Rage is one of the best games of 2011 so far, yet it doesn’t bring any massive changes to an extremely crowded market. But there is no question that id Software’s masterpiece will make the short list for that coveted title of games you must own in 2011, especially if you like first-person shooters, RPGs, and cart-shooter. While it blends all of those genres seamlessly, it’s not quite what many have come to expect from other Bethesda games that straddle similar lines. That’s not to say Rage is perfect, as there is no such thing a flawless game. However, Rage gets all the big things right. It’s a top-notch shooter with tight gameplay. It’s a fun, fast-paced buggy/vehicle-shooter racer with plenty of mini-games inside of an otherwise sprawling campaign set in an absolutely stunning post-apocalyptic backdrop.
It has some multiplayer components, co-op, even split screen. It features some of the best voice acting in recent gaming, and the characters are both relatable in their day-to-day struggles, and alien in what they must overcome. All of these statements are plain facts, and none of these elements are even slightly broken. But those core elements aren’t responsible for Rage’s addictive, obsessive, and genuine qualities. What makes Rage so breathtaking is that after a few hours, you realize that the studio that brought you Doom made a game with so much polish, so many jaw-dropping moments that it’s hard to understand why other developers can’t capture this intensity in a single-player campaign.
Corporations and the government are bad, and somehow, even after the mass extinction of humankind, civilization will find a way to continue. That’s the general message behind Rage’s narrative. As Earth is on the brink of devastation from an asteroid, you are one of the last to escape in cryo-stasis on an Ark. The hope is that one day you and the other escapees will help repopulate humankind. Fast forward many years, and you awake to find yourself on the planet turned to a wasteland. From the opening sequence you will quickly discover that the world is not just unfriendly, it’s also deadly and unforgiving. But beyond the bleak landscape and hellish enemies that inhabit the wasteland are pockets of survivors, encompassing what’s become a desperate, greedy, and ultimately crafty civilization. It’s a world we’ve seen in countless post-apocalyptic games, and while it doesn’t really break the mold, it does portray this vision to near perfection.
Just about everyone across this wasted landscape needs your help. While your abilities as an Ark survivor allow the scavengers of the new civilization to call upon you on a whim, your tenacity and strong blood give you that unique edge to help push the narrative forward through countless quests. In many ways, you are the bitch of the new civilization, fetching items, killing bandits, mowing-down hordes of mutants, or even taking part it a morbid reality show. These quests make up the bulk of the single-player campaign, but there is enough to do in the multiple mini-games to keep Rage in your PlayStation 3 for a long time. There is more to the plot here involving a group of resistance fighters striving for freedom, but it’s best to experience that on your own. The only thing you need to know is that the actual plot takes a while to kick in, and there isn’t that much to it. Unfortunately this is something the game lacks, but that‘s not to say the plot is terrible, it’s just forgettable.
Mini-games are only a piece of what Rage borrows from the RPG genre. You’ll craft useful equipment, loot fallen enemies and stockpiles of weapons, ammo, and sometimes sort through mounds of junk. You’ll sell this junk, including collectibles from previous Bethesda titles, to friendly shop owners. The very next moment you’ll drive your buggy around the wasteland, firing off rockets at opposing baddies, or racing your dust-sprawlers to net improvements to your ride. There is plenty to keep you busy through beyond the main narrative, but the story is barely interesting enough to push that what-happens-next feeling.
Once I picked my jaw up from the ground after the amazing opening segment, I was absolutely stunned at how much fun it was to drive through the dusty land. Rage is filled with these little, shall we say, wow moments. Whether it’s the incredible graphics, enthralling soundtrack, or massive (few as they may be) boss battles, Rage’s eye-popping moments are plentiful. Id got car combat right, and it’s truly a blast to not only race, but to also fight off mobilized baddies for some extra cash. The steering is extremely responsive, and I never got stuck, even after I flipped my buggy or ATV. Getting big air is not only thrilling, it also nets you some rewards.
Rage features some of the best and most advanced A.I. in any FPS. Some enemies charge you like crazed zombies, while others rotate behind different cover points like well-trained marines. We’ve seen this before, but id approaches this a bit differently. For example, those charging zombie-like enemies, which are really mutants or bandits, will almost never make a straight shot at you. Instead, they’ll crawl over the ceiling, jump from wall to wall, and try their best to get behind you to land a deadly attack. Those heavily-armored gunslingers hiding behind cover don’t just pop their head out once in a while like typical shooters, either. Instead, they’ll flank you, making their best attempt to find cover just to your side while their allies provide cover fire. This provides some of the most intense action in any recent FPS. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the good old days of PC gaming.
The quests are almost always lengthy and filled with epic battles. Luckily your character is equipped with an impressive arsenal, including standard weapons like a pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, and machinegun, and crafted items like an RC car bomb or EMP grenade. Id created quests early in the game to help introduce you to the different weapons, and even the different ways to approach each battle. While a pistol works against just about any enemy, especially with the right ammo, you will likely want to reserve your shotgun for the mutants and your machinegun for the armored baddies. That special blood boiling in your veins also gives you an internal defibrillator to keep the action going after you finally bite the big one, and you will likely die more than a few times.
Each level is extremely well crafted. The level of detail placed in each area is simply awe inspiring. Not every level has a boss battle, and even when you do face a big baddie, they aren’t particularly difficult or rewarding. That doesn’t take much away from the otherwise deftly constructed levels. At one moment you’ll slug through the sewers, the next you’ll dive into an infested subway and in another you’ll go on a recon mission to save a Resistant leader. They are paced extremely well, meaning some levels feature truly lengthy enemy encounters, while others allow you to snoop around, using your crafted items to eliminate the handful of baddies waiting inside. At times I wish there was a bit more to the levels (like puzzles for example), but the game is much more focused on the action, and luckily it’s delivered extremely well.
For all the debate about the quality of next-gen graphics, it’s clear that Rage capitalized on the sheer power inside current consoles. It’s beautiful, simply put. There are some very minor issues with lip synching, but nothing that’s too much of an eye storm. Character models are sharp, and the draw distance on the landscape is incredible. I experienced no major glitches or problems in the graphics department and despite some audio delay during intense gun battles, the music, voice acting, and sound effects are wonderful.
Step into the multiplayer and the game is extended through co-op missions, essentially telling some back story, and even a fun competitive racing mode that is quite addicting. There is one glaring omission from the package, and that rests in competitive FPS multiplayer. It’s hard to understand why id left it out of the equation, since the game screams blow-up-your-friends after you topple the campaign. Does it mean you shouldn’t pick up the game? Of course not.
Rage may not be perfect, but its core gameplay is outstanding and addicting. Of course it’s hard to tell how this will stand up to the rest of the year’s line-up, but it’s hands-down one of the best shooters of 2011 so far. Yes, Rage is something we have seen before, but it still offers an incredibly complete package. Beyond its intense, action-packed FPS side, the game has a terrific RPG underbelly and features truly enjoyable buggy racing. Fans of these genres, and fans of just about any sub-genre in gaming, will have little to complain about in Rage. While we can expect a sequel, I’m hoping we’ll see a better, more complete plot introduced the second time around. In the meantime, there is plenty to see and do in this sprawling shooter. Rage simply reminds us why we love gaming.