Review: R.A.G.E. (X360)

Many of id Software’s games represented the high-water mark of the shooter genre on their release and their DNA is present in most of what’s on offer currently in FPS games. They have pedigree, there’s no doubting that. But how does Rage, the newest triple A release from id compare when stacked up against rival high-fliers in the FPS genre?

In a word, “weirdly”. Rage looks the part and it plays very well, but it’s littered with kinks and quirks that may strike contemporary shooter players as, at best, odd and at worst, horribly out of date.

Then there’s the issue of the game’s level design that recycles environments and enemies, and really deflates the experience in the final stages – the ending is abrupt, unimaginative and abysmal. The story isn’t up to much, either; while the post-apocalyptic world of Rage is filled with imaginative environments and interesting, larger-than-life characters, the plot chugging along underneath it all doesn’t really go anywhere. Why, for example, isn’t there a checkpoint system? Why can’t players pick up the weapons of their victims when they can loot their bodies? Why, given id Software’s legacy with regards to the online deathmatch isn’t there a competitive shooter multiplayer mode? And who thought it was a good idea to place the biggest and best boss battles in the middle of the storyline?

By the time the end credits roll, there’s no sense of resolution to be had. Before this happens, players spend all their time picking up fetch quests from NPCs, which mostly involve driving somewhere, shooting some enemies and collecting an item or two.

Then again, compelling narratives have never been id Software’s strong suit, and it’s likely the Quakecon faithful won’t really be all that bothered, as long as the shooter mechanics are up to scratch. And if that’s the case, they’re in for a treat, because what id Software does excel at, is crafting incredibly balanced, beautifully smooth and, above all else, fun shooters.

As a showcase of the new id Tech 5 engine, Rage is a spectacle and a half. Movement in the game feels incredibly slick and precise, there’s no clipping and the frame-rate never slows. The visuals initially look very similar to those in Gearbox’s FPS/RPG Borderlands, but after about three hours in, Rage distinguishes itself by adding increasing layers of viscera, urban wreckage and industrial grit.

The weapons in Rage are all FPS staples, but they’ve also all been tweaked or modified in some way that sets them apart from your average shooter. Furthermore, there is no weapon that the player will feel is made obsolete by a new addition to their arsenal. This is largely down to the occasional weapon augmentation or the amusingly brutal ammunition the player will inevitably come across.

The handgun isn’t particularly interesting when it’s first introduced, but load it up with some Fat Boys (large, high-calibre rounds) and slap half a telescope on it and hey presto! You have a gun that can tear an opponent’s noggin off from some considerable distance.

The shotgun starts off feeling exactly like it would in any other shooter, but once the player collects some Pulse Rounds or Pop Rockets, they have a short-range weapon that can deliver either a debilitating electrical shock, or turn an attacker into paint, depending on what they’ve loaded. There’s even a crossbow bolt that, upon hitting a target, allows you to pilot the victim towards a group of their comrades, and then blow the lot of them to pieces.

As the game progresses, players will be able to find or buy schematics, allowing them to craft a whole host of items ranging from new ammo types to performance boosts to sentry bots to Wingsticks (three-bladed boomerangs) to loads more besides. Players have four utility slots they can assign an item to, and can then switch between them easily by using the D-Pad. Tapping the left bumper deploys the active utility, while tapping the right, opens up the four main weapons and ammo slots allowing the player to switch their guns and ammo types quickly and easily.

It all adds up to an incredibly fun and addictive shooter, which can satisfy pretty much any style of play. For our money, Rage shines brightest when players juggle through their weapons, finding exactly the right death-dealing combo for each group they encounter. Anyone can shoot a charging attacker down with machine gun fire, but popping their helmet off with a single headshot and then decapitating them with a Wingstick induces the same warm glow that can only be replicated by pulling off a well orchestrated set-piece in FIFA 12.

The FPS action at the core of Rage is rock-solid and such fun that it’s almost a pity id Software decided to bolt a driving game on top of it. Players navigate the game’s post-apocalyptic environment in an assortment of vehicles, starting with a quad-bike, and working their way up to some augmented muscle cars Mad Max would be proud to own.

They can also beef up their cars, by buying better armour, tyres, fenders, paint-jobs and, weapons such as rocket launchers, machine guns and pulse canons. These last items are worth keeping ammo stocked up for, because the wasteland in Rage is a dangerous place filled with bandits keen to blow players off the road and pick their bones clean.

The catch to all this is that no mechanic in the game will sell the player car parts and weapons for cash. The only currency they’re willing to take are racing certificates and these can only be earned by competing in and winning the many in-game races. There are a variety of races on offer, including straight races, time trials and combative competitions. These aren’t too bad to begin with, but as things progress, the races – due to the poor handling of the cars, the weird design of some of the racecourses and the increasingly difficult opponents – become irritating wars of attrition.

Racing isn’t the only mini-game in Rage, but it’s arguably the most taxing. Aside from that, players can make money from doing side-missions for NPCs, playing a variety of pub games including a card-collecting game that bears some resemblance to Magic: The Gathering and taking part in Mutant Bash, a TV show run by a bleached madman in which they have to shoot snarling freaks.

Outside the campaign, which will take around 12 hours to zoom through if players do the bare minimum, Rage offers two multiplayer modes. The first is a separate co-op adventure, whose missions are based on some of the stories the player will hear from NPCs in the main campaign. The second is a competitive racing mode in which up to six players can hurtle round tracks, blowing each other to smithereens.

Rage is a decidedly mixed affair. It isn’t perfect, some of it feels quite antiquated, and it is by no means the high-water moment in the FPS genre that Doom and Quake were in their day. But it is still a very eye-catching and incredibly fun shooter, and in its best moments, it can’t be matched for pure entertainment value. It’s true that other shooters will probably sell more units than Rage, but do any of them have a crossbow bolt that, upon hitting a target, allows you to pilot the victim towards a group of their comrades, and then blow the lot of them to pieces?

No. No they do not…

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 8
Lasting Appeal: 6

Overall: 8/10