It's been just over seven years since id software released their last game, Doom 3, and it's been over a decade now since they've released a new IP. Yep, id have been holding onto what they know best, and those are the games that shaped the company into what they're known for. They are the purest form of First Person Shooting around, which comes as no surprise considering they're the guys who basically invented the genre.
So now that they've finally gone for something new, it's hardly surprising to see such high hopes and feverish hype surround Rage, which not only showcases their latest technology but pushes id into a bold new direction and quite far out of their comfort zone. It's refreshing then to see that the game has turned out pretty well, which was somewhat obvious given our impressions on it last month, but it also shows id's biggest weaknesses (along with some unexpected ones) and that you can't train an old dog new tricks.
The story of Rage is based off post-apocalyptic themes, where an Asteroid has hit the Earth and decimated the human populace leaving nothing but wasteland and scattered colonies to fend for themselves, along with some mutations to boot. Prior to this catastrophic event, humanity had injected super-human like stuff called Nanotrites into select individuals and then buried them deep underground in ships called Arks, which were to wake later in the future to rebuild civilization and keep it from going all haywire on itself. Unfortunately for your protagonist, he was woken a little earlier than expected from his Ark containment pod, and is introduced to the world of Rage, which is full of ruthless bandits, stragglers and a lot of mutants.
From here on in the story is absolutely nonsensical for a good few hours and then ends up in a rather awkward position which can only be described as Sequel Fodder. As you play through the game in the first few hours, you literally have no reason to exist apart from doing fetch quests for random characters who you have no idea are. You're dragged around by people who you're supposed to trust, but there is no justification in that trust apart from the fact that they're not shooting at you like the rest of the crazies in the land. What is the purpose of your existence? What's the point of doing all these missions for people? It's under-developed and seemingly random, which is a shame because the setting could have lead to some interesting scenarios. It does come into its own eventually and it starts to make some reasonable amounts of sense, but then hits an abrupt ending which is immensely disappointing.
Thankfully for the player though, the story sucking does not deter from the actual gameplay, which is a hell of a lot of fun. While you start off with only a Pistol at the beginning, your arsenal quickly grows and expands into a variety of death dealing devices, all of them satisfying to use and creative in their own ways. Taking a cue from Bioshock, most weapons have different types of ammunition which you can make yourself by buying or finding schematics and ingredients or by purchasing or finding it across the Wasteland. From explosive shotgun shells to mind control bolts which make enemies bodies literally explode at your bidding, there is an enormous amount of killing tools available for your use, and its executed and integrated so fluently that it's hard not to have a grin on your face when you watch the fireworks go off. There are also secondary weapons and tools at your disposal as well, where you can create items such as Wingsticks which act as homing boomerangs of impending death that will literally bounce off several enemy heads as it severs all of them, grenades which do the usual explodey thing, and even little sentry spider bots that scuttle around adorably killing everything that isn't you. There's just so much variety and satisfaction in the combat that it's hard to ever get bored of it really.
id have also incorporated racing mechanics into the game as well, which feels like Motorstorm but on a diet. Eventually when you earn your set of wheels to travel to key cities (hubs where you gain most of your missions), you'll be doing plenty of driving which feels a little stiff but is flexible enough to function well. You can also equip your vehicle with weapons such as a gatling gun and rocket launcher, so you'll end up having Destruction Derby style Death Dashes out in the wasteland, blowing cars to bits.
Apart from its primary use there are optional races you can attend, which can help earn money and certificates to purchase more parts for your vehicles. It's a nice addition and the way the game works, it feels a little like a Zelda game in structure in that you receive objectives at the key cities, then enter dungeon-like places or 'instances' to fight hordes of enemies. Then you also add in the assortment of mini-games that you can waste your time on in the main cities such as a Magic inspired card game, and you can see yourself playing this for quite some time. There's a lot to do in Rage and though the story is really not worth looking into, the combat scenarios, mini-games and general gameplay is, as it's super polished and ridiculously fun, with a good 20 odd hours in there to play with and not to mention the two player co-op mode and online combat racing.
And what would an id game be without its visual fidelity? Rage is the first game from id to show off their new engine, and it is quite a stunning one to look at. While up close textures are somewhat muddy and the game lacks many of the high end technical capabilities of engines such as CryEngine 3, the game as a whole is consistently beautiful, largely thanks to the aesthetic working so well with the engine itself. Megatexture technology has allowed for unique texturing to be scattered across the entire game and has allowed the artists to go a little nuts, and it shows, with canyons and cities looking absolutely amazing and full of life. Characters too are painstakingly detailed and well portrayed, with believable personalities and charm. Though we personally feel the real stars behind the game are the animators, as the animation in Rage is some of the best and most fluid in any game, period. Enemies react to bullets and move with incredible smoothness, and characters in towns move about with personality and over the top expression. It's as if Pixar has jumped in and done the animation, as it all moves so astonishingly well. If there's a game out there that shows what very good art and key framed animation combined with flexible technology with 60 frames per second can do for a game, Rage is it.
Audio is also fairly solid particularly in its effects, music and voice acting, with punchy tones for guns, decent voice overs for characters and great music that suits the mood of every situation. Though it's disappointing to note though that surround sound seems to not exist, as everything tends to kind of blast out at you all at once like a megaphone. It's not horrible by any means, but after hearing the heavenly clarity of Battlefield 3's sound engine and other modern games, it's simply not acceptable and doesn't do the game's atmosphere enough justice.
Rage is a game that will polarise audiences. You've got one half which will be bored to death by its terrible story and lack of substance, and another half which will dig the purity of its gameplay and satisfying execution, or in other words, its old school style. Rage is a bold new direction for id in that they've broadened their gameplay horizons into a few things other than FPS while trying a different approach to their single player experience apart from simply corridor shooting. Though they still can't seem to get their stride when it comes to a story, they still do what they know best really well, even if it might get old for some.