Reviewed: October 8, 2011
Released: October 4, 2011
These days, it's easy to forget that id pretty much invented the first person shooter. With new heavyweights in town like Valve and Activision's bevy of development teams, and id's last game lying far back in the mists of 2003, anyone who hasn't been playing computer games since the days of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom might be forgiven for pretty much forgetting about them. Now, though, id's back on the scene with RAGE, their newest game, an amazingly solid first-person shooter with dashes of racing, roleplaying, and the barest smidgen of open world action. For the team that birthed the genre, Rage is a bold, adventurous step outside their comfort zone and, barring a selection of bugs and a problematic console-to-PC port, one hell of a game.|
Taking place in the near future, after an asteroid impacts the earth and wipes out civilization as we know it; Rage puts you in the shoes of a man from before the apocalypse, cryogenically entombed in an Ark designed to house survivors ready to re-colonize a post-disaster earth. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the wasteland has been flooded with raider tribes, mutants ranging from man-sized CHUDs to Godzilla-scale semihuman freaks, and a technofacist regime calling itself The Authority. Rage puts you up against each of these enemies in turn as you try to make the Wasteland safe for humanity.
While the story's more present than in previous id games, it mostly stands in as an excuse for you to rampage through ruined cities and desert canyons, engaging in gunplay and scavenging remnants of the lost world. And this is some of the most fulfilling gameplay I've experienced in a long while. Scavenging lets you build helpful items like EMP grenades, sentry turrets, and lock grinders, as well as upgraded ammunition that lets you specialize your weapons with shots like the shrapnel-launching Killburst for the pistol, mind control and dynamite ammo for the crossbow, and explosive slugs for the shotgun.
Of course, all the ammo types in the world wouldn't matter if the bad guys weren't fun to fight, and Rage manages to score there as well. From the raider tribes, who range from spooky death cultists to anarchic British punks, to the mutants and Authority soldiers, each type of enemy has its own style of fighting, and an array of animations that support their characters. Bandits will hastily slide into cover, or prop themselves up with an arm when they lean out to fire a rifle single-handedly. Mutants will suspend themselves in doorways as they enter rooms, searching for you before they enter. Authority troops fight and retreat like proper soldiers, an abrupt change from the ragtag groups that you fight before going to war with them. To make it better, the AI knows when to flank, when to try to flush you out of cover with grenades, and when to regroup. Combined with Rage's excellent level design, it makes for remarkable combat set pieces.
And what excellent level design it is! From the first area that you're sent into, the ruins of a luxury hotel infested by death cultist bandits, the remnants of old world luxury mixed with the crazed art of apocalyptic survivors on the wall, fallen-away walls revealing canyons and balloon-suspended crafts in the distance, Rage sets the bar high early on, and manages to keep it up. The function matches the form as well, with levels that provide excellent playgrounds for pop-and-fire cover combat, charging enemies for melee or shotgun use, times for stealth and times for pitched gunplay, a bit of puzzle solving and great variety in set pieces. A particularly impressive feat is the Dead City, which you run through in its entirety twice, once forward and once in reverse. Each time has its own unique feel and experiencing the level in reverse highlights entirely new styles of fights and gives a new perspective on familiar areas, without being the least bit repetitive.
When you're not killing your way through the game's main plot, you can amuse yourself with a variety of races, ranging from time trials and standard sprints to rushes to hit points and kill opponents, or matches where the standard race is augmented by the presence of heat-seeking rockets. The racing is almost fun enough to be a game in and of itself, and comes back as the primary competitive multiplayer offering along with a series of cooperative FPS challenges, though I wasn't able to try either to see how it performs online, due to a lack of other players. Aside from racing, you'll find holographic dice games, a Simon clone where you apparently compete to take money from a busker, that knife game that Bishop from Alien played, and Rage Frenzy, a full-featured collectable card game with powerful cards littered through the environment. You can hardly fault Rage for not having enough distractions on the side, and all of them are pretty fun, even the simplest gambling games it has for offer.
That said, for all its good points, Rage definitely has some issues on the PC. Between frequent crashes during load, tearing on ATI video cards that ranges from severe to terror-inducing, which even new drivers didn't fix, and the control issues that plague all PC racing games, Rage isn't all that it can be. Making matters worse, the game's autosaves are remarkably infrequent, making you either save manually or potentially lose huge amounts of progress when you die.
Still, it's pretty damned good. Despite its nods to other genres, Rage is a solid FPS. It might not quite hearken back to the oldest days of id, but it points towards something even better. I just hope that it won't take them eight more years to make their next game.