If there is one company that is synonymous with first person shooters, it is id Software. Known for the likes of Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Quake, id has been making FPS games for quite sometime and in many ways they are considered an industry leader in this genre. A couple of years ago id announced they were developing the next generation in their graphics engine called id Tech 5. Since that announcement a game was attached to this tech, and that game is Rage. Well the wait is over as Rage is on store shelves and we got a chance to play the final retail version.
Story has never been a particular issue that id was worried about in the past, but Rage goes against the grain as it has a story attached that makes an effort to keep you engaged. An asteroid causing a cataclysmic event to occur has hit Earth. You are one of a group of people housed in one of many “arks” where you were put into a hibernated state to wait out the ‘extinction’ phase of the disaster. You are awoken by your “ark’s” computer and discover that those who were locked in with you have died. Once you get your bearings straight you walk out into a brand new and unrecognizable world where you are suddenly attacked and then saved, and this is where your journey begins.
Rage puts you into the gameplay pretty darn quickly. Once you meet your savior you are asked to do him a favour, which of course consists of some traditional FPS killing. From here you will be guided along your adventure so to speak as you meet various people, go to various areas, and piece together the story of why you are so interesting to those in the new world so long after the asteroid hit. You’ll come across some very interesting folk along your adventure. Some have stories to tell; well others require you to help them out in various ways. It is these interactions with the NPCs that form the narrative of Rage, as they will help unveil id’s latest adventure one bit at a time.
After playing the first mission the first thing to really came to mind was that I was indeed playing an id-developed shooter. The controls just felt id-like. They are smooth, fluid, and very responsive. I actually had to turn down the sensitivity somewhat as I found it a tad to quick for my tastes. You can tell that id has their experience programming in the PC world as a mouse and keyboard really speak to the speed of these controls. That being said, once I turned down the sensitivity I found that it was just right. Still, speedy or not, these controls are very spot on and you should have no problem at all adjusting to them on the Xbox 360.
When I first saw footage of Rage during its’ development phase, I could not help but compare it to Boarderlands, which is a game that I really enjoy. In many ways Rage is similiar, as the world is very gritty and post-apocalyptic, there are a variety of enemy types, and you have many different areas you will go to in order to finish the story. That being said, this game is not Boarderlands, as there is no cooperative campaign gameplay, the amount of in-game weapons is limited, and it is pretty much a linear experience.
The areas of Rage are not open for exploration as the game does a pretty good job of guiding you down your path. Sure, there are side quests and mini-games, which can keep you interested, but in the end the world that opens up in front of you really does keep you on one set path. The main missions in your story are very direct as they lead you in one specific direction. In many ways this is an id staple, as I cannot remember many, if any at all, of their shooters that did anything different. Don’t get me wrong, the path that you are led down is a pretty enjoyable one, and it is one hell of a rollercoaster ride, but given the lack of openness you can’t help but wish there was more ability to be a true “master of your own destiny” so to speak and explore on your own.
As I mentioned, there is a semblance of story, and as it unfolds you will meet some pretty interesting characters, be asked to do some pretty crazy stuff, and you’ll learn more about who you are and why people think you are so fascinating. That being said, many of the tasks you are asked to complete during the story are somewhat fetch oriented, and this is one thing that I was kind of disappointed with. There is this incredible backdrop with some very interesting characters; unfortunately you’ll spend more time getting items than you desire. If it wasn’t’ for the quality of the gameplay mechanics, and the id Tech 5 graphics engine, this could have definitely spelled doom for this game (editors note: no pun intended).
Regardless of the quests and missions you face, the game provides quite a variety of challenges as you make your way through the game’s narrative. The learning curve for enemy battles is very balanced, and you are eased into the harder ones as you get further into the game. I was amazed with how the game led me into the more challenging areas and how much of a challenge the AI could put up. They don’t just stand around like cannon fodder as you will find them ducking behind cover, blind shooting, and fighting right down to the final bullet that kills them. One of the first enemies you face bears down on you zigzagging in an effort to make it as difficult for you to target them. It is quite amazing to see id take an active role in making their AI more challenging in their tactics and all this effort pays off in the end.
The shooting mechanics are very well done in Rage as the weapons feel great. Targeting is user friendly and each gun has its own feel to it. From the handgun, combat shotty, the crossbow, to the automatic rifles, each one feels like its own gun. One thing that is evident though is that there is not a lot of variety in the weapons, as you only have a set number throughout the whole game. To spice up the limited number of weapons you have a number of different types of ammunition for each one. Your handgun can become a “hand cannon” with the addition of the “fatboy” ammunition, while your crossbow can launch either explosive or mind control arrows at your foes. The different ammunition that becomes available can be crucial to your success at times, and this is something that I enjoyed.
Along with your standard weapons you have some other tools/gadgets/weapons at your disposal, such as wingsticks, explosive RC cars, grinders, sentry turrets, and spider bots to name a few. You’ll find that all of these extras are very important during your adventure, as there will be times that you’ll need a little help in some of your battles or tasks. The trick to these items is that you just don’t have them as you have to engineer them. As you play you will gain access to schematics, either from NPCs or from the various stores found amongst the areas, and as you venture through the various missions and tasks, you’ll come across items that seem insignificant at the time (e.g. various cables and electronic parts, etc), but when you go into your item/menu screen these items can be used to make the various tools/gadgets/weapons. It is a very addictive part of the game, and building these items not only helps you along your adventure, but also helps you find extra items. So as you play make sure you pick up everything you see, as you just never know how you can use it.
Rage also offers up a large number of driving segments throughout, and these are very well executed. Driving mechanics are very intuitive and all the vehicles handle very well. From travelling from town to town, or racing in the games numerous racing circuits, these instances are very enjoyable and a nice change of pace during the games story. Many of your vehicles have various forms of weapons and you can upgrade and tune your vehicle quite a bit (e.g. shocks, weapons, motor, boost, shield, etc). Vehicular combat increases in difficulty as you progress deeper into the game and should you find yourself in a damaged state, or stuck, you can call for a tow truck to come and get you. The races that take place in Rage are battled out on various tracks, and the computer can challenge you once in a while, but it is nothing too substantial. Rewards for these races allow you to buy the aforementioned upgrades for the vehicle of your choice.
The main quest in Rage will take you 10-12 hours, depending on your skill, and what skill level you play the game through. Should you do every quest, every job, and all the extra tasks that are included in the game, the length increases quite a bit. So in this sense you are indeed in control of your gaming experience and how much you get out of this game.
Id has offered up some multiplayer madness to Rage, but it is not what one would think as it offers up something much different then your traditional player vs. player deathmatch mode. Online adversarial play is a racing affair this time around, given id’s introduction of driving modes during the single player story. Road Rage has you and up to three friends in a few different modes including demolition mode, checkpoint mode, and a collection type mode (pick up fallen meteors). You’ll have to be proficient in both driving and shooting to be successful. Road rage offers up a nice multiplayer diversion from the single player experience, but it just doesn’t feel like a true id multiplayer experience given their heritage of such. Regardless, people will have fun.
There is also an online cooperative mode for people to play. Here you and one other player can play a series of stand-alone missions that are separate of the main story. As you play you will rack up a score that grows with headshots, skilled kills, and an ongoing multiplier that keeps on going as long as you continue to get kills without taking much damage or dying. You can only use the set weapons that the game provides for you during this mode. Again, like Road Rage, this is a nice diversion and having it separate of the main story adds a bit more to the overall experience. That being said, I do wish that you could play the main story cooperatively, but I just don’t know if it would have been doable given the way the story plays out and the level design, which in some ways is quite geared for a single player only. These stand-alone cooperative missions don’t take much time either, as they are not nearly as long as the missions found in the single player story, but nonetheless it is a nice addition and I do hope they add more of these via DLC.
Visually Rage is a stunner, plain and simple. The id Tech 5 graphics engine is truly a work of art. As soon as you step into the bright sunlight of a devastated Earth you will just want to take in all the splendor of what id’s new graphic engine can do.
The environments that you explore are wonderfully detailed, and you’ll find yourself looking around more often than not. The levels go so far into the distance that there really isn’t a draw distance to be noted. Level design is solid from the interiors of the buildings that you explore to the wastelands that exist outside. Collapsed freeways and freeway overpasses, decimated industrial areas, canyons, dusty roads, and cities with demolished skyscrapers, variety is there and it is all well rendered. The detail of each area is spectacular too. Venturing through the remains of a hospital I noted so much detail on the walls, in the lobbies, in the rooms, and outside as I exited. The level of detail that is put not only into this area, but the game as a whole, is amazing. It seems that id really wanted to show off what their new graphics engine could do, and it is clearly evident that it can do a lot.
Not to be outdone by the environments, the game’s characters are just as well designed and add to the overall feel. This ranges from the NPCs to the various enemies that you face. The variety of individuals that you end up talking too is pretty impressive, given that this is not an RPG, but an FPS game. The detail in their expressions as they speak, as well as the clothes they wear, is pretty much second to none. I found myself taken back by some of the female NPC’s I spoke too, which goes to show you that they put a lot of detail in everything for each character. As for the enemies you face throughout your journey, they too are well designed and have a wide range of variants. Each area you explore seems to have a theme and the enemies, from the most basic minions to the bosses, are different and very well designed. The first time I saw an enemy fall to his knees and physically try to crawl behind cover, I knew that things would only get better. And they did. All of Rage’s enemies look great, animate great, and make this title more of the game it is.
Technically speaking I found nothing of concern. Rage is locked in at a solid framerate, there was no noticeable slowdown, and I don’t remember much if any issues of clipping. Textures are a plenty in each level too and nothing felt recycled or rehashed. There are plenty of special effects in Rage as well, creating some pretty explosions, impressive lighting, and very atmospheric settings. I did find the odd glitch where an item that exploded resulted in some debris magically floating in the air, but I can only count the number of times this happened on one hand.
If it sounds like I am gushing about the visuals, you are right, I am. They are definitely impressive and I can’t wait to see how future games from id, or from publisher Bethesda as a whole, look in the future.
The audio in Rage is yet another part of the whole puzzle that when put together makes Rage such a good game. The soundtrack is great, and very atmospheric. You’ll find that the music amps up at just the right times, and calms down when it needs too. There are some areas where the music actually causes you to tense up as you wonder what the heck is coming next. Music like this in an FPS is much appreciated given it enhances the overall experience.
The voice acting is also very good. NPCs interact with you on a very regular basis and their dialog carries emotion and makes you want to listen to what they say. The first character you come across sounds very familiar, and sure as hell it is, as John Goodman takes the opening role and does a great job. All those that follow do a good job too making Rage a game that is not only fun to play, but also fun to listen to as well.
As for the sound effects, if you are playing this game through a home theater like set-up, be prepared for an acoustic treat. Explosions are impactful, weapons are solid, and environmental effects (e.g. wind through city streets, buildings crumbling, debris falling, etc.) are noticeable. When all the audio elements are mixed together you have one well-balanced recipe that makes the game that much better.
Rage is a game that once again shows that the programmers at id are truly technical magicians. The visuals and sound are such that they alone make this game worth looking at. In regards to the gameplay, Rage’s overall mechanics are solid, from the control of your character to the driving segments. The only downfall to the gameplay is that the story as a whole is not as strong as other games, but at least there is a story there to enjoy. Rage is a game that is definitely worth the price of admission, and a great start to the legacy of the id Tech 5 game technology.