Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein; these names resonate and have a certain air about them, and for good reason. id Sofware has become known as the fathers of the FPS genre, somehow reinventing it for each generation and pushing technology to the limit. Their latest creation, known simply as RAGE, brings all their collective years of crafting the art of gunplay and combines it with an open-world map and car combat for one of the most visceral and straight-forward shooters released in ages. RAGE is about gunplay first and everything else second, which is what id have become the masters of. It feels like putting on a familiar glove; it feels oh, so good.
The story is pretty cut and dry, but it works. You start the game sealed in what is known as an ARK right before a giant meteor hits the Earth and pretty much destroys all life. You awaken years later to a wasteland filled with mutants and bandits that run the barren world. There are pockets of civilization, cities of survivors and The Authority who are, of course, bad news. The plot unfolds at a steady pace and is fairly predictable, but it still keeps things moving along. It certainly won’t win any narrative awards.
At its heart, RAGE is an open-world game very much akin to Borderlands. The big difference here is the complete lack of any RPG style leveling up. Instead, the entire system is based on armor, buying new upgrades and, of course, the engineering aspect. You will loot numerous parts around the world, and with those construct a plethora of items to use on the battlefield. From lock grinders to remote-controlled cars that carry explosives, this game has a wonderful bounty of toys to play with. My favorite toy, though, and one I want in every game going forward, is the Wingstick. This boomerang-type device can decapitate foes with a single toss, and it never gets old. I spent so much money buying these in-between missions until I found the recipe to make my own.
Of course, the real stars of the show in any id game are the guns. Something about the way they manage to make each firearm feel has defined shooters since the inception of the genre. All of the staples are here including two shotguns (if you got the Anarchy version), a couple of automatics, the trusty pistol, sniper, rocket launcher and the newly added crossbow. All of them feel great as soon as you get them in your hands. Once I got the hang of it, RAGE was actually one of the first FPS games I have played where I shot from the hip most of the game. Aiming down the sights just felt too slow for anything outside of the sniper rifle. Still, every gun feels like butter and every encounter an experience in and of itself.
It is the little touches in RAGE that make it stand above the pack. Like I said, the encounters are tense, and as the game progresses enemies become much more clever and harder to kill. The weapons all feel powerful and the devil is in the details. Watching each enemy fall to the ground with a different kill animation or unloading a shotgun blast point blank to an armored enemy produces the exact result it should. This is why I love id, their attention to detail and minute touches go a long way in creating a believable atmosphere.
The game is set up in an open-world style with two areas to explore in the Wasteland. Each area is littered with hidden goodies and jobs to take on. There are well over 100 jobs total in the game, but for those wanting just the meat of the story, you can finish it in less than half that. What I loved was that all the jobs felt meaningful, even if they consisted of the same ideas from time to time.
Shooting is the core, but there is also a pretty solid car combat aspect and some racing. Each area has a speedway where you can compete in standard and combat races to earn tickets to upgrade your vehicles or win new ones. You use these to travel the wasteland, so keeping a decent killing machine is a necessity. There are only a handful of missions that require you to race, but if you want to dig in, there is plenty here to keep you occupied for quite a while. The racing feels good and the auto-lock combat system works great. This is one aspect that could have easily felt tacked on, but it ends up working quite well.
There is definitely plenty to see and do in RAGE, but this is also one of the issues I had with the game at times. Some of the missions feel a bit recycled, and I wasn’t always overly excited to take them on. The campaign missions are also a bit stale in nature, but the enemies and locales really make up for that. I loved infiltrating their unique camps and having to learn how to deal with each type of enemy. It really showcases how much care was taken in tuning the guns and gameplay. I also didn’t mind the lack of character progression. It has become almost a cliché in games today that we must have some sort of RPG element, and I honestly was alright with just ignoring it and focusing on the action.
There are two sides to the multiplayer aspect of RAGE, and both offer up a solid experience. You have the racing/combat with the vehicles, which is a blast. The controls are smooth and make these races a lot of fun when playing with others. There are upgrades to earn, and while it is not as deep as some other online titles, it still remains a lot of fun. The other half is co-op, which allows you to team up with a buddy for missions outside of the main quest. Here, scores are tallied by skill kills, such as headshots and it plays out almost like an arcade mode found in other shooters. This was definitely the highlight and a ton of fun. I hope they add more missions down the line because this is definitely a fun distraction.
You obviously cannot discuss RAGE without talking about its amazing visuals. id Software has always been at the front of technology and this new engine is simply breathtaking. On the surface, you might not notice it as much because of the traditional wasteland type of setting, but each environment within the game feels unique, much like a Zelda game, because there are no repeating items or textures. Everything feels special and natural. The game also clocks in at an amazing 60 frames per second, which took me a while to adjust to. It just runs so smoothly. The character animations are outstanding; featuring some fantastic articulation and facial movement, and each locale really feels like its own world. This is some impressive technology and it shows.
Audio wise, I was impressed with almost everything the game threw at me. The voice work is pretty good featuring everyone’s favorite Steven Blum as well as John Goodman as your first contact you perform jobs for. Sure there are a few goofy performances here and there, but they mostly fit the mood of the game. I loved the soundtrack, as it mixed a sort of western feel with the post-apocalyptic tone you would expect. The effects are amazing and sound fantastic through a surround system. Guns fire with such power and the explosions are intense.
RAGE is an excellent game that combines the pedigree of id’s amazing gunplay with an open-world style game that focuses on action as opposed to RPG elements. It was just what I needed to remind me why I love the genre in the first place. The online modes are a nice distraction and the campaign is definitely meaty if you decide to embark on all the quests and mini-games scattered around the world. I had a blast with the game and hope to see this amazing technology in future titles. It is one of the best looking and playing FPS games on the market, and any fan of the genre needs to check it out. Oh, also Wingsticks in every game ever moving forward, that is all.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.