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Much of today’s videogame audience will not share the same respect and admiration for id Software as some of us old fogeys. Writing “from the creators of Doom and Quake” in block capitals at the head of your game’s box art doesn’t carry the weight it once did. While those two games are known to the younger crowd, they’re known in the same way as Casablanca, Citizen Kane or World War II. They’re relics of a bygone era.
I suppose it’s a good thing then that Rage doesn’t need such a tagline. This is a game that’s more than capable of standing by its own merit.
You could say that Rage puts you in the shoes of a time traveller. In anticipation of an apocalypse-sized asteroid colliding with Earth, a lucky few were selected for ‘The Eden Project’; a series of ‘Arks’ buried deep underground with a view to preserving human life and knowledge until the planet becomes inhabitable once again.
A technical malfunction in your particular Ark means that you awaken from your hibernation 106 years after the asteroid, six years later than you should have gotten out of bed. Not everyone was so lucky – you’re Ark bedfellows succumbing to the technology breakdown and never waking up. Thus begins your journey in the Wasteland. Alone.
If it sounds somewhat similar to the setup of Fallout then that’s because it is, but to write Rage off as a clone is both unkind and inaccurate. Aside from the emerge-from-a-bunker-into-the-Wasteland opening, Rage bares no genuine resemblance to Bethesda’s RPG other than the fact that they’re both pretty darn big. Like the aforementioned behemoths of old-school FPS-ing, Rage is a first-person shooter at heart and a game that revels in action.
Despite the open-world setting, such action sequences are predominantly confined to well-defined zones that almost function like traditional levels. The basic structure takes the form of mission gathering in hub towns and cities of varying complexity and size, followed by fulfilling objectives in the ‘levels’ that branch off from the Wasteland.
It’s a great system that provides the best of both worlds in that the game world seems epic but it allows the design team to provide the kind of structure and focused design that id Software are known for. These structured moments are as intelligently and entertainingly put together as you’d expect from a production team boasting such lofty credentials; ranging from claustrophobic corridor sections to larger, more open areas and industrial complexes.
What’s nice about many of these settings is that they’re made up of intertwining paths and multiple tiers of navigational game space. This grants you the freedom to attack enemies from numerous angles and heights and gives you the chance to mix things up when it comes to revisiting them for a second or third time (some missions require you to return to an area already visited).
The gunplay itself is made even made interesting thanks to enemies that are smart enough to present a challenge and seem to genuinely react to your presence in an ‘organic’ way. Most enemies fall under the ‘Mutant’, ‘Bandit’ or ‘Authority’ tag, their abilities and weapons altering in line with them.
Generally speaking Mutants are dumb, weak and rely on their speed to close the gap and attack up close with crudely improvised bones-turned-knives. Bandits are split into various groups, with their own quirks and fashion sense, but ultimately they fall into the ‘Mad Max’ category of haphazardly constructed weapons and extreme aggression. The Authority on the other hand are juggernauts; intelligent, heavily armoured and in possession of an arsenal that would make Uncle Sam jealous.
It’s the moments involving multiple factions that bring the game fully to life, creating that classic juxtaposition between high and low tech with you sandwiched in the middle of it all. Encounters are slapped with extra character thanks to some great dialogue (one faction speaking in an English accent so thick it makes Ray Winstone sound American) and the fact that they react differently depending on their numbers, position and health status.
For example (like in Halo: Reach), enemies that find themselves suddenly alone following the death of their troupe will often turn and run rather than stay and risk fighting solo. Then there’s the wounded enemies that try to crawl to safety, the wounded enemies that try playing hero by unloading their weapon in your direction and the enemies that prefer to flank around to your blindside than fight face-to-face. It’s a stretch to say that every encounter is unique, but they’re certainly different enough.
Like the majority of modern shooters, Rage uses a regenerating health system. However, as health regenerates more slowly than what has become the norm you’ll need to make frequent use of your healing items during hairy moments. If you do die you’ll automatically initiate a ‘defibrillator’ system that brings you back to life and kills any nearby enemies by sending out an electric pulse.
The amount of health you regain depends on your ability to master a quick mini-game that involves flicks and well-timed inputs using the two analogue sticks and triggers (LT/RT on 360, L2/R2 on PS3). This system cannot be relied upon often though, the defibrillator taking quite a while to recharge between each use presumably in a balancing act to prevent things getting too easy.
If you get bored of shooting and defibrillating there are plenty of other ways to kill time in Rage. The most obvious method of procrastination is to indulge in racing events; either with or without weapons. Much of the pre-release chatter has revolved around the inclusion of vehicles (some early reports even labelling the game as ‘racer’) but their use in a racing sense is almost completely optional. On only a couple of occasions are you forced to race to progress, both times coming within the first few hours.
It’s probably to the game’s credit that the races are optional because, despite being decent enough, they don’t mirror the quality on display elsewhere in Rage. Travelling around the world in a vehicle is also optional, but unless you want a 20 minute desert trek between mission and town you’ll want to get behind the wheel. Vehicle travel through the Wasteland is usually interrupted by bandit attacks that force you to use your roof mounted minigun, homing missile, mines et al. Again, like the races, these are passable but not wonderful.
If racing doesn’t take your fancy there’s the satisfying Rage Frenzy card game with its ‘Collector’s Cards’ dotted around the world for the intrepid adventurer to find. There are items and gadgets to engineer once you’ve collected the right parts, a holographic board game of chance to play, bounty’s to hunt and the controlled post-modern madness of Mutant Bash TV to compete in.
Rage’s version of The Running Man, Mutant Bash TV is a sadistic game show in which you’re tasked with killing mutants in arenas that like as though they’ve been designed by Batman’s Joker. All in the name of post-apocalyptic mainstream entertainment.
Rounds in Mutant Bash TV can be surprisingly difficult thanks to the fact that the environments themselves are as dangerous as the mutants – involving spike floors, hefty bosses and spinning mechanical toy gorillas wielding razor sharp knives. Play it right and the mad gorilla can be your best friend when it comes to dispatching mutants, play it wrong and it’ll be the end of you.
Visually things are great, too… so long as you can afford the hard drive space. Textures pop up incredibly slowly when playing on a 360 that doesn’t have the game installed on the hard drive. The optional 22GB install is made less dramatic thanks to the fact that game is on three discs, allowing you to copy only the data needed for the disc you’re using at the time. Seriously, playing without installing is not recommended.
Other than that there’s little not to like. The core gameplay is well designed and executed and there’s plenty to do if you fancy a change of pace. With the FPS genre currently defined and dominated by standardised modern-military shooters, Rage comes as a very welcome breath of fresh air.