows” out of 5.
by Rachael Edwards-Hite