October 8, 2011
Rage starts off by throwing players into a post-apocalyptic world, one where humanity knew the end was coming and prepared itself by tossing some of the more valuable citizens safely underground while the rest were left to fend for themselves on the surface. Those who survived either broke themselves down into small communities, fragments of what the world used to be, or were mutated into crazed killing mutants. Players are quickly introduced to the world and how it operates through a fairly straightforward introduction. The plot is kept light as exploration is encouraged, which brings up the first major point regarding Rage's development.
The world is magnificently designed, and players should find absolutely no confusion in finding what to do or where to go to do it. Sitting somewhere between a sandbox game and a standard RPG the main character is often presented with quests that take him from one hub to another, and in between each hub lies a string of objectives that will generally end by throwing the player into the lair of an opposing force. Exploring the points in between will earn bonus items or unlock secret objectives, so wandering about the world is highly encouraged between missions. Exploring the open world also makes use of the games travel system, which is best described as a customizable dune buggy with weaponry and a sense of style that would make Mad Max proud.
Combat on the road is a fairly straightforward drive-and-shoot affair. It gets a bit more complex should you decide to foot it. Players are tossed a fairly wide variety of weapons right from the get go, and in under the first few hours of gameplay the pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, crossbow and sniper rifle all make an appearance. While other titles maintain a scaling system that would rank each individual weapon Rage somehow manages to balance each gun through the addition of custom ammo. For example, the pistol can either fire normal rounds or heavier slugs in addition to a type of ammo that unleashes multiple rounds simultaneously. This means that players don't just have to worry about the weapons they choose but the ammo they carry on hand. A lack of a cover system combined with regenerating health means that players will always be a little defensive when it comes to shooting, but the more aggressive close range weapons more than pay for their weight in ammo with sheer killing power.
This expansive range of weaponry that maintains being well balance means that players never find themselves dominating one particular situation with a single gun. Sneaking through an area may require a bit more finesse than what the shotgun may offer, or a group of opponents at long range can be more easily dealt with using an explosive car than simply being shot with a sniper rifle. New ammunition types further expand this strategy by offering players different ways to approaching a situation with a single gun so combat in-game never really feels old, particularly with the wide range of enemies that players encounter throughout their journey.
Each opposing faction has their own style of combat, from running along the walls and charging with melee weapons to using futuristic automated weaponry to try and blast players from afar. The personality of each clan and stylized boss fights do a great job at making the player never feel like they're fighting the same AI, particularly when enemies help one another make tactical retreats. Only when traveling around in vehicles does it become hard to tell what kind of bandit you're up against, but at that point it hardly makes a difference. Most of the games challenge lies in being able to adapt to shifting combat conditions that typically lay around Rage's massive set pieces and detailed environments. Boss battles are scripted to an extent, so clearing an area of enemies or reaching a particular point in a dungeon is the key factor in triggering the next sequence, but thankfully players don't have to worry about any quick time events working their way into the combat.
Besides exploring the main world and completing story quests, players also have access to a slew of side-missions, most of which serve to better acquaint players with the backstory of the world. Other missions like car racing allow players to upgrade their vehicle or unlock new weapons/weapon upgrades. Though completely unnecessary these side missions serve as a nice break from the standard missions, not to mention they can be very rewarding. Pacing throughout each 'dungeon' is also handled quite well, but anyone interested in more straightforward killing can always invest in any of the sewer zones scattered throughout the world, or instead take part of Bash TV where players fight in a gauntlet of mutants.
While Rage has an amazing amount of substance in world design and weapon development, there are a few glaring issues that do hold the experience back from being perfect. Graphically Rage does experience some tearing at the time of this review, as well as a few sound bugs when operating a vehicle. Loading can also leave much to be desired, sometimes giving players a perfect and flawless experience of the games graphical output while other times loading textures in segments that first introduce environment features and objects as indistinct blobs of colour. It wouldn't be so bad if the rest of the game wasn't so high in detail, but Rage is such a visually impressive game that any flaw tends to stand out far more than usual. The result is a game that sometimes looks absolutely stunning while other times looking terribly lacklustre, generally amid the more action-packed moments of gameplay. There's no doubt that a problem like this may be patched over time, but it's nonetheless disappointing.
When the game does come together though it's absolutely breathtaking, and though it's possible to criticize the developers for moving along the same brown tones that many other modern shooters have worked into 'realistic' game design, most will be very satisfied with what they find. Rage does a fantastic job pulling together some stunning set pieces that really put personality into a shattered world, setting the stage for one of the more enjoyable post-apocalyptic establishments to date.
Rage also features a bit of multiplayer which, while a bit underdeveloped, is rather nice to hop into if you're looking to kill some time. Combat Rally allows players to go head-to-head in an enclosed arena filled with vehicles that players will drive around in the offline campaign, naturally pitting players against one another while they grab flags to score points. Legends of the Wasteland on the other hand allows for two players to join for co-op missions, which (much like Combat Rally) is more of a time killer than something to challenge the player or to look forward to. All of the real action in Rage, however lies offline in the main campaign.
It's strange to be given a game that has so few mechanical issues, so few of the typical technical bugs or problems that come with many AAA titles, but so laden with graphical problems. At its core Rage is one of the best FPS experiences of the year, most likely of our generation, not because it breaks ground on any one particular subject, but because it encompasses so many various aspects of modern FPS gameplay and executes it on such an amazingly ambitious scale with almost complete success. Though its only major setback is one that can be settled with time, it's also the most unforgivable of issues. Why a game so well crafted as Rage has any graphical errors is baffling, made worse by the fact that the bugs are so inconsistent, but even before that extra coat of polish Rage is still a blast to play and should set a high benchmark for single player FPS experiences for a long time to come.
Rage was reviewed on the PC. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.