True pioneers of the first person shooter frontier, in an era filled to the brim with myriad modern military shooters, developer id have become a relic of a better time for a specific kind of no-frills, action-oriented experience. Parts of that Doom ideal remain true in Rage and within any given shooting segment you might get the idea that it is nothing less than a masterclass in crafting a superior shooter in terms of technical prowess. It’s a shame, then, that it’s surrounded by so much comparably arbitrary nonsense. Perhaps the biggest shame is that all of the content is pretty good but it doesn’t entirely come together as a whole, casting certain disappointment after such a lengthy development cycle.
That said, John Carmack’s fingerprints are all over the game. It’s truly stunning at points, running at a constant 60 frames per second. The way it plays is idealistically fluid – during gunfights, enemies move around quickly and there’s no auto-aim – there’s a feeling that this is the natural evolution of the shooter. Much like the combat, environments also feel consistently organic, with id’s proprietary mega texturing tools flexing their prowess around every corner.
Moreover, it’s just a fun game to play. The weapons feel exactly right, just the way you’d want them to, and in classic id tradition, some of the weapons pack major firepower. Movement is relatively quick and apart from some occasional texture pop-in, Rage manages to never hitch up. There’s a kind of momentum about it that’s been lost to obnoxious scripted cut-scenes and quick time events in recent years. It’s a welcome throwback to yesteryear, a reminder of how pure shooters once were and that it’s not always necessary to be filtered down re-purposed buildings and uninspired set pieces. When the action is strong enough, it can often speak for itself.
Rage is structurally composed with an adventure-like presentation that groups much of its content into territories. It would be sufficient to view its inconsistent parts as ‘Doom meets Fallout’; and perhaps this can be excused as the early result of Rage being the first id game published by Bethesda.
The game takes shape in an open-world environment reminiscent in style and construction to that of Borderlands and takes a decidedly post-apocalyptic slant with the storytelling. The actual story is the stuff of videogames – fluff used as an excuse to initiate action – and ends promptly, just as the plot begins to heat up. These loose story elements are fleshed out ploddingly across the handful of small towns featured in the game.
In these areas, you’ll find a slew of ancillary content. There’s a varied bunch of mini-games featured, everything from five finger fillet to a surprisingly deep Magic the Gathering-like card game with decks built up through found collectible cards in the shooting areas. One of the few drawbacks to these hub-like areas is the lack of a mini-map. There’s no clear direction to how several of these post-apocalyptic settlements are laid out – the areas are scattered and in disarray – and it would simply be much more accessible if there were a way to orient yourself, if not only in these locations.
As one of the area’s mayor’s accurately states in an address over the loudspeaker, the personality of each town is in its people. While the cast of characters aren’t colorful, they’re well-conceived and animated, and they come across as individuals. Their living spaces and character details are largely filled out with appreciable differences and occasionally amusing bits of fan service. Whether it’s a crazy guy wearing a Doom 3 shirt, cross-promotion with the Breaking Bad television series, or collectible bobbleheads giving a nod to Fallout 3 sitting around someone’s office, it’s all pretty clever.
There’s also a big emphasis on racing and driving around the quasi-open world wasteland in a handful of vehicles. What’s surprising is that this is one of the most enjoyable portions of the game. There are appreciable handling differences between each of the vehicles, a slew of upgrades with a range of functions (both cosmetic and utilitarian), and fully fledged racing circuits to take part in against AI drivers in a couple of the towns.
All the more surprising, racing is featured as the crux of the multiplayer experience, eschewing the conventional by-the-numbers death match approach to multiplayer shooters in favor of car combat. It’s entirely decent in execution, with a range of modes and a smattering of progressive unlocks. Due in large part to the finely tuned vehicle controls, this option can be fun, but it may not have the long-term appeal of id’s prior multiplayer outings. Very few games do.
A more traditional cooperative multiplayer mode is also thrown in for good measure, filling out fragments left out of the story. With the right partner, these can be a lot of fun and although many are one-off type experiences, there’s incentive to replay segments to attain higher team rankings.
Rage is ultimately one of the most technically proficient games of the generation, a love letter to id’s fans that pines for what many consider a better time in the genre. It’s comprised of several well-conceived parts and although they don’t come together in the most cohesive way, the content’s generally good. Rage is a quality shooter and a bunch of other things but above all else it stands as a technical benchmark for the generation, showing just how far we’ve come since Wolfenstein 3D.