RAGE (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
Developer: id Software
Release: October 4, 2011
Price: $59.99 (360, PS3) $49.99 (PC)
id Software has had a hard go of things ever since the Carmack/Romero dream team split and sent each of the prospective luminaries into a streak of tepid, barely memorable releases after their departure. With the company’s consistently dwindling space in the limelight it seemed like RAGE would be a make or break moment for the company. With a brand new engine and a reinvigorated team, it really looked like id was back on track to deliver the triple-A experience the world once expected of them, but unfortunately the company’s refusal to evolve and adapt with changing expectations has forced their under-developed hand with the tepid release of RAGE.
Set in a typical post-apocalyptia, RAGE is the product of designers adopting modern game design tropes without really understanding their point and purpose. With cues from Borderlands and Fallout, the game sets out to create a tarnished world that occasionally shows glimpses of its once-held magnificence but unlike the aforementioned titles the game lacks a definite personality that makes it stand out from the rest in similar settings.
Against the obvious comparables, RAGE definitely falls more along the shooter persuasion but it still tries its best to shoehorn RPG elements in the most obtuse way. With a questing system that tries so hard to feel immersive and natural that the reception feels almost passive, and a weapon upgrade system that rarely feels consequential there’s little in the game that genuinely offers any sense of progression.
That’s fine though, because RAGE is supposed to be more shooter-centric and it’s plenty competent in that regard. A dynamic animation system keeps bad guys dancing around terrain, flipping over obstacles requiring a steady hand and fast reflexes beyond id’s typical corridor-shooter. It’s an impressive addition and one that adds significant depth to the gameplay, but it’s only exciting when it’s in play and the game seems deadest against letting players enjoy the best parts of the RAGE experience.
Vehicles play far too important of a role in the game, but somehow remain inconsequential to the overall design. With stiff and imprecise steering, every dune buggy and all-terrain vehicle feels like a poor man’s version of Halo’s warthog. This would be passable if it were a subset of the overall game, but in their effort to capture the thrill of a Mad Max sprint across the dustbowl desert the game is saturated with meaningless driving across terrain that always feels like a stretch too long.
Visually the game doesn’t hold up to expectations of the studio’s graphical pedigree, which is surprising considering the extensive time and resources put into the game’s all-new idTech 5 engine. The game doesn’t look bad by any means, but expectation plays a large role in enjoying an experience like this and id merely matches competitors like DICE and Crytek, which will disappoint those seeking the game for a graphical bounty.
What kills the game though is its inability to carry a story the player cares about. With no voice to speak of, the player is dropped into a world with plenty of NPCs willing to fill the silence with their constant over-explained quests. Whether you’re fetching scrap parts from mutant-infested strongholds, clearing paths to mutant-infested strongholds, or clearing out nearby mutant-infested strongholds there’s plenty of variety to keep things interesting.
AN OLD DOG WITH NEW TRICKS
It really feels like the level designers were exclusively versed in old-school game design where pathing the player through a variety of monster closets and big rooms full of bad guys. There’s no cleverness to the design and too often it feels like you’re just going through the motions to get to the next uninspired haunted house.
In many ways it feels like RAGE had the potential to do so much more, giving talented vintage developers a chance to play with modernly renovated mechanics. However, it’s quite clear that the talent behind it just didn’t understand what made its stolen mechanics enjoyable leaving a mess mired in mediocrity.
If you’re desperate for another shooter this season – and it’s hard to imagine why considering the plethora of options – RAGE could be an apt distraction, but with its lackluster campaign design crippling it from rising above mediocrity it’s unlikely this will become your mainstay.