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On 10/11/2011 at 07:06 PM by Jesse Miller
id emerges from hibernation to a FPS landscape that has changed considerably since they ruled the roost. Do they still have what it takes to dominate?
For fans of id and first person shooters in general.
id defined the first person shooter for an entire generation of gamers. From Wolfenstein to Doom to Quake, they pumped out standard setting shooters for years before going quiet after the 2004 release of Doom 3. In the years since, they have worked diligently on an all new IP that slowly morphed into the finished product that we know today as Rage--a game that stays true to the aesthetic and spirit of its predecessors while borrowing a few trappings from more contemporary games. Does it have what it takes to hold its own in a world dominated by the likes of Call of Duty, Halo, and Battlefield? You better believe it does.
Rage takes its post apocalyptic premise from actual recent events. In 2004 an asteroid designated as 99942 Apophis passed uncomfortably close to Earth, raising concerns of a collision with the moon and/or Earth when it passes by again in 2029. Studies conducted since the asteroid’s initial passing have all but eliminated the possibility of an impact, but Rage rolls with the assumption that Apophis does slam into the Earth, creating expansive wasteland and destroying civilization as we know it.
Lucky for us, the government had a plan. They put together a program that would cryogenically freeze handpicked individuals in protective bunkers called Arks so that they may someday emerge and kick start the rebuilding of civilization. As an Ark survivor, you awaken to find that something happened to your ark while you were sleeping and that you’re the lone survivor.
As is standard with id’s shooters, our protagonist is given neither a name nor a voice. Normally I wouldn’t complain, but the world of Rage begs to be fleshed out and none of the NPCs seem keen on handing out any information, including the first man you meet, Dan Hagar (voiced by John Goodman), who even notes that you must have a lot of questions but that there’s no time for answers. This sentiment is parroted over and over again by the characters you’ll meet through your journey. You’ll glean some interesting tidbits every now and then, but most of the time people will only tell you where you should go to kill more people or mutants next.
id has never been accused of being master story tellers, but with Rage they had the chance to really broaden their horizons as a developer and tell a more meaningful and engaging story. Unfortunately Rage doesn’t deliver the goods when it comes to the narrative. This becomes all the more frustrating since the world looks so fantastic. id spent a majority of Rage’s development cycle creating id Tech 5, the engine that breathes life into this game and will do the same with Doom 4. Textures are rich and detailed, and character animations are fluid and quite varied. It’s easy to get lost in the aesthetic and it’s disappointing when not much is done with it.
The wasteland itself is another missed opportunity. When Rage was being marketed it looked like the wasteland was going to be this huge overworld that would connect the various battlefields, settlements, and other interesting locales. It quickly becomes apparent how aptly named the wasteland it is. Getting around the wasteland requires the use of a vehicle, but that’s not because the world is that large, it’s because there isn’t much to do in it. Its existence is only justified as a means to insert some vehicle combat which, while fun at first, becomes tedious when you’re just trying to get from point A to point B.
Speaking of the vehicles, I was surprised how well they handled. There are only a few vehicle types to be driven, but each has its own unique feel and purpose (combat, racing, etc.). You can upgrade your ride by purchasing customizations with credits that can be earned by participating in local races or odd jobs. It doesn’t take long to max out each vehicle since the options are limited to only a few components. The races are a bit on the easy side, but they are compelling enough to be worth competing in. You can also deliver time sensitive packages to various mail boxes scattered throughout the wasteland. These missions will test your driving skill and are a decent way to make a quick buck.
Of course, the cars are merely a side to the main course: the shooting.
The gun selection doesn’t stray much from the basics, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring. You have a shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, pistol, rocket launcher, etc. Weapons also offer different types of ammo, for example the pistol has its standard rounds, but there are also fat boy slugs that pack considerably more punch, and kill boys, which fire off the equivalent of six more bullets in a single shot.
Switching guns and ammo type is done by holding down R2/Right Bumper, which brings up the weapon quick select which is controlled with the right stick, and the ammo select is controlled with the left stick. It takes some getting used to, but after a couple of hours I was switching weapons and ammo with ease. The only time it becomes a pain is when you want to switch weapons while on the move, as your character stops when the weapon select menu comes up. You can avoid this by using the weapon cycle feature (click R2/Right Bumper) or by pressing select, which pauses the game, and entering the weapons sub menu.
In addition to the guns, you have access to a wide variety of supplemental weaponry such as grenades, RC car bombs, turrets, and the predominantly featured wing sticks, which are my favorite piece of weaponry in the game. The wing stick is essentially a three pronged boomerang of death. If thrown right, this little bad boy will decapitate almost any unarmored enemy and return back to you.
True to its shooter lineage, Rage’s missions are rather linear. You’ll progress through different locations on a very specific path with nearly no back tracking necessary. Even when you do have to go back to an area, the game practically drags you by the hair. While this may seem limiting, it helps to remember that this isn’t really an open world game like Borderlands or Fallout. Rage is a pure shooter that just happens to have some open world elements. Encounters are very controlled and handled with great care. Large set pieces are constructed to accommodate ranged combat and flanking maneuvers. The smaller rooms and hallways are where Rage really shines, providing combat in close quarters that keeps you on your toes.
Just how fun the combat is can’t be stressed enough. Firefights never feel recycled and every enemy type has a unique fighting style so you’ll constantly be adapting your tactics to best fit every situation.
Even so, I rarely felt any real sense of urgency during combat. Part of this is because of the health regeneration system, but a bigger part is the use of bandages and an internal defibrillator. As you get hit your screen will become more and more red and blurry. You can always hunker down and wait for your health to regenerate on its own or you can use a bandage that will instantly bring you back to full health. If you’re unfortunate to actually go down, your defibrillator will activate and after a few button presses you’ll be back on your feet again. Your defibrillator has to recharge after every use, but these elements take away some of the fear and challenge associated with id’s games. More seasoned gamers will very likely want to kick it up to a harder difficulty level in order to counteract this.
As you progress through the game you’ll find yourself collecting a lot of junk. Most of this junk can be sold off for small amounts of cash, but some of it can be used to build almost any of your secondary items, including bandages, EMP grenades, different bullet types, and wing sticks. Before you can build anything though, you’ll need to get your hands on the schematics. These can be purchased at items shops or given as rewards for certain jobs. Most items use the same base components so you’ll have to account for this when you decide what you should and shouldn’t build. It’s a fantastic feature that makes scouring the different locations worth it since you may come across some hard to find components for those mind control darts you’ve been wanting to build more of.
The game does a good job pacing itself between smaller and larger scaled missions, providing a comfortably escalating difficulty curve as you progress. Until you get to the end that is. While playing Rage you’ll get the feeling that something epic is waiting for you at the end, but the game stumbles at the finish line and delivers an ending that will have you shaking your head unsatisfied. This doesn’t ruin the overall experience as the game is a load of fun, but the payoff is not equal to the journey by any means.
Instead of death matches and capture the flag, there are two distinct multiplayer modes: Road Rage and Legend of the Wasteland. Road Rage is the only competitive online option and pits you against other players in matches of car combat dominance. In addition to the normal weapons and features available in the single player campaign, you’ll also get access to a series of other tools of destruction such as mortars and cluster bombs. These matches can be fun, but it’s likely that it’ll only prove to be a short distraction before you either continue on with the campaign or move on to something else.
Rage features online and split-screen co-op in the form of Legend of the Wasteland--a series of one-off adventures that take place outside of the scope of the single player campaign. You and your team blast through a series of enemies in order to attain a high score. Bonus points are awarded for head shots and other skill related actions. It’s an interesting turn on multiplayer, but like its vehicular combat driven sister, Legend of the Wasteland won’t keep you occupied for long.
Many will undoubtedly compare Rage to more RPG element laden games and that’s unfortunate, because that’s not what Rage is. Rage is an old school shooter with pitch perfect controls and extraordinarily fun fire fights. id’s return to the gaming landscape may not have been the perfect gaming experience that so many of us were hoping for, but that’s what happens when expectations are unreasonable. There’s no doubt in my mind that id will improve upon Rage’s solid foundation in the inevitable sequel; I just hope they take my advice and give the wasteland a much needed shot of life.
The Anarchy Edition preorder bonus includes access to the Double Barrel Shotgun and the Fists of Rage as well as the Rat Rod Buggy and Crimson Elite Armor. All of these items are cool to have, but I found that I used other, standard-issue items much more often.
If you bought the game new you got access to a mutant filled sewer that is packed with some interesting goodies. This section only accounts for about 15-20 minutes of extra gameplay and is actually quite easy to miss all together.
Both bonuses are nice to have, but you wouldn’t miss them if you didn’t get them.