The future is a bleak and unforgiving place. Rage makes that abundantly clear, right from the opening scene in which you’re released from a kind of stasis to find your “Ark” was damaged and all of your pod-mates are leathery-faced corpses, succumbing to the post-apocalyptic heat and dust of the game world. Within seconds you’re attacked by mutants. Within minutes you’ve got a new best friend and seen your first id Software call back gag – a Doom bobblehead.
Rage gets going pretty quickly and it doesn’t really slow down until it’s finished. There are a multitude of characters inhabiting the expansive world and a good selection of hostile gangs – each with their own characteristics. The game basically splits itself into two forms. The first is a large open world which acts as a kind of live map which you navigate to reach the second form: the mission areas. You will drive various vehicle types, often through spontaneous bouts of vehicular combat, to doorways in the wasteland where you begin your on-foot missions.
This is one of the best uses of the open-world hub system I’ve seen, if only for the scale of the world surrounding the various gateways into missions. The open world maps play host to several little twists in gameplay that keep things interesting, rather than just being terrain you need to traverse between missions. There are jumps to make and spontaneous collection missions but the stand out diversion is the vehicular combat.
The car combat is localised in certain areas of the map where you will be set upon by several vehicular assailants. Destroying them yields rewards in cash and certificates to spend on car upgrades back in the town – you can also enter races to win certificates or even new car types via the appropriate locations. The certificates pay for vehicle upgrades like better armour, engines or tyres. There is a good selection of combat- or speed-enhancing upgrades for each model of vehicle as well as a great deal of varied weaponry, which is purchased using cash rather than certificates.
Vehicles - upgradeable - play a major part in RAGE's open world.
On top of the standard weapons, you will get access to different types of ammunition for them, either by finding it or buying schematics and making it yourself. These are essentially like having entirely new weapons. For example, there’s an ammo type that turns your shotgun into a grenade launcher. There’s one that turns the pistol into a kind of six-round mini-gun that fires all six bullets in one incredibly quick burst.
Rage’s trademark weapon is an off-hand three-winged boomerang called the Wingstick. It comprises of three sharpened steel blades and can be used to devastating effect in absolute silence on up to three enemies at a time (after upgrading). The Wingstick returns to you if you don’t move too much after throwing and it has a clear path, otherwise, it smashes to pieces and you must use another one from your supply. They can be crafted from parts found around the wasteland though so it’s always sensible to keep a good stock of them for stealthy takedowns and beheadings.
Perhaps the most entertaining ammo type is the dynamite bolt for the silent crossbow. They turn the stealthy weapon into an explosive delight with much comedic effect. Dynamite bolts fly silently through the air until they skewer themselves into something fleshy, at which point the dynamite fuse burns out and they explode. The result is a series of dialogue lines in which enemy combatants realise their fate and are hopelessly resigned to it. You might also get lucky and see a freshly-skewered enemy run towards his squad mates in panic.
Rage is, in many ways, a throwback to an older sensibility in gaming. It positively revels in its ties to Bethesda’s other great post-apocalyptic franchise, Fallout via many references and in-jokes but it will probably be most quickly (and lazily) compared to Borderlands. That’s not entirely fair though, since the in-mission sections of Rage actually play most similarly to its direct ancestor, Quake (as did much of the excellent Borderlands). The meaty gunplay, on-rushing mutants and abundant use of explosions are all reminiscent of an earlier time in first person shooters, a time during which id Software was the undisputed king of the genre they invented. That’s not to say that Rage is dated, far from it. But there’s less about twitch shooting and tactical action here and more about shotgunning enemies in the face. With rockets.
It is perhaps to be expected that the gunplay is the strongest aspect of Rage, although the vehicle elements are pulled off with aplomb too. The weakest part of the whole is probably the narrative. It’s not that the story is particularly weak, it’s just a little too generic to garner much empathy from the player. It’s probably a symptom of the fact that this kind of setting is ever-popular. It’s possibly that the scrapheap-raiding underdog versus tech-wielding superpower is an overused dynamic but the underpinning narrative is uninspired.
The game has a few technical limitations too. We reviewed from the Xbox 360 version, with its large optional install and the texture creep-in, which was regularly eye-catching. It’s certainly not as distracting as the old-fashioned pop-in but the sharpening of textures half a second after you turn to look at them is occasionally distracting. This is understandable in such a large game world but still somewhat disappointing when so much of the rest of Rage looks so beautiful.
The environments are frequently staggering in scale and scope, but suffer from close-up texture issues.
The sound design is worth a mention too. Excluding the cheesy rock guitar soundtracks for action-heavy scenes, it’s excellent. The meaty shotguns, weighty explosions and buzzing engines all add atmosphere but the incidental dialogue and environmental sounds are the most impressive. From panicked guards’ radio communication to galloping mutants and dripping ceilings, you switch seamlessly from modern military assaults to an almost survival horror feel (especially if you forget to stock up on ammunition at the town stores). It can be quite unnerving to hear a slithering mutant nearby and not know exactly where to expect him to burst from.
Multiplayer modes are currently underpopulated so it would be unfair to comment on them too much but the options available should serve as a healthy diversion from the lengthy campaign mode. There are a healthy number of two player cooperative missions which closely resemble certain campaign missions and are bookended narratively in a way which emphasises their naming: Legends of the Wasteland.
Road Rage is perhaps the stand out multiplayer mode. Four player competitive off-road racing with upgradable vehicles and various game modes ranging from straight up checkpoint racing to demolition derbies and collection events. It’s a relatively shallow experience but as an additional extra to the substantial single player campaign and the generous selection of co-op missions, it’s welcome.
- Great environmental design, sound and art.
- Fantastic gunplay.
- Huge game world with plenty of diversions.
- Imaginative weaponry and great enemy variation.
- Driving works well and adds an extra dimension to the game.
- Suffers from texture pop-in.
- Multiplayer is very much an addition rather than a separate branch.
Rage is a really good game. In fact, it’s one really good shooter, a decent (if very simplistic) racer and a competent car combat game, all in the one package. The way it ties several disparate elements together into one believable, if a little generic, game world is almost seamless and the gunplay is exceptionally good.
If you think first person shooters take themselves a little too seriously, Rage is the game for you. If you like shotguns, explosions, imaginative ammunition types and crossbows then Rage is the game for you. It’s an unapologetic love letter to the classic FPS gameplay that inspired the most popular genre in modern gaming and it updates enough that it doesn’t feel in the least bit dated. The only stand out weak point, graphical pop-in aside, is the generic narrative and who plays a shotgun shooter for the emotionally taut sub plots?
Reviewed from the Xbox 360 version of the game.