Review by ghostrider9876

""War. War never changes.""

Sometime in the near future, a global catastrophe has killed off a vast majority of humanity and destroyed civilization as we know it. In anticipation of this, many secure underground bunkers were built and people were sealed inside, so that after the disaster had passed they could return to the surface and rebuild. You play as one such survivor, who emerges into a barren Wasteland populated by scattered pockets of humanity inhabiting the ruins, where daily life is a struggle against marauding bandits and homicidal mutants.

In this first-person shooter, your unvoiced character accepts quests from NPCs, typically involving going to a location and killing everything there. You initially don't know much about what's going on, but you'll soon discover that a wannabe-government is trying to bring everyone under its control using the pretense of keeping them safe from the dangerous Wasteland, but in reality because they want power. You'll also join up with an organization that has opposing goals and is in constant conflict with them. Along the way you'll pick up an assortment of guns and ammo, take on sidequests, hunt for collectibles, craft items from scrap parts you can find or buy...

...Wait, hold on, I'm not reviewing FALLOUT 3, this is RAGE. On the other hand, all of the above still applies, as RAGE has obviously been copying homework from FALLOUT 3 (and BORDERLANDS to a lesser extent).

GAMEPLAY

As I said, RAGE is a first-person shooter, developed by id (famous for the classic DOOM series, of course). The shooting is competently executed, and there's a lot of variety in the types of ammo you can use or make, beginning with humble pistol rounds and buckshot and escalating all the way up to multi-bullets, exploding shotgun shells, EMP bullets, and mind-control crossbow bolts, which can be very helpful at times and are always amusing. I was also rather fond of the fact that RAGE doesn't just follow the trends of current FPS games; you're not limited to carrying two weapons, there's no cover mechanic (at least not for you, the enemies will still hide behind corners and boxes), and while you do have regenerating health, it's less effective than you think, so you may actually need to carry around some medkits. Then again, even if you die, you get one or two chances to revive yourself and stun/kill nearby enemies via...*sigh*...a Quick-Time Event.

That said, the weapon selection is disappointingly limited for an FPS. You get your bog-standard pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle, machine gun, assault rifle, and rocket launcher, AKA the same weapon layout seen in every FPS since...well, DOOM. The only somewhat more unique weapon is the crossbow, which can theoretically be used for stealth kills and can fire shocking electro-bolts, as well as the aforementioned mind-control bolts. You do get a special, extra-powerful gun later on (it shoots BFG ammo, I see what you did there id), but it's so near the end of the game that you'll really only use it for the last level. You also get basic grenades and EMP grenades, although the exploding RC cars can be fun, provided the enemies don't immediately spot and destroy them before you get them in position--sadly, that's usually what will happen.

Another problem is that the guns don't feel like they have much punch. You can blast someone in the torso with a shotgun and they might stagger just a bit, but they'll recover faster than they do from a melee attack. Frequently, some of the guns won't cause any staggering at all. It makes it feel like your bullets have no impact. Also, locational damage wouldn't have been a waste. There were games in the LAST generation of consoles that had enemies react differently to being shot in the arm, leg, head, etc. And FALLOUT 3, which RAGE is so eager to copy from, had locational damage.

As I said, the crossbow can be used for stealth IN THEORY. I say this because RAGE doesn't really do stealth. You can crouch to sneak around and be a bit quieter, and you CAN headshot enemies with the crossbow and probably not trigger an alert, but the moment you make the slightest mistake, every enemy in 100 yards is on to you. And even if you DO get a headshot with the bow, it still may not help you if the enemy was wearing a helmet (as many of them do, especially as you advance further). It's fine, really, because this wasn't designed to be a stealth game, but it seems odd that they put a "stealthy" weapon into a "noisy" combat engine.

Another thing that is slightly jarring is the linearity of the game. It's obvious that id wanted RAGE to have the look and feel of an open-world game, but apparently they didn't know how to design one. What you end up with is a world that seems like it should be expansive, but really is a series of corridors with little in the way of exploration or freedom. This is readily noticeable in the various enemy hideouts you have to visit, which go hallway-big room-hallway-big room-hallway-big room ad nauseam and include invisible walls (!) to keep you from straying, but it's also apparent when you're driving around in the outside world, which is mainly composed of a series of canyons connecting larger, more expansive plains-type areas that tragically don't really have anything in them.

Which brings me to the driving. Like the shooting, it's handled competently with no real problems, but like the shooting, it fails to excite. Most of the time you're driving from Point A to Point B, shooting at bandit vehicles if you feel like it. Which you probably won't, as RAGE makes the questionable decision to limit the ammo on your vehicle's basic machine gun, then have it burn through it rapidly, then have little or nothing in the way of in-game pickups to refill ammo (you have to buy it from stores).

There are also races you can compete in. Most are optional so you can put better armor/tires/etc. on your car. However, a few are mandatory, as you're inexplicably required to get certain vehicle upgrades to advance the main missions. I don't really understand why, as the car combat isn't nearly as difficult as RAGE seems to think it is, but I digress.

Speaking of diminished difficulty, let's talk about the enemy AI. They will sometimes run away, change cover positions, or call for help, which I initially found impressive. Then I discovered that you can shoot an enemy's helmet off their head and they'll just keep sitting in cover, waiting for you to line up your next shot and forcibly remove their brain. Or, they'll fall back on the time-honored tactic of running around a corner that they KNOW you're hiding behind, or charging straight at your shotgun while brandishing a melee weapon. So, not so good after all.

Finally, this problem is minor, and easily remedied, but I feel it deserves a mention. The game has autosave, but it doesn't use it nearly as often as most gamers have come to expect. I don't really know why id bothered to put it in if you can go an hour or more without triggering one. It can also be a real nuisance to get mobbed unexpectedly, or run into one of the few big-gun guys that can fill you full of more holes than the plot of LOST, and only then realize your last save is back at the start of the area. So, one should manually save often. Saving seems to take a lot longer than is normal for current-gen games, but, what can you do?

CONTROLS

Controls, for the most part, are responsive and sensibly mapped. L stick moves, R stick aims, L1 to zoom, L2 to throw grenade, etc. I do, however, have a few complaints.

(1) If there is an option to customize the control layout, I couldn't find it. On a related note, "Melee Attack" is R3, and "Crouch" is Circle. I wouldn't mind, except that melee is very useful against the mutants, who like to run up in your face and melee you in groups, and it's awkward to have to keep clicking R3 when it could've been mapped to Circle, and crouch could have been L3 (as it is in many games).

(2) The game has a Quick Select for your weapons, which is good. However, somebody should tell id that the analog sticks go in EIGHT directions, not four, so we could have had eight weapons mapped to QS. Which would be less annoying if you could equip your non-QS weapons from gameplay instead of having to go to the menu. Also, Quick Select IS SUPPOSED TO PAUSE THE GAME. The reason for this being that QS usually uses the same analog stick(s) you use to move or aim, so when you have it open you're helpless. I died several times because I was trying to decide which weapon or ammo to switch to (or because the game had automatically put my newest weapon on QS without telling me) and an enemy killed me while I couldn't react to it. Somebody please show id the RATCHET & CLANK series, so they'll understand the *right* way to do Quick Select in the future.

(3) Another minor nitpick, but it bugs me. START will pause the game, but it won't unpause it. It's just weird, this is one of the only games I've ever played that you can't unpause by pressing pause again. Like I said, minor, but it stuck out.

STORY

HA! HA HA! ...Oh, you're serious? If you want to know the story, just read my introduction again. I didn't spoil anything, because there's nothing TO spoil. I think PLANTS VS ZOMBIES can rival this game for story complexity. For most of the game, you don't even have some big goal/main quest you're working toward, like you do in other games with better stories. I'll use another game that RAGE seems to have borrowed from: Half-Life 2. The very first level in HL2 makes it very clear that the Combine, and their Overwatch police force, is oppressing City 17 and grinding humanity under their boot heels. Everything you do in the game is related to disrupting the Combine's plans, freeing City 17 and sending the aliens back to Dimension X or wherever the hell they come from.

By contrast, in RAGE, you spend over half the campaign playing errand boy for several NPCs. As an example, an early quest requires you to help Dan, who rescued you from your Ark, by getting supplies for his settlement. To do this, you need to: Clear bandits from a gate, carry Dan's shopping list to the town of Wellspring, go to a store to get a new outfit, rent a garage for your vehicle, find out where to get guns for your vehicle, participate in a race, go to the auto parts store after winning, then finally return to Dan. It might be less annoying if you didn't have to trudge back to an NPC to get the next step in the quest at every single place you see a comma in that sentence. And why does the game give you the Accept/Refuse prompt? You MUST do the quests to complete the campaign, and you're typically not locked into a quest after accepting it, so what's the point?

Eventually, after finishing several to-do lists, you get to help the Resistance in their fight against the Authority. (Who did id get to do their naming? Captain Obvious?) The problem here is, unlike with HL2's Overwatch, you never really get a sense that the Authority is some sinister totalitarian regime, other than members of the Resistance telling you so. Apparently, because they wear black armor and act like cold, unfriendly jerks, they're EVIL. The Resistance (which, not counting you, seems to consist of four people total) *tells* you about the bad things they've done, but you don't get to see it for yourself. They only end up occupying one town, and their "oppression" is exhibited by them standing stiffly, guns in hand, telling you to move along or back away.

Another problem with the story is that it raises what COULD be interesting questions, then doesn't answer them. Why, at the start of the game, is everyone in your Ark long-dead and decomposing with the mysterious exception of yourself? Why can't your character remember anything ("The writers were lazy" is an unacceptable answer, even if it's true)? Who was your character, and why was he chosen for the Ark? What is the Authority really up to with their experiments? I beat the game, and I'd love to know answers to any of those questions. Of course, on the other hand, it's hard to care, because your character is mute, and almost an AFGNCAAP (look it up), missing out only because it's possible to get a brief look and determine you're playing as a white male. And now you know as much about him as I do.

The last nail in the story's coffin, though, would have to be the finale. (Don't worry, what very, very few spoilers there could be won't be given here.) You're told to assault an Authority fortress--by the way, this is only your third confrontation with them--and get into their computer system. You're also warned to expect enemies you've never seen before. Now, for a shooter that's had bosses already, you'd expect some form of final boss, probably one more difficult than any you've previously encountered. Instead, you get yet another linear sequence of hallways and rooms packed with the same Authority soldiers you've already fought, plus slightly different versions of the mutants and the big-gun guys. No final boss, just multiple waves of enemies followed by interacting with some computer terminals. As previously mentioned, they also give you the BFG just before this level, which makes it considerably easier than you'd expect the endgame to be. Your reward for this is a short, inconclusive ending cinematic that's obviously meant to set up for a sequel. There ought to be a law against that, or at least a contractual obligation to make the sequel, or release canonical material that ties up the loose ends if the game doesn't sell well enough to warrant one.

GRAPHICS

I...honestly don't know what to say, here, but I'll give it a try. The various areas and NPCs show a high level of detail, and it's obvious some thought went into the visual design. The guns might be limited in variety but at least they look good. The enemies, too, don't have a lot of variety, but they also exhibit a lot of detail. The game runs at a smooth framerate with nary a hiccup. Also, aside from dead enemies bizarrely clipping through one another, there were almost no glitches. So the graphics are pretty good...when they're working right.

And that's the problem. There's occasional screen tear, although it's rare and doesn't bother me much. The real issue is the texture loading. At almost any time in RAGE, if you look quickly to the side, you'll outpace the engine and find yourself looking at a blurry, low-res texture for a moment before the game catches up and loads the higher-res version. There were several times I could see a sign on my screen, but couldn't make it out because the lettering hadn't loaded yet and was just vaguely letter-shaped blobs. Rocks, pipes, catwalks, walls, etc. are all just fuzzy shapes for an instant when you turn to face them. I should mention that this happens despite RAGE installing over 5 gigs (!) of data to my system.

The game also suffers from Real Is Brown Syndrome, so I hope you like the colors gray and brown, as you'll see a lot of them. Although, I should give it some credit here; Subway Town is lit in electric blue and shades of neon, and there is one late-game area of the Wasteland that's more of a bluish palette. Furthermore, while id obviously got their design document from FALLOUT 3, their artists were playing too much BORDERLANDS. The aesthetics and overall look of the world call to mind the planet Pandora.

Oh, and if you want a laugh, have a look at the skybox early in the game. I've never seen stiller clouds in my life. It looks like there's a dome over the world that's been painted to look like a daytime sky.

SOUND

Well, what do you know, something I have zero complaints about. They actually got John Goodman to voice the first NPC you encounter, which I thought was pretty cool. (For bonus points, they named him Dan.) The voice acting ranges from acceptable to good, never sinking to the level of, say, METROID: OTHER M. *shudder* The weapons make appropriate sounds, and thankfully don't get annoying after you've fired them 400 times. Enemy chatter does repeat some, though to be fair that's nearly unavoidable, and at least there's enough variety to keep it from being the same two phrases over and over. They even react to specific situations sometimes, such as what weapons you're using.

There's not much to say as far as music. I don't think there actually was any; if there was, it was so utterly forgettable that despite playing all the way through the campaign I can't remember a note of it.

On a side note, thank you, id, for making every single line of dialogue (other than enemy chatter) able to be subtitled. I'm often a late-night gamer and can't have the TV up loud enough to hear everything, so it's nice that the subtitles are accurate and thorough. They are kind of small, though (think DEAD RISING) so if you don't have a high-def TV they might not be very useful.

REPLAY VALUE

Well, the game is very short. I beat it in 10 hours even with dying and not having saved a few times, plus doing some sidequests and racing. That said, there are several sidequests, although they mostly echo story quests, which is to say Go to Location X > Kill any Enemy Y that stand in your way > Grab/Destroy Objective Z and come back. Typically your only reward for these is cash, so there's not much to be gained by doing them, but at least they exist. There are also several races to play in, as well as a few minigames and some collectibles to track down.

Multiplayer is available, which I'm sure will extend the game's life for some players. However, I didn't get a chance to try it out, nor did my time with the main game give me any incentive to, so I can't give it an honest review. Still, if you like single-player RAGE you'll probably like multiplayer RAGE, for what it's worth.

OVERALL

RAGE is a competent, functional shooter with passable design, few glitches, and good graphics 50% of the time. If all you're after is a game where you can fire a gun at things until they stop moving, it works. However, to borrow a phrase from Yahtzee, it's about as bland as wallpaper paste washed down with a lukewarm glass of water. It's the very pinnacle of mediocrity: it's not flawed enough to be a bad game, but it isn't fun enough to be a good one, and the almost-nonexistent story and inconclusive ending provide no real motivation to finish. It doesn't help that you may have already played this when it had Dogmeat and VATS, or when it took place on Pandora. Under no circumstances can I recommend this as a full-price purchase. Rent it, or wait for the bargain bin.

SCORE 5/10


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 10/17/11

Game Release: Rage (US, 10/04/11)


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