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Rage (PC) Review - All the Rage?

Updated Wed, Oct 12, 2011 by Ethec

After a five year hiatus, id Software is back with another graphic card-straining, groundbreaking shooter. Is Rage a game of the year contender, or have we somehow spun our wheels through this wasteland experience before?

Cautions

Blood and violence abound in Rage, but despite the occasional headshot decapitation and oogy mutant mess, the game never revels in spurting gibs. Even foul language is understated; apart from Subway City's usually taciturn standaround NPC Clint finally dropping the F-Bomb on the Authority, I can't recall another instance of obscenity. With a family history of video game violence headlines, Rage's lack of stomach-churning gore and vulgarity is almost a disappointment.

Gameplay

90GreatOne of the crowning glories of Rage is in the pacing of weapons and ammo. The game does a good job of offering players the right tools for the job, and teaching the virtues and vices of each weapon and ammunition type. And weapons and ammo there are a-plenty: from mind-control crossbow bolts (maneuver your target close to other enemies before he or she explodes - "a party favorite") to C4 rigged RC cars and a nice late-game tribute to Doom's BFG9000. The chainsaw was conspicuously absent, but id has to save something for Doom 4.

rage first person shooter review

Rage is, at its core, a retro shooter, spurning magnetic cover systems, a convincing stealth system, headhunting ammo, and other namby pamby niceties common in today's shooters. The closest Rage gets to true innovation in the gameplay department is in enemy AI and behavior. The wasteland has a talent for breeding melee mobs adept at dodging gunfire, and more than once I marvelled at the mutants and bandits repertoire of parkour moves. Enemies leapt to overhead pipes, ran up the side of walls, somersaulted, tumbled, and otherwise evaded my shotgun shuffle and scored a few whacks to my face with regularity.

In an era of hard-charging zombie villains, Rage brought a pissed-off Cirque du Soleil cast, complete with flaming spiked baseball bats. Ranged enemies, on the other hand, will sometimes withdraw to stronger cover, but more often act nearsighted, exposing their noggins for an easy headshot or standing inexplicably still. The only real negative in the core gameplay is the arena wave battle feel of enemy encounters. While it's not the rote room-by-room cover and kill now en vogue across the shooter genre, Rage does play a little too much to its acrobatic AI strengths and resorts to simply bum-rushing the player a shade too often. That said, there's plenty of story twists and map cleverness to help me overlook the occasionally tiresome sequence of tripwire spawns.

Rage also offers a comprehensive vehicle travel and combat system complete with its own racing circuits. Players can acquire four vehicle classes of increasing toughness and weapons variety, and can race (or hunt bandits) to buy better modules like engines, boosters, tires (including spiked tires), and more. The switch from behind the wheel to boots on the ground is seamless and puts me in mind of games like FarCry or what I hoped Auto Assault might be.

rage first person shooter review
Vehicle Combat

In addition to the racing circuit, Rage offers minigames in spades. A card dueling game, a dice game called Tombstones, a memory game called Strum, even a rehash of the Five Finger Filet from Red Dead Redemption. Even death offers a second chance minigame - if the two electrodes are stopped when they intersect, the player regains more health and electrocutes nearby enemies. Each but the last has Steam achievements tied to it, and offers a fairly reliable source of money. Also available are vehicle-based Stanley Express missions to deliver packages to a number of drop boxes in a set time, a demented TV game show called Mutant Bash TV, and job board postings that require a second clear of game areas or much more enjoyable sniper cover missions.

Storywise, however, the game's veneer is rather thin, which is to be expected from anything in the FPS genre.  The game reached its emotive climax about halfway through, for me, and the end sequence was disappointingly short after an exceptionally long run-up.  Still, as a shooter with RPG tendencies, Rage keeps players busy and, in the end, more than satisfies.  

rage first person shooter review
Mutant Bash TV

Graphics

82Goodid Tech 5 features top-of-the-line graphics rendering and, on the backend, what we're told is revolutionary approach to system resource management and texture loading. The short, non-technical explanation is that Rage is supposed to be better than any game before it at guessing how eye-popping a visual experience your rig can handle, and delivering that experience without lengthy load screens or the need to tweak advanced settings.

That was the plan, anyway. In reality, a combination of AMD driver gotchas and bugs made the game essentially unplayable for a large percentage of the PC install base until the weekend after launch. AMD came out with a Rage Performance Driver hotfix for sluggish framerates two days after the October 2nd launch, and id Software followed suit this weekend with an extensive patch that exposed many graphics settings and fixed issues like artifacts and screen tearing.
rage first person shooter review

rage first person shooter review


On the plus side, once you're patched up, Rage is a gorgeous game, enlivening the sterile climes of a post-apocalyptic wasteland like no other game before . I loaded up Fallout New Vegas just for comparison's sake, and its absolutely astounding how much difference one year and a whole new engine makes. Most of what you can see in Rage, you can explore, and you'll want to explore, given the collection, crafting, and side mission hooks (not to mention the sheer joy of roaring through the wasteland in your Mad Max-mobile).

While the wasteland environments were pleasingly terrifying at every turn, the unsung hero on the art team might be the character model artists animators. Rage constantly surprised me with the level of detail, style, and (I daresay) personality of both NPCs and enemies. Though Rage seldom scaled up the size of enemies, those few encounters were memorable. I can't recall a game that more convincingly matched lips and facial expressions to spoken dialogue.

Driver issues shouldn't take away from what's assuredly the best looking FPS title of the year, but first impressions count for a lot. Our early pain with Rage is detailed in a recent edition of Ten Ton Hammer's newsletter, so I won't belabor the point here. It's a shame that a game with astounding level of detail and view range has to suffer a point drop for an issue that should have been caught early in QA, but we (with some chagrin) review games as they launch.

rage first person shooter review

Sound

95OutstandingThe sound design mirrors the quality of the rest of the game; it's top notch. In one particularly memorable area, the voices of a particularly nasty Mayan-esque bandit group echo off the walls of the canyon, creating constant unrest as I wound through tight passages. Nearly everything has a contextualized sound effect, from the pop-ting of the toaster you collect as vendor junk to the loading servos on the Authority machine gun.

The soundtrack features composer Rod Abernethy (Dead Space, Alpha Protocol), and is a clever blend of musical styles - from techno to tribal to twangy southwestern to Wagnerian to, interestingly, the drifting koto riffs in the Japanophile supply girl's shop- which never fails to create an appropriate layer of tension or immersion.  The game fell short of anything anthemic from the arcadey splash screen to the ending credits. Still, the sound design and music pushed the boundaries and complimented the game very well.

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