Solid shooting and sophisticated enemy AI are all but drowned below bland filler content and significant technical issues
The market seems to be saturated with post-apocalyptic shooters these days, and only the prominent name of iD software was able to garner much hype surrounding the release of RAGE. Amazingly, the legendary developers have managed to carve out their own unique nook in the world of post apocalyptic shooters, and this can only be attributed to the fractured nature of the game. RAGE almost feels like two games glued together; a fast-paced and linear corridor shooter with great atmosphere, gunplay and enemy AI, and a bloated, tedious open world racing game that plays like a pointless MMO. These two separate entities have been patched together in RAGE, and the result is an experience that has as much inconsistency as it has character.
The backdrop for the brown-grey wasteland the game takes place in is that a large meteor fell to earth and destroyed everything. A select group of people were buried in underground 'arcs' in order to survive the disaster. You play as one of these survivors, and awake long after the meteor has made impact finding that the remnants of civilization have formed into a series of segregated groups, with the mysterious Encla... pardon 'Authority' holding the most power. A vague story about joining the resistance and fighting the Authority in order to free remaining arc survivors falls flat, and it is the prospect of the next firefight rather than the progression of the story that will have you wanting to continue.
The first few hours of RAGE are structured similarly to Borderlands. You go to a town hub, talk to sign posts disguised as characters, receive quests, complete the quests, then return for a cash reward. The early missions are short and simple, and paint an ugly picture of the game since these tasks usually involve more driving than shooting. Driving makes up a significant portion of the open-world parts of RAGE, and you will also have the opportunity to compete in races. The car handling is extremely basic, but the addition of vehicle combat makes things slightly more interesting. Still, the driving in RAGE is more prominent than it should be, since the Races are pitifully easy and the novelty of vehicular combat wears thin quickly. After the first couple hours of the game I found myself simply ignoring the races and driving past most enemies.
Once the majority of the mechanics in RAGE have been introduced, you will start on some longer, more interesting quests. Once you drive to a quest and load into a new area, RAGE becomes an entirely different game. The tone of the music changes, the lighting becomes much more dramatic, and you get to spend some time with the game's awesome combat model. You are given a good variety of weapons to kill with, ranging from the standard shotguns and assault rifles to more interesting weapons like the cross bow. The weapons themselves aren't terribly exciting, but you are given several ammo types for most guns that are useful in different situations. The cross-bow, for instance, has electrified bolts which electrocute enemies, and dynamite bolts that explode after being stuck into foes. All of the weapons feel powerful and have a good kick to them, but it is the enemy AI that really makes the combat enjoyable.
As you move from area to area you will fight a wide variety of different enemies, but in reality they are put into two groups: enemies that run at you with melee weapons, and enemies that engage you in ranged combat. The AI model for both enemy types is some of the best I have ever seen. The scrappy mutants will hunt you in packs and move incredibly fast. They also use the environment to their advantage and will climb on the walls and swing from pipes in order to close the gap between you and them. You need to be quick on your feet if you want to kill them before they get to you and start doing damage. Ranged foes are equally impressive as they will communicate with each other about how to kill you, and are comparable in intelligence to the enemies in FEAR. They will flush you out with grenades, flank you, and will fall back and re-group when taking heavy losses. When you are trudging about the visually varied levels and engaging in infantry combat, RAGE is a blast.
Complimenting this great combat is an interesting crafting system that allows you to build various devices and weapons. Apart from your main arsenal of weapons you can carry some interesting tools such as wingsticks, which are deadly homing boomerangs; RC car bombs, bandages, and lock-grinders. To build these items you must find the schematics and the parts. This adds an interesting loot element to the game which gives you incentive to search each room for whatever items you can pick up. You can also sell these items at the stores in City Hubs in order to buy more ammunition and upgrades for your weapons and armour.
Sadly, outside of these fun and varied missions the rest of RAGE's campaign feels like filler. Side quests mostly involve returning to levels you have already visited or covering someone with a sniper rifle. The myriad of mini-games can help you get more cash, but I already found I had more than enough money to buy all of the available weapon and armour upgrades and stock up on more ammo than I could possibly use. Winning races lets you upgrade the weapons and parts on your vehicles, but since driving around in the wasteland is largely uninteresting and the races are boring and easy, there is little incentive to do this. While RAGE's campaign lasts a good 10-15 hours if you take part in these side quests, only about 6 hours of this time is spent on the high-quality story missions, and replay value is extremely limited.
The multiplayer offerings of RAGE come in two parts; a series of two-player co-op missions and 4-player competitive vehicular combat. The 9 co-op missions are fairly similar to the linear single-player levels I discussed above, and as a result are quite good. They will take you about 2-3 hours to get through and are definitely worth checking out with a friend, although the absence of the crafting and weapon upgrade system means they are a bit shallower than their single-player counterparts. Many of these missions also take place in the same levels you visited in the singleplayer campaign, which also reduces their quality. The competitive vehicular combat includes all of the levelling and unlocks now standard in today's competitive multiplayer scene, but the simplistic vehicle handling, imbalanced weapons and lack of players means there is limited fun to be had here.
When RAGE first launched it was plagued by a multitude of technical issues. Texture pop-in when turning, screen tearing and terrible performance for ATI users came with the release. Since then, thanks to a couple driver updates from ATI and an official patch, the game has been fixed for most users. However, some users with ATI cards are still experiencing issues with freezing and choppy frame rates. I personally was never able to get the game working well on my desktop when I had my ATI card in place. Swapping in an older Nvidia GPU made the game playable, and running it on my laptop with a fairly low end mobile GPU garnered surprisingly good results. If you have a dual-core CPU and an ATI video card, you should stay away from RAGE until further patches have been released.
It is also worth noting that the iD tech 5 engine auto-detects the graphics according to your system in an attempt to give you a solid 60fps experience. The first patch has added a couple of graphics options, but these impact the way in which visuals are rendered rather than the actual visual fidelity. If you want you can create a custom cfg. file that allows you to customize the graphics options for your system, but it's silly that the game doesn't include these options by default. Technical issues aside, RAGE is extremely well optimized and as long as you don't have the combination of hardware indicated above, you won't need a high end PC to run the game well.
Sadly, the good optimization comes at the cost of visual fidelity. With the exception of character models and a handful of objects, the textures in RAGE are extremely blurry, even when higher resolution versions are forced through config files. The much touted mega-texture technology utilized by the engine might be impressive for consoles, but PC users with high end hardware will be disappointed by the blurry surfaces. Apart from the low-res textures RAGE looks great, with character models looking especially good thanks to fantastic animations. The sound design is also highly inconsistent. Weapons sound great, but the vehicles sound like lawnmowers and environmental sound effects are sorely lacking. Excellent voice acting and a good musical score help make up for this.
In the end, RAGE feels like a lackluster effort from iD considering the length of the game's development. The inconsistency of the campaign means that you get about 6 hours of high quality shooting and a whole bunch of pointless filler in the form of uninspired side quests, ridiculously easy racing and some basic vehicular combat. RAGE is notable for its great enemy AI and visually varied levels, but it feels bloated and often repetitive. If you are a big fan of shooters the game is worth checking out, but be prepared to have your patience tested.