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id's first new IP in 15 years goes beyond the corridor shooter and into the open world action RPG...
You have to feel for id a little. Once perched firmly atop the FPS tree thanks to Doom and Quake, the developer has been overtaken in the past few years as a new shooter elite has emerged. While its engines may have been powering some of the new breed, what was once a mighty voice in the genre fell a little quiet. For those who grew up with Wolfenstein and Doom, however, there was much rejoicing with the announcement of Rage and the news that this time id was moving outside of its comfort zone. Rage would be more than the brilliantly-executed linear corridor shooter for which the developer is famed; Rage would represent something new for the company and, we inferred, the gamer. The result is a game which at its core is typically id and, predictably, quite brilliant. Yet, it’s not quite the game it wants to be.
Seven years in the making, Rage is undeniably a new type of game for id. Not simply a shooter, Rage adds driving and RPG gameplay to id’s secret recipe and there’s a degree of ambition evident in Rage that was perhaps absent from id's other games over the last decade (i.e. Doom 3). There are some big ideas at play – its game world is a post-apocalyptic earth devastated by an asteroid impact, and its nameless protagonist survived in one of many underground Arks only to awaken a little earlier than expected. What he finds is a wasteland dominated by the totalitarian Authority to whom freedom and human rights are of little concern (strange how friendly liberal organisations never seem to do too well in the post-apocalypse scenario, isn’t it?). Yes, I know you’re thinking Borderlands and Fallout 3, and rightly so. But Rage attempts to carve out its own niche in the genre and, to an extent, it succeeds.
Immediately noticeable is the impressive art on display on Rage. Gone is the murky grey/brown colour palette of its back catalogue, replaced with something much more vibrant. The developer deserves credit for creating such a visually-appealing dystopia, with its red and orange vistas and utterly glorious skyboxes all made possible by the id-tech 5 engine’s use of megatextures. The technology allows the developer to craft unique, dramatic landscapes that aren’t filled out with repeating identikit textures and it certainly looks good. As do the game’s character models, which are superbly detailed and a joy to watch. That’s not to say there aren’t some visual issues at play. Some 360 players may find things become pretty blurry when viewing textures up close and there’s occasional yet severe texture load-ins (even after installing to HD), usually when entering a new area. Sure, it may not look as sharp as it could but id clearly had to make some compromises in order to keep the shooting mechanic responsive.
And this is where Rage really gets it right. The gunplay is exactly what you want from a shooter and, if id knows anything, it’s how to make guns feel exciting. As such, the combat in Rage is beautifully smooth and responsive and, thanks to a buttery 60 frames per second, it feels remarkably fast and fluid. And, of course, you have an excellent arsenal of weaponry to play around with too, each with various different types of ammo that can be either bought or created via the game’s fairly basic crafting system. Each ammo type will be most effective against a specific type of enemy. For example, Authority troops are heavily shielded and take a substantial amount of regular ammo to put down. But, switch to the assault rifle’s armour piercing rounds, or the shotgun’s EMP rounds and you’ll tear through them with relative ease.
Perhaps one of the smarter moves by id in Rage is the decision not to swamp the player with ammo. It’s expensive (especially the more powerful alt ammo types) and pretty scarce in combat scenarios so you’ll find yourself utilising your full arsenal and conserving ammo in case tougher enemies lie around the next corner. Also, with a healthy variety of enemies (and bosses and mini-bosses) on offer, you’ll need to think about every combat flashpoint. Some will hug cover, taking pot-shots at you, while others will charge right for you. ‘Easy headshots, then’ you may assume. Well, even when they’re running right at you, some enemy types will leap and use the environment to their advantage meaning you’ll need your timing to be bang-on if you want to fell them with minimal ammo. The various factions in the game are all pretty distinct and the developer has cleverly imbued each with strengths and weaknesses meaning that a well-considered load-out can be the key to success.
But, as we were reminded in the run-up to release, Rage is more than just a standard corridor shooter and, as fun as the combat is, there are other aspects to consider. The game is structured in classic RPG fashion with city hubs (where you’ll pick up missions and trade items) connected by a large, open wasteland. This is where the driving comes in and, when travelling between hubs and dungeons, there’s much vehicular combat on offer. But, while it initially serves as a nice distraction, there’s not much variety in the vehicle sections and, when you realise that almost all of the combat instances can be avoided by boosting your way out of an area, there’s little incentive to stick around and fight.
The driving game is more engaging in the many races on offer in hub towns (as well as in the driving-only multiplayer) where Rage becomes a pretty decent, if not brilliant, boost/combat racer (albeit with little visual variety in the tracks). There is certainly plenty to do in the hub areas in Rage – there are various mini-games on offer (like card games and a basic rhythm action guitar affair) as well as side missions and, this reviewer’s personal favourite, the excellent Mutant Bash TV. This pits you as a contestant in a game show where you’ll need to survive waves of mutant attacks in a humorous and distracting mini-game.
However, the main problem with Rage is that none of these activities, or indeed the missions, really fit together in a cohesive fashion. This is largely due to a depressingly thin storyline which makes it impossible to really care about what’s going on. The characters may look stunning but they lack depth, and it’s hard to develop an affinity for them when all you seem to be doing is a series of repetitive missions. Go there, kill everything, retrieve item – rinse, repeat. Even during the game’s final story mission, id fails to create a crescendo despite giving you a spangly new weapon to play with. What you suspect was intended to feel like the end of Half Life 2 instead feels like a huge anticlimax and if you can restrain yourself from yelling “what?” at the TV as the final cut-scene rolls, you’re a better man than me.
The lack of investment in the storyline is coupled with a game world which, while undoubtedly beautiful in places, feels strangely static. Unlike its main RPG-shooter competition, this is not a world in which exploration is rewarded. Although there are explorable dungeons marked on the map, you won’t find yourself exiting the buggy and searching much, largely because these areas are usually just the setting for a later mission and very quiet.
Having said that, it’s hard to feel too mad at the developer for the game’s downfalls when you’re in a dungeon, furiously back-peddling and shotgunning creatures in the kisser. This is id. This is what it does best and it’s very enjoyable. The driving game (in both single- and multiplayer) is solid and likeable, sure, but it’s unlikely to keep you coming back to the game, and the same can be said for the standalone co-op missions on offer. If Rage is supposed to reflect an evolving id, one that’s operating well outside of its comfort zone, then I’m not sure we can class it as a complete success.
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