If videogames are to be believed, the future is bleak. Post-apocalyptic environments form the backbone of many of our favourite games, from the sprawling wasteland of Fallout 3 to the damp, claustrophobic interiors of Russiaís rail system in Metro 2033. Rage runs with a similarly catastrophic motif, purporting 2029 to be the year an asteroid strikes earth. One-hundred years later, an Ark survivor awakens from cryogenic sleep and steps out into the world that remains. And so you begin your quest Ė the voiceless onlooker, the man of many quests. This is primal land, with mutants occupying the cool retreats of this scorched earth while clans patrol their turf and a shady organization named the Authority watches on.
id Software have long been regarded as the masters of videogame technology and Rage, their latest work, continues the trend. Powered by idís new proprietary engine, itís a stunning visual beast. Precise geometry and exquisite lighting co-exists alongside clever physics and smooth, refined edges. As in all id games, the technical merits of the game far outshine the artistic touches underlying the visuals, but given the resplendence on offer it feels churlish to quibble. Best of all, Rage runs smoothly. The developers recommend you install the game, either a disc at a time or in all its meaty 22 gigabyte glory. Whichever option you choose, itís best you heed this call because it guarantees you experience Rage as intended: a game that looks good and runs smoothly.
While the lack of true artistic creativity is forgiveable, the distinct lack of character underlying the game is not. The wasteland is a potential goldmine of interesting oddities but id fail to ever view the world as more than a simple backdrop to the action. Broken up into traditional FPS combat and vehicular shooting, Rage gives you the opportunity of zooming through its world on four wheels. Yet, hop into your car and youíre ferried down these dusty roads, flanked on all sides by rocky outcrops of land. At times youíll wish to explore, but the gameís rigid parameters rarely allow for this.
Then there are the scattered communities which serve as hubs for missions and side-quests. The town of Wellspring mirrors that of Megaton in Fallout 3, yet it feels comparatively flat, devoid of major, memorable characters. The first half of the game comprises of you building the trust of figureheads amongst these scattered communities, but progression feels aimless because thereís never an overarching narrative directing your work. Worse still, your character never speaks and though itís a technique thatís worked in other games in the past, the emptiness of the wasteland is mirrored rather too well by your own detachment to the world around you. Past halfway and a faction emerges that needs your help for reasons that tie into something of a story. Finally you have grounds for entering the wasteland, but the narrative feels like an afterthought and it ends all too abruptly.
Still, id has built an empire on gunplay rather than story, and Rage is a solid first-person shooter. You have a wide array of weapons to choose from; the classic shotgun makes an appearance, as do other staples such as the machine gun and sniper rifle. Thereís also a satisfying crossbow and a meaty rocket launcher, but the true star is the way in which you can switch between ammo types during firefights. The pistol, on its own, is relatively weak, but employ Fatboys and you have a bona fide one-shot killing machine. Moreover, items you filch during your travels can be used to construct items that aid you in combat. Enter the fray alone and you may find the going tough, but construct a sentry bot or an explosive remote controlled car out of salvaged wholesale items and you can tip the scales in your favour. The sense of customization in Rage isnít deep, but itís a welcome addition to the action proper.
Sadly, even during its action Rage hits a sour note. Far too much of the game sees you dispelling waves of mutants. These creatures lack any sort of intelligence and prefer to simply rush forward and unleash melee attacks. Sure, mutants donít need to be clever, but itís frustrating that so much of the action centers on these creatures rather than more intelligent and satisfying foes, such as the Authority Enforcers who make an appearance later on. The Enforcers are the basis upon which Rage is at its best; they are the source of tense firefights that see you crouch behind cover, or dash away from a neatly lobbed grenade. Being able to respond in tow produces the sort of dynamic gameplay a game of this purported caliber needs.
Vehicular combat can be tough to embrace too: though it signals a new direction for id, the resolutely old-school approach means that only trigger happy gamers need apply. Hopping into a four-wheeled Cuprino with a suite of machine-guns and mines serves as a pleasant, no-brains diversion at first, but the routine of entering the wasteland and encountering vehicular resistance soon grows tiresome. You feel like shouting: ďLeave me alone! I havenít donít anything wrong!Ē I found the best solution to be a liberal application of gas and turbo, if only to get away from the sound of gunfire rattling my rear chassis.
Rage is a game hampered by conflicting game design. Itís hard to say whether, early on, id envisaged a title of grander scope. The signs are there. RPG-style weapon customization and side-missions stowed away inside the community hubs are nods toward contemporary games, but in other areas Rage feels resolutely dated, to the point of pastiche. Amble around Wellspring and youíll hear music more at home in a John Wayne, Wild West movie. Hearing this as you watch a group of men playing a hologprahic board-game creates a strange, yet not unsatisfying juxtaposition. Itís this sort of juxtaposition that gives Rage an atmosphere it demands more frequently. Thereís nothing pretentious about the singleplayer campaign (nor is it meant to be taken overly seriously), itís just a shame thereís very little substance to it either.
Multiplayer signals a departure from the usual id mould as the game comprises of vehicular slaying rather than the traditional on-foot deathmatch. If you enjoy a no-brains style of driving, where shooting comes first, realistic physics second, then Rageís cartoonish take on the racing genre might satisfy an audience. Thereís also a co-operative mode in which you and a friend can revisit some of the singleplayer locales, albeit with slight twists in map layout. All things considered, Rage lacks the multiplayer pulling power of old id games and it seems that the singleplayer campaign is where the emphasis lies.
Itís a shame then that Rage presents a backdrop that looks as if it should be more accessible. Vehicle and on-foot action work reasonably well in tandem, but with a weak story, thereís an aimless feel to your travels. Itís the sort of experience that, in a very skeletal way, ticks all the boxes. It has lots of little things; vehicles, weapon customization, guns, enemies aplenty and townsfolk to talk to Ė yet thereís nothing that acts as a crux, a central pulse tying it all together.
Perhaps the visuals are the defining element of the Rage experience. Undoubtedly, itís a beautiful game, running on a console that has no right to handle it so well. Likely this is down to id, who have an innate ability to fine-tune the engines they stamp their name to. But like any videogame, you need a reason to keep plodding forward, and the visual splendour of the world soon starts to wane. Indeed, anyone purchasing Rage under the illusion that this is a big, sprawling sandbox of a game that will keep them busy for weeks need look elsewhere. Neither the singleplayer campaign nor the multiplayer are such that youíll keep Rage in your disc drive for long, and for all its efforts, and for all its beauty, itís hampered by myopic design. Itís a beautiful pretender; but ultimately, beauty is only a surface attraction.
Six out of ten
- Stunning visuals
- Smooth framerate
- A weak plot
- Design flaws
- A sense of aimlessness