Many scientists have said that it will be a giant asteroid that does us (humans) in and in id Software’s new franchise RAGE that is exactly what pushes mankind to the brink of extinction. In RAGE’s not-so-distant future, a massive asteroid strikes Earth in August of 2029. Before the catastrophic event, select humans are sent up into space inside of cryogenic chambers enclosed in ships known as Arks. The hope is that after the dust settles from the inevitable event, the Arks can return to Earth and the passengers re-awakened in order to begin the reconstruction of the human race. The asteroid hits and the Arks make it off of the ground, but not everything else goes exactly as planned.
In the aftermath of the asteroid’s collision with our planet, nearly 80% of all life forms on Earth is destroyed. The few humans that survive the catastrophe band together and form small, independent settlements and towns across the barren landscape. The world has become a barren wastleland filled with bandits and mutants spawned out of the ecological effects of the asteroid’s crash. There is little to no government except for a militant group who has risen to power known as the Authority. As an Ark Survivor, you are awakened from your cryogenic sleep to find the other passengers of your ship dead, rotting away due to malfunction within the cryogenic chambers of the ship. You appear to be all that is left, at least from your Ark.
Within a few seconds of taking control of your character, you are thrust out into the open wasteland and you soon findthat you are anything but alone. Shortly after getting your first glimpse of sunlight in more than a century, you will come face to face with a blood-thirsty mutant, determined to end the life you have only just re-started. Thankfully, the leader of a friendly local settlement named Dan Hagar, happens to be close by and saves your behind with a well placed rifle shot. Dan takes you under his wing and fills you in on the timeline of events since you entered your cry0-slumber and gets you set up with the knowledge and tools that you need to enter back into society. It is going to be a long journey though, and a fun one at that, especially considering that the Authority has a hefty bounty out on any and all Ark survivors that anyone may come across, which means you.
Welcome to the story and world of RAGE. This is it, the game id fans have been waiting on for years; it marks the first new IP from id in well over a decade. The wait will prove to be worth it though as RAGE is everything that I hoped it would be. Fun, frantic, addictive, and it features a level of polish rarely seen in video games. id made the FPS genre what it is today and this game serves as a reminder of that as well as an emphatic statement that they still know how to do an FPS game. While the game is an FPS at its core, it is hard to classify RAGE under any single, specific genre of video game. It has combined elements of a first-person shooter, racing, combat racing, and even RPG elements into a gorgeous package that doesn’t disappoint.
Although RAGE features a variety of RPG-style elements it is anything but and RPG. Shortly after joining up with Dan Hagar and his family, you will begin taking on free-roaming missions that will have you spanning the barren Wasteland. As with most games of this nature, there are both required and optional missions. You can stack a variety of optional missions onto your task list when working on a mission that drives the main storyline, which which is a nice feature. One of the great aspects about the game, and its missions, is how varied the gameplay becomes. RAGE is more than just a straight forward FPS; the deeply interwoven driving aspect of the game creates an entirely different and varied gameplay experience because you will be shifting between the FPS and driving portions of the game frequently.
The missions offer that same variety. Some have you raiding the settlements of hostile factions whole others may put you behind the wheel delivering supplies to distant communes. Just because I label it as a delivery mission doesn’t mean that your guns won’t be “a-blaze”, action is everywhere. As you complete these missions you will earn tools and equipment that will both make your life in the Wasteland easier and allow you to continue in your quest.
RAGE allows you to do these at your will; there are plenty of other things to do within the in-game world than just run down through a list of missions. In addition to the core gameplay, the game also offers numerous side-games within the story to diversify the experience even more. There is an entire race circuit and career available for those who want to invest the time in the racing aspect of the game. After being introduced to the race organizers in the town of Wellsprings, you can then enter into a variety of races and tournaments which will not only challenge your skills behind the wheel but also give you access to special racing currency that will allow you to customize and improve your various vehicles.
You can easily sink hours into the racing world included in the game. The racing gameplay is as tight and polished as the rest of the game and could honestly stand on its own if the game had been created that way. Aside from simple racing, combat elements are often injected into the mix and require you to deck out your various rides with an arsenal of weapons including mini-guns, deployable shields, rocket launchers, and even sentry bots that escort you along your path(s). Just as with the FPS aspects of the game, the controls and gameplay mechanics of the racing areas are “tight” and polished to a high shine.
There is even a collectible card game embedded into the world of RAGE which you can get involved with if you wish. Scattered throughout the world you will find a variety of collectible cards which you can use to construct a deck for competition in this little game. Being a fan of Magic: The Gathering (MTG) in the real world, this easily sucked me in. While the game isn’t anywhere as deep as MTG, is does offer some depth and challenges gamers in its own right. It serves as a fun and interesting distraction from the main game and is something I can thoroughly appreciate.
In addition to the missions, there are a variety of other RPG-esque elements in the game including inventory management and a crafting engine that will help you keep you stocked with the supplies and tools that you need to survive. What is missing however is the existence of any sort of “experience” (XP) mechanic. There is no leveling in RAGE; completing tasks and progressing through the various trials and tribulations merely provides you with the tools necessary to continue your journey. It is a streamlined implementation of the RPG concept and one that meshes nicely with the FPS and racing genres infused in the game.
As I have stated though, RAGE is a first-person shooter at its core, and it is a damn good one too. The game features a wide variety of weapons, all with interchangeable ammunition which offers even more depth and variation. When you combine this with the impeccable control system which allows you to change both weapons and ammo types on the fly with a simple flick of the control stick, it creates one of the best FPS experiences available today. It is really hard to put into words just how “good” RAGE feels as an FPS; almost immediately upon taking control of your character for the first time you will feel the difference between a true triple-A FPS game and the countless knock-offs that flood the genre. The game just feels right; there is a heaviness to the movement and control of the weapons and an interaction with them (reloading, equipping) that looks and feels perfect.
You cannot have a quality FPS game without a solid AI and the AI in RAGE is rather impressive. Enemies are out for your blood and will stop at nothing to get a taste of it. Most battles start off with your player being rushed by an enemy offensive but as you start to take down their ranks, they will recognize what is happening and fall back for a regrouping session. When you are on the run from them, they will hunt you in packs and coordinate with one another to flush out out of hiding use grenades or suppression fire. You can still outsmart them though, and that is just what you have to do on the harder difficulty levels.
As good as RAGE plays in its various gameplay elements, it looks and sounds even better. The game is both visually and audibly stunning to say the least. Visually speaking, the world is incredibly detailed and rich; the animations and level of detail used in them is truly superb. As I have said numerous times in this review, the level of polish featured in the game is just stunning. Even the smallest detail such as the dust that stirs up beneath your dune-buggy or the way that water (or blood) splashes on the environment looks as good, if not better, than it does in any other game. The sound effects and ambient music of the game are just as superb. I can say that the voice acting does leave a little room for improvement when it comes to some of the supporting characters, but the mains characters such as John Goodman’s portrayal of Dan Hagar are works of art and truly lend an element of credibility to the game.
If there is any area where RAGE lacks, it would be in the multiplayer aspect(s) of the game, or lack thereof. There are both competitive and cooperative multiplayer options but they aren’t what most gamers would expect in a game of this caliber. If you want to face off against some friends online, your only option is to do so in Combat Rally which pits you behind the wheel of one of the game’s numerous vehicles. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the vehicular combat can be quite fun. This mode allows up to 6 players to face off in free-for-all races utilizing all of the various weapons and tools attached to your ride. There is a lot of fun to be had here but you will still find yourself longing for the ability to shoot your friends with a crossbow or shotgun, and maybe even drive an exploding remote control car into them, but that just won’t be happening any time soon.
RAGE also features a series of cooperative missions which allows you to team up with another player. Much like the Combat Rally, it’s fun but leaves you longing for more. Perhaps we are becoming truly spoiled as consumers in the gaming market but we have come to expect any and every FPS game released to include a competitive FPS aspect as well. The FPS-core of RAGE is so solid that I feel slighted that the game doesn’t include such a mode. I would love the opportunity to blast away mindlessly at my friend online but that is nothing more than a pipe-dream at the moment, and likely for the foreseeable future.
While RAGE doesn’t necessarily set any standards or break any new ground for any of the genres represented within the game, it shows an unparalleled level of polish and id’s incredible mastery of the FPS game type. It takes everything that you have come to expect in the FPS genre and does it as good, if not better, than every other one out there. The same could be said for the combat racing mechanic as well; few games have every portrayed combat racing as well as it is done here. RAGE is a phenomenal experience, top to bottom, which will give you (easily) 20 or more hours of varied and addictive gameplay. You can pretty much go ahead and add RAGE to the list of contenders vying for 2011 Game of the Year. Do yourself a favor and don’t even hesitate to pick this one up.