October 12, 2011 by Paul Curtin
A good amount of time has gone by since the fathers of the first-person shooter, id Software, released their last game. The third installment in the Doom series hit shelves back in 2004 for PC and was a graphics powerhouse that was surprisingly released a full year before the current wave of 7th-generation consoles debuted. With consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on their way out the door, id is finally back with their long awaited new franchise, Rage, a post-apocalyptic shooter with car racing elements that takes a detour from id’s FPS roots and is their first new IP since 1996’s Quake.
Set one hundred years after a meteor the size of Manhattan strikes Earth, Rage‘s unnamed protagonist awakes in the year 2135 after being cryogenically frozen as part of a government program, which cryogenically froze specially trained people and stored them on-board Arks in order to re-emerge in the future after the meteor hit and help rebuild society. The Survivor awakes to an Ark full of dead people and embarks on a journey through the post-apocalyptic wasteland to find that the devastation from the meteor was far less than what was predicted and that Earth is now populated by a mix of human survivors and mutant freaks who have formed gangs and settlements.
The first thing you’ll notice about Rage is the most obvious, the graphics. The visuals produced by id’s Tech 5 graphics engine are beyond amazing and quite possibly the best of any game, ever. Every location in Rage is visually stunning; whether it’s outside in the sunny open-world desert sceneries that go on for miles and miles with massive ruined cities off in the distance or the dark underground subway tunnels mixed with tons of contrasting neon lights and filled with people to interact with, the game looks flawless everywhere. L.A. Noire might still hold the crown for character facial animations, but Rage‘s high level of detail, voice acting, and lip-syncing is a close runner-up that feels even more realistic due to its first-person perspective.
Although id’s Tech 5 engine is a front-runner in the graphics department, it’s not without its fair share of problems that ultimately hurt the overall design and experience you’ll have when playing the game. There’s no question that the Tech 5 engine is one of the most superior graphics engines on the market, but with so much time in development it’s shocking how many graphical issues the game has with the worst being texture pop-ins. I played Rage on the PlayStation 3, so I can’t comment on the Xbox 360 and PC versions, but I was deeply disappointed with Rage‘s performance, especially since I got it on PS3 just so I could do a massive install upfront and help the game load as little as possible. Almost all the objects that have been added to each level’s design like tables, chairs, and items on top of said tables like computers have to be stared at for a couple seconds as their textures pop-in and finally come into focus and what’s worse is the items have no physics at all and when hit don’t move as if they’ve been bolted or super glued down to whatever they’re on.
In most games as soon as a level is started, you’ll see the graphics engine go through a process of loading multiple textures, one after another, until all the texture layers sit on top of each other and make a pretty realistic-looking object. While most games on the market today load all their textures almost immediately at the start of every level, Rage has a strange issue where it’s constantly rendering objects in real time and whenever the camera is quickly moved to view a slightly different direction everything starts going through the texture rendering process again.
So say for example you’re in a town looking at one building and turn around 180 degrees to look at another building, the second building’s walls and signs will take a couple seconds to re-load textures one by one and come into focus. It’s like a high performance car with a turbo engine that takes a couple seconds to spool up and reach its maximum speed — yeah, Rage might be the best looking game ever, but having to constantly reload textures every time you turn around and almost every level being filled with objects that seem super-glued down completely takes you out of the experience and doesn’t seem like a good trade-off for superior graphics.
Like the graphics, the story also takes its time building up and sadly never comes to a climax with one of the worst endings of all time. The game never even lets you know the name of the Ark Suvivor you’re playing and without the ability to choose your character’s responses during conversations and build towards good/evil karma à la Fallout, it’s hard to care about the character you’re playing at all. Each mission is very generic and most consist of retrieving an object for someone within very linear levels. There is the ability to go out of mission areas and towns into open-world environments, but the large open-world landscapes adds little to the gameplay and is mostly there for driving from mission to mission and fighting the occasional gang in car combat scenarios similar to Mad Max and Twisted Metal. There are some extra side missions and even car racing/combat competitions which are fun, but both add little to the story and have no effect on the story’s final outcome.
Even with a story that isn’t the most compelling, the gameplay at times can be exhilarating and plays very similar to id’s previous games, Doom and Quake. The twist with Rage is unlike Doom and Quake, which were straight first-person shooters, Rage offers RPG elements via missions and objects that can be collected throughout each area of the game and used to construct more advanced items like awesome mechanical pet spider bots to protect you, sharp three-sided boomerangs that can be used to decapitate enemies, and special more powerful types of ammo to be used on each weapon like exploding shotgun shells and electric crossbow bolts. I use the term “RPG” lightly because while you complete missions that feel like grinding in an RPG and are able to collect and craft new items, there’s no leveling or experience system that grants new abilities and skills towards a true player progression system. You can buy new item schematics, but unlike the Fallout series that has an RPG-core with shooter elements, Rage has a shooter-core with very minor RPG elements.
One of the biggest surprises with Rage is id’s choice to not include competitive first-person shooter multiplayer modes and instead make multiplayer consist of only car racing/combat. Rage isn’t the most original game, especially when it comes to weapons, but multiplayer could still have been fun and made the game worth keeping around for an extra month or two depending on how well made the modes were. The car racing is fun and performs just as well as any game that is made up solely of car racing, but it’s something you’ll most likely play a couple times and never pick up again. It would have been interesting to have seen what id could have done with such a powerful engine and seems like a waste that they’re not taking advantage of it and producing a solid online shooter experience with the best graphics to date.
With some of the most influential developers of all time behind the project and one of the biggest build-ups of any game in recent years after winning award after award each year at video game expos like E3, it’s sad to see the final result of Rage play out like its story with no climax and nothing really to talk about once it’s over besides some pretty visuals. Rage might not be as enjoyable and have anywhere near as much content as recent Fallout games, but there’s no question that it’s prettier and a far better shooter. Rage fails to surpass the epicness of its predecessors, Doom and Quake, and unfortunately isn’t the next big thing in the gaming industry like many had hoped it would be, but it’s still a solid shooter experience that is worth playing at least once and quitting before you reach the terrible anti-climatic final level. Rage gets 3.0 out of 5 stars (Good).
- Absolutely stunning visuals that set the bar in graphics on any system
- Character animations are more fluid than in any other game
- Great shooter mechanics with plenty of different ways to use weapons
- Open-world setting that allows items to be collected and used to build more complex items
- Racing mechanics that work just as well as in straight racing games
- Story and missions are a bit weak with one of the worst endings of any game
- Multiplayer is car racing only with no competitive FPS modes
- id Tech 5 graphics engine is constantly re-rendering objects in real-time on the PS3
- Although character physics are amazing, most objects have little to no physics