That Rage is a visual marvel should be no surprise. id Software has consistently set new industry standards since the days of Wolfenstein 3D. Rage, built using id Tech 5 engine, is one of the best looking games ever made, boasting an incredible blend of artistry, animation and smooth performance. The amount of detail built into Rage is staggering. It's easy to be overwhelmed with awe at the sight of rocky canyon walls that never seem to repeat and the meticulously designed and animated character models. Rage controls smoothly, consistently throws interesting challenges at you, and provides cool ways to upgrade and evolve your arsenal from beginning to end. Story and character, elements traditionally shoved to the side in id products, play a much more prominent role in Rage, but don't match up to the quality of the visuals and mechanics. Enjoying Rage is easy; caring about what happens is more of a challenge.
The story setup is simple: the world was nearly wiped out by an asteroid and you emerge from an underground vault. Blinking in the bright light of the sun, you take a few moments to admire the scenery and are then abruptly attacked. Id's wasteland is not a friendly place. Most of those you meet in Rage desperately want to kill or capture you, and gradually you begin to find out why. Despite the presence of upgrade systems, mini-games, side quests and car racing challenges, Rage is primarily a shooter.
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It's a fairly traditional shooter, too, favoring smaller zones of combat instead of the open spaces seen in Far Cry 2 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Larger explorable areas exist in id Software's wasteland, but they're merely playgrounds for the vehicles. You can ride around in buggies and heavily armored cars, blast rockets at bandit vehicles and speed over jumps to smash floating beacons and earn extra rewards. It can be fun for a while, but by the time you get to Rage's second half, it starts to feel more like filler. The gunplay is always entertaining, as you adventure through corridors and interiors lined with hiding spots as mutants erupt from unseen spaces and bandits fire pistols and shotguns. Rage is not revolutionary shooter, but it's extremely well made.
The weapons in Rage feel powerful, and not just because they're loud. Hit a mutant in the leg and you'll see it snap back. Bandits under heavy fire will scramble behind cover with their hands over their heads. Charging mutants can be abruptly stopped with a well-aimed shotgun blast. Hit an armored enemy across the chest with assault rifle spray fire and he'll react to every impact. It may sound like minor detail, but the high degree of correlation between shot and effect has a huge impact on making each weapon exciting to use. There's a big difference between a shotgun blast that simply kills a mutant and a shotgun blast that knocks them into a backflip and blows apart their skull.
Combat encounters build in difficulty and throw a variety of increasingly difficult enemies in the mix, forcing you to be creative with your weapons. Eventually you'll acquire all the basic gun types, including a sniper rifle, rocket launcher and two assault rifles. Though only four can be active at a time, you carry everything in your inventory, so weapons are never left behind. The creative element comes into play once you gain access to all the different ammunition types and crafted items.
Rage Extended Gameplay Commentary
Like in BioShock, the combat areas in Rage are littered with glittering components. With the proper materials and associated schematic you can build new ammunition or items at any time. The products can be as simple as armor piercing ammunition or as complex as mind control bolts fired from your crossbow that turn enemies into walking bombs for you to move around. Later on you'll find advanced ammunition types become almost necessary to use. Deploying sentry turrets and spider-like attack robots is extremely helpful against enemies with thick armor plating and slavering groups of mutant. Though only a handful of the alternate attack options truly stand out – the razor-edged boomerang-like wingsticks, the mind control bolts and dynamite bolts to name a few – all are useful against Rage's intelligent enemies.
Even foes that run on a suicidal path toward at you armed with sticks and blades display a degree of self-preservation. They approach in zig-zag fashion and flip off walls and ceilings to make precise targeting no simple matter. Others fight from a distance, cowering behind bits of cover and popping out to take a few shots. They duck, dodge, switch positions and in general don't act like mannequins patiently waiting to receive a bullet through the skull. A few types even work together, ducking behind those with energy shields for additional cover. Rarer special types, like mutants that toss vision-smearing gunk, are especially aggressive, sprinting around and generally making life a lot more difficult. And as further evidence id Software knows how to pace a fight, just when you think you've exhausted a particular combat arena's challenge, a giant with a tentacle on its arm will burst onto the scene and send you scrambling for cover.
As the enemies become more fearsome and contribute to a sense of mounting conflict, the environments match pace with increasingly complex and elaborate designs, culminating in some incredible combat zones toward the end of the game. Seemingly every inch of this post-apocalyptic virtual space is touched with unique art and texturing, creating a pervasive sense that this world looks authentic and lived-in. From the grimy, rusted architecture of the town of Wellspring to the dazzling exterior of Subway Town, spiny with jutting rail lines and sewers, to even the most basic bandit hideouts and broken buildings, the exploration spaces in Rage's world feel detailed in the most exhaustive, obsessive way possible.
Though so much of the world wants to kill you, inside the main towns you'll find vendors to buy and sell items, dig up side quests and participate in racing circuits. It's easy to lose track of what they say as you're distracted by the high quality of their movements facial animations, accentuating the care that clearly went into each and every character model. In fact, their appearance and accent constitutes the majority of their personality, since beyond the spectacle of their animations, few characters in Rage are particularly interesting.
The Enemies of Rage
Rage leaves the horror elements of Doom and Quake for an often quirky, goofy tone. You'll encounter a few truly strange characters, like an obese kingpin that runs a murder-for-entertainment show called Mutant Bash TV and a hermit of a scientist holed up in a sleek metallic lair, but they're exceptions in what's otherwise a bland cast. Most characters tend to be more memorable for their accessories – the head tattoo of Subway Town's leader, the glittering glasses of the first NPC you meet, the belly shirt of the girl who teaches you how to use wingsticks – than anything they say or do. The group of NPCs that eventually turn out to be plot-essential allies wind up being the most dull, predictable personalities in the game, and no compelling villain ever really emerges.
Instead you fight pockets of bandits, crazed mutants and the relatively faceless Authority. They're fun to shoot at, but no significant contextual drama is ever established over the course of Rage's roughly 10 to twelve hour run. The story is propelled by a series of short-term goals that gradually reveal bits of the overall tale and it's difficult to get invested in a world populated by characters that, for all the lifelike animations, feel more like court jesters than endearing characters. In its final moments Rage falters significantly, failing to deliver any kind of satisfying conclusion or encounter. You fight a lot of things in Rage, but it never feels like you're fighting for any reason other than your personal entertainment.
Rage's driving sections accentuate its goofy personality, and further diminish the meager amount of tension built up through story setup and combat encounters. In vehicles you shoot rockets and flip around in armored cars like in a kart racer. The controls and mechanics are surprisingly good, with responsive handling that makes looping around tracks and arena battle modes quite a bit of fun. Against the computer the matches can be dull, but online against others it's easy to have a good time pelting enemy players with machine guns in a number of modes.
Mutant Bash TV
There's quite a bit to unlock in online play too, including mortars, cluster bombs, and pulse cannons to outfit on your vehicle. The available modes offer a good mix of gameplay styles involving capture points. All kinds of arcade-like silliness are included here like quad-damage pickups, speed boosters and ramps, lending a manic style to the action reminiscent of older arena shooters like Quake III. For a developer with a track record like id Software to only include the car combat modes as an option for online competitive play is a little odd, though it can still serve as a nice bonus once you're done with the single-player content.
Co-operative play is also possible in standalone missions separated from the main story mode. With another player you can mow down enemies in pursuit of a high score. You get bonuses for headshots and skilled play, and a multiplier climbs so long as you continue to get kills and avoid dying while point totals pop up all over the screen like you were playing a slot machine, increasing the sense of reward. Playing through these challenges can be a fun diversion, but don't expect it to turn into any kind of lasting obsession.
If you really want to squeeze everything you can out of Rage, there are a number of side quests and mini-games to take part in. Throughout your adventure you'll find cards to use in a Magic-esque battle game, you can gamble in a knife game that Bishop from Aliens would easily win, or take on a few driving delivery quests. Many of the game's side quests obtained from NPCs or job boards in town are fairly basic, several simply repopulating the combat zones you already cleared on the main quest with enemies. Though useful for their rewards, the side quests aren't especially exciting. Rage's economy at least works well, and if you choose to clear all the side quests or have a good gambling run, there's quite a bit to spend money on as you purchase basic armor upgrades, new schematics and materials to craft new items. It's not an especially complicated system, but Rage's non-essential content gives you an ample amount of things to do if you want a break from the main progression.