RAGE introduces you to its story and world with a quick CG cinematic setting up the post-apocalyptic scenario that you’ll be adventuring through: The enormous asteroid Apophis has hit Earth, but not before the world’s best and brightest have been safely secured away in underground facilities, or Arks, to increase their chances of surviving the asteroid’s impact and resultant toxic fallout.
As one of the chosen, you awake one day in one of these cryogenic vaults only to discover the rest of its inhabitants long-dead in their chambers.
Stumbling into the harsh light of The Wasteland, you soon embark on a far-reaching journey that will test your trigger finger and accelerator foot in an adventure that spans the vastness of rocky deserts canyons, makeshift villages and towns, dark, dank subways and sewers, a sun-bleached abandoned city and at least one or two factory areas with rattling catwalks and age old machinery rusted in place.
For good measure, RAGE also takes you on a trip to an intricate tribal village set into sheer cliff faces, hostile underground settlements and the metallic technology-enriched corridors of a powerful enemy’s base, all of which makes for a very diverse visual palette.
You’ll be given reasons to visit these areas by story gate-keepers, all of whom are very well voiced and superbly animated, both in terms of gestures and lip-syncing, and you’ll be able to find additional side quests (such as the chance to play in a deadly game show) and mini-games (like a special card game and guitar plucking challenge) to indulge in to break up the pace of the story. I didn’t ever really feel a great need to take part in these extras because their rewards weren’t of great interest and the range of actions wasn’t that immense, but they’re fun to try a few times as a distraction.
The world of RAGE is a dangerous place, and save for the towns, each of these locations is filled with vicious clans of bandits who are keen to keep intruders away with volleys of gunfire, grenades and other explosives, but as an Ark survivor, there’s something different and special about you that allows you to deal with these threats more effectively than the average person. Using your own range of weaponry, from rifles, pistols and shotguns, to rocket launchers, boomerang-like Wingsticks and grenades, as well as extra equipment, you’ll need to infiltrate hostile areas and clear away any and all inhabitants.
Each clan has its own approach to combat, too, so just as you’re used to seeing enemies hiding behind cover and popping rounds at you with an occasion grenade, you’ll come across more agile opponents who leap and jump about the floor in an effort to reach you and club you over the head with ferocious melee attacks, all before you’re required to switch up your offensive strategies to accommodate the ceiling and wall climbing antics of mutants who scurry towards you with cruel intent.
There’s something very satisfying about the first-person shooting combat of RAGE that stands apart from other titles in the genre, going above things like visual and audio feedback, which are also excellent and a big part of what makes the game fun to play from second to second. Something about the way the enemies move and react to your attacks, the way they’ll limp, clutch their arms and slump to the ground when hurt, only to continue to try and kill you from the ground, or while hobbling to cover. There’s a certain indistinguishable joy in blasting these lurching, freeform acrobatic creatures with your weaponry, and the delight is extended with your equipment.
The physical design and layout of the environments in RAGE also contribute to this feeling of satisfying combat with fantastic elevation and flow incorporated into each level that makes the simple act of running, dodging and shooting more enjoyable than they would otherwise be in flat, plainly designed arenas.
Every mission and activity in RAGE is very segregated and ‘instanced,’ however, which makes it seem as though each of your actions has no relation to the other. Clearing out a hideout filled with bandits has no relation to sniping incoming mutants, both of which don’t seem to have any bearing on later missions where you’re fighting for your life against swarms of enemies barrelling towards you on ziplines and jumping out at you from secret hiding places. While the world of RAGE is quite reactive (where townsfolk will comment on your past accomplishments as you pass them in the street), loading into discrete, disconnected missions makes the game feel like a collection of disparate missions, rather than a cohesive experience.
In RAGE, you’re able to equip four weapons at any time, but you’re always carrying all available armaments so it’s easy to swap active weapons in and out and access them with a quick twitch of the trigger. Each weapon has multiple ammunition types, too, also easily accessible, with ammo ranging from armour piercing and explosive, to mind-control rounds later in the game – quite fun. Likewise, there are four slots for active equipment, which comprise items like bandages (to more quickly heal yourself), grenades (to… y’know), lock grinders, Wingsticks, explosive RC cars, turrets and roving turrets.
While you can buy ammunition and equipment at stores located around the world (using collected currency or with cash made from sold items), you can also make them yourself using schematics (also purchasable, but sometimes earned as a reward). Once you’ve got a schematic, you’ll be able to make as many turrets as you wish, for example, except you’re going to need to use ‘ingredients’ (both organic and metallic) to craft them, which opens up your combat strategies very nicely.
Having the freedom to create a bandage after an intense firefight or build a roving turret before the next encounter really does make it feel as though a mission’s success or failure is dependant on your ability to respond to a situation correctly, but with so many different items to create, you’ll be rewarded for using your own preferences and playstyle to overcome a challenge once you find your groove.
One of my main problems with RAGE is that none of your available actions are explained very well at all, and eight hours in I only really discovered the full extent and use of my equipment and weapons, which made the game a lot more enjoyable, obviously. This lack of explanation extends to the main missions of the game, too, with a general aimless and purposeless feel to the experience, until you start understanding the world around you. Until things start clicking into place, RAGE is a very overwhelming game as you’re never quite sure what you should be doing at what time, left to your own devices until the mission structure becomes much more rigid towards the end.
Graphically, RAGE is one of the most visually astounding games I’ve ever played, but only if you’re moving. Only if you’re intensely involved in whatever action that the game requires of you at that moment, be it careening through a harshly-lit and grimy tunnel or shooting at a single enemy behind cover while taking out an encroaching group with a well-placed grenade. The environment detail in RAGE is second to none and the world has a look, feel and mood all of its own with expertly created, ‘lived in’ and worn locations. This is a game taking place in a post-apocalyptic world, after all, and while everything is suitably gloomy with subdued colours, sunlight punctures, streams and floods every crevice that is possibly can, resulting in beautiful visual contrasts.
If you stop still to look around, however, you might not like what you see. In console versions of RAGE, at least, smears of colour and blurred detail are slowly replaced with full textures that noticeably pop in, which is quite alarming. What’s worse is that if look away from a scene and turn back, those textures need to be reloaded and the world has to go through its bizarre visual dance all over again. This all makes it very difficult to enjoy the, in most cases, jaw-dropping environments, so my advice would simply be to carry on running. Or driving.
RAGE allows you to drive a buggy around The Wasteland to make travelling from one area to the next a little less taxing, but because this land is filled with dangerous bandits, you’ll need to equip your vehicle with guns and rocket launchers to more ably destroy any other vehicles that try to do you harm. In order to upgrade your car (and win new, better motors), you’ll need to participate in races found in town. Depending on your level of enjoyment, you’ll only need to win enough races to continue to progress in the game but there are lots of race types (and ramps in difficulty) to take part in should you wish.
If you’d like to take a break from the singleplayer campaign of RAGE, you can jump into a few rounds of the game’s multiplayer modes, which consists of vehicular combat racing and a six mission co-operative offering. The car combat portion of the multiplayer lets you participate in races across a few different modes of play while levelling up your car to earn better chassis, weapons and equipment to perform better in battle.
The co-operative missions, however, are some of the more interesting and enjoyable parts of the RAGE package, and partner you up with one to three other players online to help you work through specially designed scenarios that flesh out more of the backstory to the game. These sequences last just long enough, and are just varied enough, to remain fun and replayable and I’m looking forward to hooking up online to shoot through these missions again. If id Software works on downloadable content for RAGE, I would definitely pay for more co-op missions.
RAGE takes many hours to really hit its stride, and then when it does (resulting in one of the most exhilarating FPS levels I’ve ever played), it’s all over, which left me unsatisfied with the experience overall. The game is at its best when it’s a pure shooter, moment-to-moment, but feels like it’s stuck in the past trying to catch up with ‘current’ games with its attempts at RPG-lite systems and smatterings of diversionary, disconnected mini-games and car combat.
If you go into the game with no expectations while disregarding the development studio’s heritage, first-person shooting fans and admirers of impressive visuals will find a lot to enjoy in RAGE with smart design decisions, great characters, detailed environments, impressive combat freedom and very satisfying action, just don’t expect a ‘Game of the Year’ performance from id Software’s latest title.