Written : Monday, October 03, 2011
By: Richard Walker
An asteroid glides silently through the vacuum of outer space, blazing a trail towards a collision course with Earth before hitting the surface of our fragile blue planet, irrevocably transforming the landscape forever. And unfortunately for you, you're one of the few to survive the impact, waking to a brave new world where mutants and feral gangs of bandits roam around looking for something to bludgeon, blast and pillage. It just so happens that in Rage, you inhabit the role of a major badass who's equally at home punching a mutant's face into putty as he is plugging a bandit's skull with lead, and from the moment you emerge from your Ark, you're taken under the wing of the Hagar clan, who help to gently ease you into Rage's mixed-up world.
From here, you'll start your gun collection, get your first vehicle for traversing the barren wasteland expanses and you'll embark upon small, menial tasks, as you take your first tentative steps towards the first of two larger settlements in the game. Once you get to Wellspring, you'll get into the real meat of what Rage has to offer, picking up side-quests from the jobs board, engaging in mini-games at the local watering hole or indulging in some racing down on the speedway. There's no shortage of activities in Rage, but you'll find that the majority of them are to be found within the settlements rather than out in the relative void of the dustbowl wasteland. Here, you'll simply travel between locations, blasting enemy vehicles and little else. If you're expecting a desert bristling with activity, you'll be sorely disappointed.
"Tyre neckwear is all the rage in Rage."
While it might initially look like a cross between Borderlands and Fallout, Rage is more linear than both games, offering little in the way of diversions from the core campaign, save for the occasional sojourn to a distillery to obtain bottles of rare liquor or a trek back to bandit hideouts you've previously visited to bring back stolen goods. These are optional side-missions, but worth doing for the additional rewards you gain for completing them, plus it extends the somewhat slender running time of the narrative, which tops out at a good 10 hours or so. Not particularly lengthy for what is essentially an open-world game.
Still, Rage is so detailed and dense as far its environments go, that it's hard not to stop and take it all in. It's truly one of the best looking games we've ever seen on a console, and the sheer richness and level of detail is genuinely astonishing. Every square-inch is drenched in some sort of filth, rust or graffiti, with the post-apocalyptic decay pervading throughout the entirety of Rage's claustrophobic interiors and more open expanses. While Rage is a visual marvel, its biggest strength is its combat. In fact, it's one of the slickest first-person shooters we've played in some time, with an awesome arsenal of weaponry that does id's FPS heritage proud. From the moment you acquire the Settler's Pistol, you immediately realise that the team are still masters of the craft it invented with Wolfenstein and Doom back in the day.
Pulling the trigger on an assault rifle, combat shotgun, crossbow or the formidable Authority Pulse Cannon - complete with secondary BFG function – unleashes the fire and the fury of each weapon, sending enemies reeling, stumbling or spinning from the impact. The feedback is fantastic, so when the bullet-sponge enemies take a hit, you know about it and so do they. Most bandits wear makeshift helmets and the fascist Authority Enforcers wear full body armour, meaning you need to make your bullets count, as you chip away at their defences. That said, it's a little silly when an enemy takes a projectile to the face only to stagger backwards and turn back to face you. Enemies don't go down without a fight then, which makes the gadgets you can build utterly indispensable, adding an additional layer of strategy to fraught encounters.
"I crashed the car again..."
Deploying spider-legged sentry bots or a static sentry turret can help thin a crowd of marauding mutants, or driving an explosive RC car into a gang of bandits can tip the odds in your favour, making management of your salvaged resources a constant concern to ensure you've enough components to build with. Although you're able to construct various gadgets and acquire different ammo types, we would have liked the option to upgrade the weapons beyond the limited few add-ons you're able to buy from vendors at Wellspring or Subway Town. Despite a dearth of upgrades however, the weapons are massively gratifying to use and if you're after upgrades, then winning race certificates to bolster your vehicles scratches that itch, with additional armour, weapons and paint jobs to purchase for your ride.
With card games, a button-matching rhythm game, a defibrillating mini-game that pops up when you're incapacitated, races, Mutant Bash TV and even more distractions, Rage still feels somewhat lacking, and the story-driven portion of the game can be beaten in a relatively short stretch, meaning you can't help but feel a little short-changed. And when Rage's ending rolls around, you're left expecting more, rather than the abrupt and unsatisfying damp squib of a conclusion you're given. It's a disappointment, given the effort the early portions of the game go through to build the atmosphere and create momentum as you delve ever-deeper into the war between the Authority and the Resistance. Just when you think it's all about to kick off, it just ends with zero fanfare and zero sense of accomplishment. A big boss battle wouldn't have gone amiss given id's past experience in creating memorable final boss encounters, but it never comes.
Soak up everything Rage has to offer, and you'll be in for a solid 15-20 hours of superlative shooter entertainment, and once that's done and dusted, there's the delights of co-op Legends of the Wasteland missions and multiplayer Road Rage to enjoy. The co-op Legends missions are fun little vignettes that have you playing as some of the characters you meet in and around the wasteland, filling in some of the narrative gaps that precede your own arrival and involvement in the single-player story, like the first ever unaired episode of Mutant Bash or how the heroes of Wellspring took back the town from the Authority. These are all playable online or in split-screen, with the latter running almost as slickly as the single-player game. Road Rage meanwhile, offers four modes of vehicular combat across six maps for 4-players, with power-ups to collect and rival cars to destroy. It's all good fun, but might prove a short-lived thrill for some, especially when there's not even a simple, vanilla Deathmatch to sink your teeth into.
"Get behind my shield, you silly sod!"
There's a handful of multiplayer achievements devoted to these modes, which are mercifully easy to nab, but the majority are attached to single-player progression or getting kills with your cache of gadgets, encouraging you to experiment and mess around with them. Rage's achievement list is nice and varied, coaxing you into beating the mini-games, all of the races and collecting all of the playing cards and executing the jumps dotted around the wastelands. Of course, not everyone will like the grinding collection achievements, but everyone should get a kick out of killing three mutants with one mind control bolt or exploding RC car.
Rage is another triumph for id Software, with great weapons from the brilliant, decapitating Wingstick to the formidable Authority Pulse Cannon, and a rich and deeply textured world that looks unlike anything we've seen before. Sure, there's echoes of Fallout and Borderlands in its design, but the expressive characters, stunning environments and awesome firepower ensure that Rage is a highly entertaining FPS while it lasts. This is why it's a massive shame that as Rage starts to gain momentum, it fizzles out when it should be kicking into high gear for its epilogue. Rage is a superb game then, technically accomplished and eminently playable, but lacking that certain something.
An epic Hollywood blockbuster score and impeccable voice work ensures that Rage sounds fantastic.
id Tech 5 is truly remarkable, rendering some of the most spectacular graphics yet seen on 360. Characters are expressive and interesting too, but it's the detail, richness and fidelity that wins out. Minor texture pop-in can't even spoil the visual majesty on show.
Rage plays like any great id FPS, with meaty guns and perfectly pitched gunfights. Feedback is spectacular too, making Rage an unreserved blast from start to finish.
Spread across three discs – one per wasteland and one for multiplayer – Rage's offering seems generous at first, but for a single-player focused title, the story is just far too brief and unsatisfying. Multiplayer almost makes up for it, but the lack of a gun-based Deathmatch or any other traditional FPS mode is a massive oversight.
A nice, varied list that'll have you experimenting with your weapons and gadgets, exploring Rage's nooks and crannies, and playing the clever little mini-games dotted around Wellspring and Subway Town.
As a fun and frenetic FPS, Rage delivers in spades. That the same can't be said for the game's story is a real shame. It's especially disappointing as Rage feels like it's building to a strong crescendo, before fizzling out like a damp firework. Rage veers incredibly close to greatness then, but ultimately fails to win itself a cigar.