The world hasn't seen a shooter come from id Software since Doom 3 came out in August 2004. Seven years is a long time to wait for a new game from one of the video game developers that pretty much defined the first-person shooter genre. Thankfully, RAGE upholds the mantle id has garnered over the years, even if it's a little bit short at times.
RAGE's setting seems familiar these days -- post-apocalyptic Earth with tribes of bandits and people trying to survive and better their status. RAGE is different when it comes to the back story, however. The world isn't post-apocalyptic thanks to nuclear war; no, it was hit by an asteroid a 100 years prior, causing the same basic effects of a nuclear explosion.
The game begins with the player assuming control of someone just emerging from an underground bunker, or an Ark. Before the asteroid hit, the leaders of the world knew what was coming, so an Ark program was put into place to preserve the best and brightest of humanity at the time. These Arks were buried underneath Earth's crust and set to emerge (much like the Locust Horde emerge in the Gears of War series) at specific times. Thus, the world would slowly be rebuilt when these keepers of humanity returned.
Unfortunately, this isn't the case. The Ark survivor emerges in a world where bandits roam the dirt roads freely, and survivors form shanty towns and civilizations in subways, trying to create communities. There's also this heard-but-not-seen presence called the Authority, which sounds very Orwellian in the beginning. Nobody seems to like the Authority, but it's never really conveyed why the world at large dislikes it so much.
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This is actually a disappointing story. As the game progresses, the Ark survivor (who remains nameless throughout and never speaks) ends up getting involved with a movement called The Resistance (what a shocker) hell-bent on bringing down the Authority. The problem is ... There never seems to be any reason the Ark survivor supports this movement. The Resistance never does anything for the player; you simply get caught up in things because supposedly the Authority wants to round up Ark survivors.
The player never truly gets attached to the story, save for the two major towns you operate out of during the course of the game -- you tend to grow fond of their inhabitants. The Authority never strikes directly at the player or anything the player holds dear, and The Resistance never does the player any favors. This disconnect doesn't even come close to ruining the game, but a big part of playing games is the direct attachment a player develops with the in-game world.
RAGE plays like a shooter. Over the course of the game, you'll gain access to more powerful weaponry. You'll progress to stronger enemies, and you'll have a variety of enemy types and missions along the way. There's nothing here that's truly groundbreaking, but then again, it doesn't feel like anything is missing. There aren't a large variety of enemy types, however, so you won't have to develop a wide set of tactics for different scenarios.
Can you guess what this poor soul's battle tactics are?
These enemies also don't have a large variety of fighting styles -- some try to rush you, while others offer ranged combat. The enemies that fight in ranged combat are, sadly, the mostly predictable. They don't utilize strategy to take you down; they sit and take potshots at you until you've eliminated them. The Authority uses a little bit of armor and advancement strategy later in the game, but by then it's too little, too late, as the player can probably spray the Authority's goons full of holes without having to conserve ammo. There was one enemy camp that had a strategic mix of rushers combined with long- and intermediate-ranged shooters. That was a refreshing break of pace.
There's no cover system at all in RAGE, which was shortsighted as enemies employ cover and roll tactics as the game progresses. It would have been nice to be able to take cover. Different weapons can shoot different ammunition types, allowing you to change from conventional to ammunition that packs a punch or even ammunition that can control minds. Different missions allow you to take advantage of these different ammo types, so there is some strategy involved in completing a mission by using a minimal amount of ammo.
As post-apocalyptic games go, scavenging plays a bigger role. Don't scavenge enough, and you may not have enough ammo or money to get things done. You'll also have to upgrade your armor and other statistics as you go along if you want to last out there in the harsh Wasteland.
First-person shooting is only part of the game; vehicular racing and combat is also prominent. In order to travel from place to place, you'll need your own transportation. As you progress, you'll need to install weapons on your vehicles. You may even get rewards for destroying the baddies that clog up all the dirt and decrepit highways. You'll earn bigger and better vehicles as you go, allowing you to tangle with tougher enemies.
The two main towns you end up basing your operations out of also host races. These races earn you certificates, which let you upgrade your vehicles' attributes in a variety of ways -- armor, weapons, shocks, engines, and even speed boosts. You can also install different skins on your vehicles, which is the post-apocalyptic version of a great paint job. These races can be time trials, weaponless races against three other opponents, weaponized races, and rallies. The rallies involve being the first to checkpoints and destroying opponent vehicles, each giving you points. Get the required amount of points first, and you win.
The rallies seem more difficult to accomplish than the races, even the weaponized ones, in which you can generate a big lead and hold it. The route is known, and the three laps are standard. When it comes to rallies, though, the rally points don't remain in a race-type route, and you're liable to get destroyed a lot more often. This difficulty disparity, just like every other "problem" in RAGE, is a minor irritant.
Even with all of the shooting and driving going on, there are random mini-games throughout the Wasteland. You can play a Magic-like card game with bar patrons where your deck must defeat your opponent's. You can bet other bar patrons you won't stab yourself in the hand with a knife. You can bet on the equivalent of dice rolls. Another fun pastime also involves launching your vehicles into the air to destroy Authority observation stations.
Just sweep up the debris, and it'll look just like home used to! Right?
The single-player campaign is definitely the star of RAGE's show. Even id Software Co-Founder John Carmack admitted the multiplayer experience was mostly an afterthought. This seems a bit out-of-character for the video game developer that invented the term "deathmatch." For those fans of great single-player experiences, RAGE won't disappoint. But for those looking for a deep, competitive online multiplayer component ... You will be disappointed.
The multiplayer shooting component is essentially a series of missions played in a buddy system. You and one other person will take on a small set of missions throughout the Wasteland. One mission may have you defending a town from a throng of bandits while another may have you battling a horde of mutants. Sadly, the set of missions is very small, and the replayability just isn't there -- leader boards and personal accomplishments constitute the two main reasons you'd want to replay.
The auto racing multiplayer component is a bit more fleshed out, thankfully. Over time, you can earn a stable of five vehicles in your garage, allowing you to customize them for different purposes and race styles. There are races and rallies in the multiplayer mode as well. There seems to be more to do and more personal investment in the racing multiplayer mode than the shooting multiplayer mode. But, ultimately, even it falls pretty short.
It's strange to think of post-apocalyptic as beautiful, but... RAGE is
The graphics in RAGE are, quite frankly, gorgeous. If you're on a PC, once you get past all of the various video driver and game settings issues, the game is simply beautiful and consistent. Some of the larger environment views and landscapes come close to taking your breath away. The game seems like it's set in the American Southwest for the most part, and even a post-apocalyptic look at the world doesn't take away from the view.
The lighting effects are good, and the confined environments in which your battles usually take place are well designed. There are fire barrels speckled throughout the Wasteland, and there's even distorting heat waves that ripple the environment shown behind the flames. It's little touches like these that really immerse the player in the game.
The musical score vary depending on what you're doing, be it driving peacefully, driving and battling bandit cars, or infiltrating a canyon filled with hedonistic enemies armed with flaming crossbow darts. The musical pace (mostly) keeps the battles from losing their intensity. There's nothing low quality about the sound effects, but they don't shine. The score, however, does.
Overall, RAGE is another great shooter from id. The shortcomings in the single-player campaign don't derail the game, but unfortunately, the multiplayer experience is lacking in too many ways. It has no staying power and isn't recommended for anybody looking to spend hours playing against their friends online. Beautiful game? Check. Great game play? 80 percent. Enthralling story? 75 percent. Great multiplayer? Uh ... 10 percent?