Review by Mephistofun
"Hyped Beyond what it delivers? Yes, but it still delivers what counts. Fun. (hearing impaired warning though. Subtitles are TINY)"
It is easy to dismiss Rage as a tech demo. The visuals are stunning, it takes up three times as much space in the box (three discs) as most titles and with ID and Bethesda involved I bet a lot of knowledgable players would start thinking something along the lines of "It's going to have the open world depth of Fallout but with the monster in the closet scares and solid shooting of Doom right?"
The hype surrounding the game ran away with this very same idea. It was going to be an 'open world.' It was going to rewrite the rules on how future games were made.
It is understandable. I.D. were not just talking up a game. They were talking up an engine they need to sell to other developers. And it does have that possibility. the graphics on the 360 are stunning.
I installed my copy of Rage, two DVD's worth for the single player, disc number three is for the 'multiplayer.' The moment your character steps out of his suspected animation tube is impressive, walking outside for the first time, light blinding you for second before the most amazing sky opens up before you is heart stopping. Or would be if youtube hadn't ruined the moment for me. It is cliche moment, one of countless others but in this engine they are stunning. And that really is the point. ID do not make the gaming equivalent of Thrillers like Alan Wake or deep engrossing, virtual lives like Elder Scrolls. This is your Elder Scrolls antidote. This is your Arnold shouting "Benneeeeeee!" in Total Recall versus your 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is not just the equivalent of an action flick, this is the ultimate action flick. The one where you know exactly what is coming (it's a corridor and a fantastically rotten, evil and nasty looking monster mutant thing) and you have exactly the right tolls to deal with said nasty thing but it still makes you jump, then grit your teeth as that plan the blow its' head off with the best shotgun ever made goes horribly awry and then whoop with glee as the second shot spreads its' guts all over you, the threat over, the goo dripping down your face, momentarily blinding you.
Rage looks amazing and, if you let it, you feel amazing too. The atmosphere of the game isn't all graphics, Rage is smarter than that, but I would go so far as to say that even Fallout 3 didn't capture the sense of a living, breathing, post apocalyptic world as realistically as Rage does. The world is small, that;s what disappointed many players but it is absolutely full of little incidental details, little nods to the genre as life goes on around you. Go looking for a gripping yarn, side-quests that allow you to discover your past or go looking to become some sort of roving, wasteland trader and you'll bump against the confines of the 'action film' pattern I.D. has stuck to. It isn't a failing on the games part. You don't wait for Stallone to give you that line that you'll quote in your best-man speech. You wait for the line you'll quote to make your mates laugh at the pub when it is said out of context. This is that game.
The best example of this attention to detail doesn't appear until well into the game. Wellspring town is what JC wishes he could have made for Total Recall. The town itself is a character, you'll want to explore it carefully. It isn't big but the charm detail packed into it is staggering.
The character design is equally detailed. These characters don;t have a back story and perhaps Bethesda's involvement made us expect more than we ought to expect. The NPCs that you interact with in conversation are beautifully designed caricatures. The detail is incredible and though they are almost cartoonish in style, the animation and superb voice acting brings more life to each of these short little interludes than many games have in their entirety. These moments of calm don't extend the plot. Remember this is an action click, they're pointing the player to the next set of targets. Instead they give the player a break, allowing them to release some of the tension.
This is where we come to the difficult part. Is this a genius developer or one that's gotten stuck in the past. Initially one might be fooled into thinking it's the latter. Old demons from the past return to haunt the player. I don't mean like a Hell Knight or anything, I mean niggles like the beautiful vistas through light drenched doorways be conning to the player, drawing them away from the path that they know is the next monster about to leap out. But as they reach for the light and the promise of a nice sniping spot they hit an invisible wall of glass. Looking down the player see's two bricks and and old toaster. "See! It's blacked!" says the game.
There are other games that do a worse job of hiding their boundaries than Rage but Rage positively encourages you to find the things. Why are they there? If your first thought is "because ID are lazy" think again. It isn't a mistake. In Rage the player knows there is a monster coming. There are only a few types and you have some great tools for dealing with them.
I mentioned the best shotgun in the world. Well it can be modified into the best grenade launching shotgun in the world. Or the best electrocuting shotgun in the world. You have silent weapons, boomerangs that decapitate, dynamite firing crossbows, assault rifles, rocket launchers, little robot spiders with guns, remote control car bombs and more.
But here's the trick few other developers get right. The player jumps every time. That build up of tension is like no other game. The pay off when it goes wrong and you survive by the thinnest of margins is unmatched. On hard mode the AI isn't too bad when the shooting gallery opens up either. Enemies will run for cover, regroup, come looking for you if you decide to hide and let your health recharge. They don't do it often but they do it enough to make you worry when you get your head down.
The player is given a reprieve in most instances. A build in defib' unit that shocks you back to life. The mini-game is easy but the chance of failure again, adds to that tension.
The entire game is built upon building tension than giving the player either a huge dose of relief in the "I made it" moments or a great cheer of victory for when it goes better.
The game had to be tighter to do that. Beyond the presentation it is a small playing field, broken up into a few 'dungeons' and interiors. You revisit places and, if you are expecting to explore like you do in an RPG or adventure game you will find it frustrating. But each revisit is slightly different. Sometimes the level is very different the second time. A giant boss you tackle early in the game is still part of the landscape (he is that big) in subsequent visits.
And that's perhaps the only real mis-step. Some of the bosses are bullet sponges. Shoot them in the head or shoot them in the nuts. Just shoot them X number of times and they go down. But I would argue that the monster isn't the focus. It isn't the payoff. It's the bit in the middle. The 'big monster' scare is usually preceded by a monster jumping out of a cupboard first and accompanied by a couple of monsters jumping out of cupboards you didn't see. It's that build up to make the player lean further and further forward. To fear their own demise so powerful that they start shooting wildly, missing shots that would never normally go wide. The 'big monster' becomes just one of many targets when it all goes to plan. One that 'has' to be big because you have to hit him between shooting the real threat, the little guys ripping your eyes out.
It's a sort of "one for you and two for you," bullet staring that only ID ever seemed to get right. Shooting the guy you want to hit between shooting the heads of the little guys when their face chewing blocks your view of the target. That desperate strafing around a pillar hoping against hope that you don't get overwhelmed before the fat guy goes down and you can mop up. At the peak you are convinced you can't cope and then it ll ends. You win and instead of knowing your pad to pieces you feel elated.
The downside is that when the balance goes the other way, when you do get overwhelmed it's normally a pad throwing moment of anger as you blame the game for being so unfair. ID have cleverly built in the defib for that second, maybe third chance. Once you get into the mindset of the game, when you 'get' the rules you always see a way out.
That's the genius bit. That's that's the bit other game devs ought to take note of.
Some 'big' monsters can be frustrating at times. Spitting in your eyes seems unfair but the game does tell you that if you have the right tools, a fight will go the other way. And they're right. You won't die often but you will be angry when you do. Take I.D.s advice and change the approach and it all works. Skin of your teeth kind of working but that's the exciting bit.
What the game does brilliantly is the setting up of each bowel spasm inducing jump. That constant "I know something nasty is going to jump out! I'll just change my weapon for the umpteenth time because that sounded like something else was coming, bringing me to:
I struggled with this one. I'm hearing impaired so I rely A LOT on subtitles. Sadly ID have done what so many develops do. They assume deaf people (and people who are playing this with the sound turned down I guess) are 6 inches away from the screen. On a PC monitor the titles are too small anyway, but on a TV they are illegible. The box states the game is subtitled. If you can't read it take it back. It isn't your screen, the resolution for the text is too small. Even if you have the biggest TV in the world it is so jagged it is barely legible.
Sound plays a massive part in setting up each scare. Remember the entire game is based on making you jump so hearing the monsters coming is key. With hearing aids in it was the scariest game I've ever played. If you are deaf it is still scary but you get far less build up. It even starts to feel unfair as you get no warning at all before you get jumped on. You'll cope if your twitch response is good but it becomes a shooting gallery.
The voice acting is excellent, the casting is spot on and the guns sound as epic and nasty as they look. Music is ambient and so much part of the environment most would miss it. (I had a different excuse obviously). It lends to that constant, underlying creepiness that underpins the gameplay. I was most impressed with the town though. It sounded like a bustling, living town.
Rage is a game all about atmosphere and ID are masters of it. It isn't Doom. It isn't "all" corridors but it does use those same tricks to great effect. There is a driving game in there that's worth a play but it's hardly essential and you aren't forced to play it more than once or twice. I actually enjoyed it but only in small doses. The handling felt a little too imprecise at times, unpredictable at worst with inconsistent understeer and no oversteer. On gravel? Weird. The events were a bit odd too. Straight racing worked best for me.
If the idea of another Doom game doesn't grab you think of this. Rage may only be a small gaming environment but it is the most visually impressive, the most detailed, the most beautifully derelict gaming worlds I have ever visited.
Would I pay £50 for it? Or £40? Probably not, but the price of the game dropped like a stone in the first few weeks in the UK and for me it IS one of the gaming moments of the year in a year so full of great games it's hard to choose. In any other year this would be game f the year. In 2011 is isn't even in the top 5 and that isn't because Rage isn't good. It is because there are five other fantastic titles out there. So I DID buy Rage new. I liked it so much I almost paid for it twice after I lost the second disc and I spend two days looking for it.
Rage is very good. If you like shooters. If you liked playing peekaboo when you were a baby. If you liked Doom, Quake or just love sic-fi action and shotguns that blow off mutants heads AND electrocute them then this is your game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/04/12
Game Release: Rage (EU, 10/07/11)
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