Platforms: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed), OS X
Rage starts out like so many other games from recent memory. Some catastrophic event has turned the world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland and somehow you’ve been chosen as the hero who’s going to save humanity. Before this event you and a small group have volunteered to be preserved in a contraption called an Ark (basically a vault) in order to help ensure that the human race will live on. Fast forward 106 years and you are finally released from your pod to find that you are the only survivor of your Ark. Once you get your bearings back you escape and are promptly attacked by some hideous mutant. Just when things are looking pretty grim you are saved by none other than John Goodman, well his name is actually Dan Hagar. You hop in Hagar’s buggy and he gets you up to speed with what’s going on in the wasteland. What follows is a series of fetch quests, repetitive corridor shooter sequences and quite possibly one of the worst endings to a game ever.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Rage would be the graphics. They are absolutely gorgeous and just might be the best I’ve seen on a console this generation. Environments are detailed (even though they mostly fall into the brown and grey trap that so many post-apocalyptic games do) and each character you meet along the way has their own unique qualities. As beautiful as the graphics may be they aren’t without their issues. During my time with Rage I noticed texture pop-in quite frequently (even with the game installed). This happens when you load into a new area and sometimes just by making a quick turn. While it’s nothing that hinders your experience, it is quite noticeable at times. In order to keep the graphics looking their best the game needs to be installed to the hard drive (you’re actually prompted to do so). If you don’t have the space (22 total gigs across 3 discs on the 360, but each disc can be installed separately and 8 gigs on the PS3) then you’re in for a rough experience. I started off without the game installed and there was a considerable amount of screen tearing and constant frame rate drops. So if there’s no way for you to install that could very well be a deal breaker.
While the graphics are great, the sound of Rage is a bit of a mixed bag. I found the music was okay, but completely forgettable. The score was also a bit over dramatic for my taste. During most battles over-the-top music would be blaring in the background while nothing was actually going on. It did add a slight sense of urgency, but most of the time it was just a little much. Sound effects were also lacking. I noticed that every enemy that could speak had the same voice and said the same five or six phrases over and over. Weapons, explosions and other ambient noises were all fine, but didn’t stand out as particularly special. All of the voice acting in Rage was rather good. There are a few instances where the actor just seemed to phone it in, but all in all every character ended up having their own personality and charm. Sadly, as good as some of the voice work was, most of the time I honestly couldn’t have cared less what the characters were actually talking about. This is due in large part to Rage’s terribly lazy narrative.
The story of Rage is uninspired at best and completely awful at its lowest points. It is your cliché tale of some authoritative group trying to hold down the population and control all aspects of life. This time that group is known as “The Authority” (very clever indeed) and they are looking to find any Ark survivors and take control of the wasteland. Everything about the story is bland and lifeless and only exists to push you to the next bland and lifeless area of the game. There have been plenty offenders of this type of writing, but Rage has set a new low.
What’s worse than the overall narrative is how abruptly the game ends. While the story isn’t strong at any point in the game it really takes a nose dive in the second half and then completely goes down the toilet in the final sequence of events. The final mission of Rage is quite possibly the laziest and most unsatisfying end to a game I’ve ever seen from both story and gameplay aspects. The game resorts to making you play some sick game of “Whack-a-Mole” which is neither fun nor creative. Then all of a sudden I was seeing the final cutscene (which was all of about three minutes long) then the credits ran and I was left scratching my head.
When you throw the horrible story out of the way and really get to the core of Rage you’ll find a very competent first-person shooter. It doesn’t break the mold when it comes to the genre, but it definitely does right by it when it comes to gameplay and this really shouldn’t be a surprise since the game was created by FPS pioneers id Software (creators of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake). You’ll be given your standard set of weapons (assault rifles, shotguns, sniper rifles, etc.), as well as some more unique items to use in combat. These items include sentry bots (which look like robotic spiders that will attack your enemies), sentry turrets and (my personal favorite) wing sticks. I would describe the wing sticks as a cross between a throwing star and a boomerang. These are extremely powerful and on normal difficulty will take out most enemies in a single hit. These special items can be engineered using items you find in the wasteland or buy from vendors. You’ll also be able to create a variety of ammo types and other items (such as health restoration) as you progress through the game.
While the shooting in Rage is well done and can be fun at times, there are numerous issues that hinder it and end up making it feel just as boring as the narrative. First and foremost is the way quests are presented to you. Almost every one of them involves going to a “dungeon” and fighting through a horde of enemies, grabbing what you came for and fighting your way out. This would be fine if I felt like what I was doing actually mattered. That brings me to my next issue; there is absolutely no gratification in completing a quest or killing an enemy. You don’t gain XP, your character doesn’t get more powerful over time, and your weapons don’t improve much over the course of the game. So from beginning to end, it all feels exactly the same and it all feels completely pointless. If I’m going to be grinding through fetch quest after fetch quest I want to feel like I’m earning something worthwhile.
Another issue that makes combat feel repetitive are the enemies (or lack thereof). Throughout Rage you’ll basically encounter the same three enemies over and over: mutants, bandits and the Authority. I have no issue with the mutants because they are the most unpredictable of the three and each battle feels a little different from the last. Sadly you’ll see them the least of the three. The bandits and the Authority are basically the same enemy with different weapons and they will simply take cover and chuck grenades at you until you decide to snipe them or rush them with a shotgun. Having to fight the same fight dozens of times over the course of the game really began to test my patience. Then we get to the boss fights, which are very few and far between. The bosses are as uninspired as the story and all of them are easy to take down. No patterns to learn just shoot them until they’re dead.
My biggest complaint about Rage is that it tries to fool you into thinking you are getting an RPG style game by giving you the ability to talk to the townsfolk, pick up side quests and encouraging you to loot and explore. However all these are completely shallow experiences. You can talk to most people, but very rarely will you pick up a quest from them and most of the dialog you receive is nothing more than small talk. There is absolutely no character development anywhere in Rage, so being able to talk to various characters seems like nothing more than a waste of time. Exploration in Rage is also a complete joke. On various load screens the game encourages you to explore the wasteland, so I found myself checking around every corner and in every dark crevice looking for any sort of loot. However, nine times out of ten there was nothing to be found. When I was lucky enough to find something it was simply a can of beans or an empty beer bottle (which fetch the amazing price of around $4), so eventually I got sick of wasting time and just stopped looking. Almost every piece of loot is blatantly thrown in your face (and shining bright as the sun no less) so that you won’t miss it.
The biggest offender in this RPG mirage is the side quest system. I think I may have found three or four side quests from talking to NPCs found in the game and most of those were less than impressive. Then I saw a small glimmer of hope that there might be something greater to be found in the wasteland when I found the Bounty Board. Little did I know that I would get a big whopping total of six side quests. What’s even worse is that most of these were quests that sent me back to locations I had previously visited in the main storyline to do pretty much the same thing. There is honestly no point in doing side quests in Rage, unless you’re just bored. What little loot and money you’ll find usually won’t even cover what you waste in ammo and equipment, all of which would be better suited to help you get through the main story as quickly as possible.
I’ll admit that Rage does try to throw in a little variety by implementing the use of vehicles. Throughout the campaign you’ll be able to buy and upgrade your own rides to travel the wasteland in. As you travel from location to location you’ll be engaged in vehicular combat and in the beginning this can be fun, but just like the gunplay it eventually grows stale when the same enemies pop up in the same locations every time. Towards the end of the game I found that I’d rather just ignore the enemies altogether and get to my next destination. There are also races that you can enter which will help you upgrade your rides, if you so desire. One other way Rage tries to spice things up is through mini-games. They come in a few varieties and provide ways of making money and breaking some of the monotony of the game, but they are largely forgettable.
Outside of the single player campaign you’ll find a couple of multiplayer options. The first is a co-op mode known as Wasteland Legends where you and a partner run through maps from the single player campaign and try to complete objectives and accumulate the highest score possible. You can do this split screen or with a partner online. As I couldn’t find anyone online to team up with I tried it out split screen and I have to say it was far more enjoyable than the single player. This could simply be because playing with someone, especially in the same room, usually lead to some pretty fun experiences, but it also offered a much greater challenge than the campaign. Not to mention when you killed an enemy you actually got a little gratification by earning points, unlike the single player where every kill felt completely pointless. There are nine separate mission to play through, so if you can find a friend who has the game or who is willing to play some split screen you might find some fun here.
The other multiplayer option comes in the form of a competitive car combat mode know as “Road Rage” (another clever name). Here you and three other people (online only) will compete in one of four types of “races”. These vary from straight-up deathmatch to more objective based modes. This way by far the most fun I had with Rage. I’ve never been a big fan of Twisted Metal style games, but after the lackluster campaign this was a much needed breath of fresh air. Unlike the single player, here you will actually gain XP and level up as you play. This allows you to unlock new weapons, vehicles and power-ups. While this is probably the most satisfying and enjoyable aspect of the game I’m not sure how long this will be a viable option as I found it difficult to get into lobbies during my time playing. However, if I can continue to find games, Road Rage might actually have me putting the Rage disc back in the tray from time to time.
Rage succeeds in being a pretty game to look at and also in creating two fun combat systems. However, both of these positives suffer due to Rage’s shortcomings. No matter how fun something is, when you are forced to do it over and over in exactly the same way, eventually it will grow tiresome. When you couple this with the terrible story and false promises of an RPG style experience, Rage ends up being one of the shallowest gaming experiences I‘ve had in a long time. The only slight saving grace for Rage is that the multiplayer options are both twice as fun as the single player campaign and show off what the solo experience could have been.