Genre: First Person Shooter
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC (reviewed)
£27.50 from Amazon on PC
The kings of first person shooters, id Software, are back with Rage, their first major release since 2004’s Doom 3. An apocalyptic open-world shooter running on the new impressive Tech 5 graphics engine, does Rage do enough to see id Software remain the gun-slinging supremos? Read on to find out!
id Software make great shooters. We all know that. Christ, they practically invented the first person genre with Wolfenstein, and the gaming world has never looked back. With Rage, the godfathers of gun-touting gaming are taking a slightly different tact, putting a greater focus on story and exploration than any of their previous titles have attempted.
Set in the near-future wastes of a world scorched by a gigantic asteroid collision, you awake after many years in stasis as the sole survivor of a scientific project known as the Ark, designed to save the cream-of-the-human crop from the apocalypse. From the off it’s clear that the world has gone a bit awry, and you’re saved from a gang of bandits by a local buggy-driving settler.
After this brief introduction to the dangerous world of Rage, you begin to see the ways in which Rage plays differently from previous id Software games. Though a fairly linear story thread drives forward progression in the game, you’ll also be able to take on a load of side quests (play the odd gambling mini-game too), which will see you heading out into the Rage world to earn a few mercenary bucks. You’ll interact with characters, learn their stories and then take their cash once you’ve completed the odd task for them, letting you buy new weapons in shops, put together weapon schematics you find dotted around the world and upgrading your armour.
This RPG-lite system works well, and while side quests only ever really amount to going from point A to wipe out a load of baddies at point B, it gives an illusion of freedom not normally found in id Software titles like Doom or Quake. Make no mistakes though, this is not a free-roaming world in the same way that, say, Fallout 3 is; id Software call it a “directed open world experience”, meaning that whilst relatively expansive, straying too far off the beaten track in Rage more often than not leads you to an invisible wall rather than a hidden treasure trove.
More disappointing is that the story itself falls a little flat. Once you’ve settled into the breathtaking world (more on how that looks later), the characters that inhabit it prove to be rather hollow. Their stories lack imagination, and while the voice-over delivery is consistently good, very few break established “end of the world” clichés. Follow the main story line through to its conclusion somewhere around the 12 hour mark, and you’ll find that there’s never truly been a build in tension, or a notable villain beyond gangs of thugs introduced. id Software’s storytelling is competent, but lacking the depth of other AAA titles.
So that’s the bad stuff out of the way. If we’re being harsh on Rage so far, it’s because we expect nothing but the absolute best from id Software. And in pretty much every other department, Rage absolutely excels.
As you’d expect from the team that pioneered the FPS genre, Rage’s gunplay is visceral, powerful, and buckets full of fun. You’ll fight all sorts of gruesome adversaries across the course of the game, and they’re a consistent challenge throughout. The majority of combat sequences take place in tight-close quarters settings, and the enemy AI has been tuned to take full advantage of the surroundings. Mutants will swing from overhead pipes before jumping down behind you and swinging for your head, making them incredibly tricky to get a cross-hair lock on. Bandits will zig-zag in and out of cover, only popping out for a brief instant to pop a shot off in your direction. Gangs of baddies will often use advanced tactics like flanking and giving covering fire support to their allies in order to make your life hell. No two gun-fights ever play out the same in Rage, and you’ll constantly have to be on your toes in order to stay one step ahead of your foes.
Thankfully, you’ll have access to one of the most satisfying arsenals of weapons in recent memory. For the most part, these will be familiar shooters like pistols and shotguns (or “old faithful”, as we prefer to call it). Where id Software’s versions of these guns differ though is in the gory punch they deliver. A shotgun blast doesn’t just kill an enemy, it absolutely decimates them, with all sorts of flesh flying around the screen. Unique weapons like the boomerang blades of the Wingstick, spider-like moving turrets and mind-control bolt ammunition are equally satisfying to wield. The devil is in the details, and the way enemies react to bullet impacts realistically will make you wince.
All this is presented with some of the most stunning graphics rendering we’ve seen to date. Whether you’re playing on an Xbox 360, PS3 or a top-spec gaming PC, Rage is awe-inspiring to look at. While the PC version is by some distance the better looking one, id Software should be commended for making their impressive Tech 5 graphics engine work so excellently on consoles too. Draw distances stretch for miles across the dusty wastes of the Rage world, letting you see the extent of the desolation caused by the asteroid impact, with textures so crisp and detailed that you’ll barely be able to spot any repetition in the world, making it all highly believable to look at.
Things get even more impressive when you venture into one of the game’s many settlements. The art direction is staggering, from the patchwork metal mess of Wellspring to the shiny surfaces of Subway Town. The fact that all this runs at a constant 60fps with only the most minimal pop-in is an amazing achievement. And while characters may not have anything particularly interesting to say, they’re all sculpted with such visual attention to detail, and animated with such flair and realism, that you’ll forgive their often soggy dialogue.
Getting around the large and beautiful gameworld of Rage is slow work on foot, so often you’ll find yourself jumping into dune buggies, naturally armed with an assortment of weapons. Vehicular combat in Rage (or any driving at all for that matter) is a first for id Software, and they manage to deliver an excellent experience that’s as close to Mario Kart as it is to Mad Max. Buggies bounce and flip, leading to calamitous explosions. Whether you’re taking part in a race or fending off other drivers looking to let off steam with a bit of road…ahem…rage, it’s consistently, and surprisingly good fun.
These buggy sequences make up the majority of Rage’s online competitive multiplayer. Again they’re great fun, but we can’t help but feel that a straight-forward deathmatch gun-blasting frag fest wouldn’t have been what more people were hoping for. These are the guys, again, that pioneered the FPS deathmatch with Quake, after all, and eking out some more of the single player mode’s excellent gunplay into the online sphere would have been a treat. Co-operative modes however do go back to the game’s shooting mechanics, and while only a short diversion, nicely pad out the main game’s story line by letting you act out a few of the settlers wilder tales with a pal.
Rage then once again sees id Software playing to their strengths, building a visually magnificent title with shooting mechanics that absolutely smacks the competition in their faces. Even the driving sections, though simple, offer plenty of cheap, explosive thrills. Where the game fails is in the story department, never quite building to a satisfying conclusion nor throwing up an interesting cast, and in the multiplayer area, where a true deathmatch mode would have gone down a treat. Double-barrelled fun, for sure, but not quite the revolution we’d hoped for.