by Andrew Yoon, shacknews.com, Aug 2, 2011 7:00AM PDT
Unlike most high-profile games, Rage has not been shrouded in mystery. Its developer, id software, has been candid about its premise and its gameplay. Perhaps that's why getting access to the first two hours of the single player campaign felt entirely unsurprising.
It could also be the game's uncanny resemblance to Borderlands.
Sure, both games share a similarly futuristic desert-themed dystopian setting. But after completing my umpteenth fetch quest, and leveling up my weapons, it was the gameplay that begged the most comparison.
There are worse things to be compared to. Borderlands was a success, critically and commercially. The progression and the feel of the open-world may be similar to that of Gearbox's, but that doesn't make it any less awe-inspiring. The dramatic CG cinematic sequence at the beginning is just one example how far the developer has come since the days of Doom and Quake. This is a bigger, far more mature and nuanced game, than anything id has ever produced. And the developer knows. "We're trying to go deeper on the story; we're trying to go deeper with the weapons; we have different ammo types--we've never done that before," id's Jason Kim told us earlier.
The ability to switch weapons and ammo types on the fly makes for a significant addition to the usual run-and-gun gameplay. The weapons feel very fun to use, especially as you start unlocking heavier ammo and more powerful weapons. While the game eschews the traditional RPG leveling-up system, you'll definitely feel more capable as you progress through the game, earning not only better weapons, but better armor and gear as well.
If there's one word I'd use to describe the combat in the game, it's "organic." Yes, Rage is guilty of having scripted sequences, and linear level design at times. However, it really shines when it gives you an open space to fight against the AI. Thanks to the variety of tactics employed by the computer, and some very impressive character animation, enemies really do seem "alive." It's a totally different experience from the nameless, voiceless enemies you face in so many FPSs. You will have characters that flat-out run away from you, and you have others that will drag their bullet-ridden bodies into a corner, as they fire away at you, Last Stand-style.
Given the developer's pedigree, I expected nothing less from the gunplay of Rage. However, I was surprised by how much I responded to other aspects of the game. The animation is truly spectacular, done in a slightly exaggerated, cartoony way that makes all the NPCs seem that much more expressive. I actually found myself getting attached to a few of the characters, something I didn't expect from a shooter. It's too bad there was no way for me to further develop that relationship--your character suffers from the antiquated "silent protagonist" syndrome. Given how "realistic" the world is meant to be, it's entirely unbelievable that you'd speak no dialog. It's uncanny, really.
For the two hours we were allocated to spend with the game, we were given the freedom to do whatever we wanted. Sated with what the gunplay offered (and besides, you've read our coverage before, right?), I decided to spend most of my time, honing my vehicular combat skills.
id has placed a lot of emphasis on the vehicular combat, and unfortunately, I'm not entirely sold yet. To the developer's credit, the mode is incredibly accessible. Even without a proper tutorial, it's easy to figure out the controls: how to lock on to enemies, use power-ups, and fire weapons. Unlike my time with the FPS portion of the gameplay, the vehicular combat felt decidedly less exhilarating.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, there's simply no sense of speed. As your vehicle careens through the desert, you never get a sense that you're really going as fast as you are. You'll hold down the boost as long as you can, just to get to your destination faster. Secondly, the cars handle a bit too precisely. Unlike in racing games, the vehicles don't have a certain heft to them. But perhaps most discouraging of all is that the competitions are not unlike those found in Mario Kart. The weapons and power-ups are so powerful that it behooves you to trail behind the pack for most of the race. The final lap is when you should unleash hell on the other racers. It's what I like to call the "Lightning Bolt strategy."
I played the Xbox 360 version of the game, and I wish id had offered the PC version for demo. While Rage is by no means a bad-looking game, I found myself disappointed in the lackluster texture work on the 360. I remember when I first came out of the Ark and looked into the expanse in front of me ... waiting for a better texture to replace the low-res blur that marred the vista. It never happened.
Rage will be available on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on October 4th. Fans will also get a chance to play it later this week, at QuakeCon.