Review: RAGE (PS3/360)

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.

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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.

[drop2]The weapons in Rage are a particular joy. You start with a basic pistol and rapidly accrue new types of weapons quite early on. You’ll get your hands on a sniper rifle, assault rifle, shotgun and crossbow within the first handful of missions, with a few other weapon types joining your arsenal later in the game.

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.

[drop]Character models are generic, as are most of the characters themselves, and facial animations average but the location modelling and textures are some of the best on this generation of consoles. Rage is regularly breathtakingly well built and the layered approach to textures means that you will never find an obvious repeated tile of texture anywhere throughout the world. The lighting is used in imaginative ways, too. Environments seem to refocus and gently alter the tone of lighting as you enter areas which are set to be dark and damp or bright and dusty.

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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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?

Score: 8/10

Reviewed from the Xbox 360 version of the game.

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54 Comments

  1. One of the year’s must buy games.

    • Should have reviewed the PS3 version, as clearly it’s the less gimped version, coming on a single disk without the texture pop-in.

      • I’ve had multiple independent sources confirm that the PS3 version still suffers from the pop-in (and has a mandatory 8GB install that the 360 version doesn’t), although it’s slightly quicker to load that pop in than the 360.

        It’s swings and roundabouts though – the PS3’s anti aliasing for this (and in general) is junk comparatively, for example.

        Both platforms run the game and the differences are so minuscule that they’re not really worth mentioning outside of a proper in-depth comparison and we don’t do those because they just cause arguments ;)

      • I picked up the PS3 version last night and it has a lot of draw in, as well. Sometimes textures take as long as 2-3 seconds to fully come in.

      • Then you have played a different version, as the version I have seen, there is a significant performance difference. Perhaps you are trying to keep someone happy by playing down the differences?

      • You’ve seen hes played,miniscule difference seems to be the bottom line.

  2. Who plays a shotgun shooter for the emotionally taught sub plots? No-one! Emotionally taut, however…

    • haha, oops, that one slipped through spellcheck and the edit. Fixed now :)

  3. Shame I wasted £40 when Brink was released, now all my “spare” cash has gone. Can’t use the money put aside for Uncharted 3, BF3, MW3 and MGS Collection. Damn Brink, you spontanious purchase!

    • What? How dare you? Brink was outstanding, I command you to give it another go.

      • I was a little dissappointed with it. I guess I could try it again, on your recommendation! :)

        Troube is I’ve got SO many games unfinished from around the same time such as LA Noire and Dirt 3 too. Oh well, giving Rage a miss might free up some time to finish them!

      • I thought it was dreadful. Tony, I tried, I just couldnt get on with it!

      • It sucked hard

      • It didn’t suck hard, but it was not very impressive. Fun could/can be had with it though.

  4. Rage has now gone back up to a get when i have the cash game.(IGN’s review put me off it a bit). It sounds like a fun game and i would get all the Fallout refrences. I wonder if there will be a comp to win this? ^_^

    Also DAMM YOU PETER FOR MAKING ME WANT THIS! ;p

    • I want Dark Souls more… the darkness compels me

      • +1 @sympozium. really cannot wait for it (Dark Souls). Although Rage does sounds very very good I just can’t afford it at the moment unfortunately. Plus I believe that I have got my fair share of apocalyptic worlds with Fallout 3 and NV

    • +1 to that, was going to give this a miss, but you really made me want it. Still annoyed about the install though…

  5. Anyone know when a demo will be on PSN?
    Still haven’t made my mind up and will need to see what gameplay is like.

    • I think you can be sure the gameplay is great. The story might not be that great, but it’ll do for me.

  6. I will be buying this game, and hoping to complete it very quickly, as Arkham City is out in a few weeks

  7. Might pick this up when the price drops. Considering I’ve just bough FIFA12 and Resistance 3. Also got BF3 and MW3:HE on pre-order. Lots and lots of shooters. Also want Skyrim and U3. Way too many games not enough time means RAGE suffers

  8. I think I’m gonna get this. Fallout minus the RPG levelling/great narrative, but plus fantastic graphics & gameplay.

    Fallout & Borderlnads are my two only platinums, so this should be up my alley.

  9. It does look like fun (not to mention very nice), but after Borderlands, MotorStorm and the recent Fallouts (tee hee), I’m burnt out on post-apocalypse. A demo might get me to change my mind though.

  10. its a no for me, BF3 is all I want for a while. anything else has to wait

    • Look at you settling down and not sleeping around any more. :P

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