Before I get to my review, a word of warning. Rage for consoles requires a little more attention than its PC brother, because id Software has chosen to use incredibly high-res textures. This means that while it looks stunningly beautiful, it’s also going to require some hard drive space. The PS3 version comes with one blu-ray and a mandatory install of 8 gigs which shouldn’t be too bad for most users, but the Xbox 360 version comes on three dvds, all of which they recommend you install for optimum performance. Installing all three requires 22 gigs, which is certainly not something someone with an old 20 gig hard drive (like me) wanted to hear. Alternately, you can install each disc one at a time, each of which takes up 7 gigs and change.
If you don’t install it you will suffer an almost-unplayable game experience. Textures pop in and out, sound effects are delayed (fun to shoot your gun and hear it go off second later), and the loading screens are atrocious. Install it and it’s smooth sailing- just make sure you have the space and that you don’t mind swapping discs whenever you want to play multiplayer, which resides on the third disc.
So, fair warning. It’s entirely possible that some patches will come out that fix things but for now I’d recommend against the 360 version if you have a choice. (Note that I haven’t gotten my hands on the other two versions, I’m just going on the assumption that the installation problems will be lessened on the other platforms if you have the hard drive space.)
Push through this annoying mess of an installation and you’ll find an experience that’s quite fun at parts, horribly standard at others and ultimately- and sadly- lacking.
As we detailed in our preview, you play as the survivor of a global catastrophe, a meteorite impact that decimates the world. Thankfully you've been living in stasis inside a cryo-pod called an Ark that was buried deep underground, until it popped up years later and woke you up. You're the only survivor in the group, and you stumble outside into the harsh light to find a world filled with clans of raiders, mutants, and an authoritative shadowy government force known only as- wait for it- “The Authority”.
As you progress through the world you’ll meet a resistance group (known as “The Resistance”) in one of the two main towns and join its mission for no real reason. The Resistance apparently consists of five people who hide in a basement and send you out to do all their dirty work to undermine the Authority. You never feel like you’re part of a larger force, just a loner with anger issues. This is indicative of the many problems with the rest of the game- it just feels quite small.
The actual world is truly beautiful, as I mentioned, and gives the current console champ Crysis 2 a run for its money, but there’s not much to it. You’ve got vehicles to drive around the ruined wasteland, but it almost solely consists of linear roads to the next area. This isn’t a game for exploration- the cars are just there to take you to your next objective faster. There are probably only around a dozen main areas (dungeons, if you will) in the whole game. You’ll be directed to each one via a main mission and then usually have a side mission that opens up in order to bring you back, as if to extend the playing time. To the game’s credit, the paths are slightly changed (through debris blocking doors and other methods) in order to make getting in and getting out of the areas different both times. The level design is quite nice and keeps things moving, just don’t die during any of them as RAGE doesn’t believe in checkpoints. You’ll end up starting at the entrance even if you die on your way out with the goal already completed. I once did that twice in a row, almost flinging my controller through the window in anger, before realizing that yes, you should save whenever you can. We’re back to this now.
But you should know by now that id Software knows their gun combat, since they invented the damn genre, after all. Combat is easily the best part of the game. The enemies you face require many different strategies to kill and the game dodges that annoying “aim for the head over and over” mechanic that plagues so many first person shooters. For example, some of the first enemies you fight are Raiders, berserk little fiends right out of a Road Warrior flick, barely armored but fast as can be. They’ll come at you swinging on pipes and bounding off walls parkour-style, and even duck and dodge left and right as they come at you with axes and other melee weapons. It’s hard to keep your cool and line up shot after shot with these guys coming at you from all directions, and you’ll find yourself wasting ammo trying to get them off of you. Quite frantic and fun.
Later on in the game you’ll face various armored foes that make you aim much more carefully, especially since they use ranged weapons and take cover. The armor means that you have to try and aim for weak spots- uncovered chests, seams along the arm, the back. You can also just keep chipping away at the armor, which will fly off from each section of a character independently and show off the amazing engine (this is something that happens with the cars as well.) Kill an enemy and be treated to some quite brutal deaths, as they smashing into wall with force and fall into twisted heaps. The animations are something to behold.
While there are no real surprises with the weapon selection (pistol, rifles, shotguns, a rocket launchers and a crossbow), each weapon can load four different types of ammo such as armor-piercing rounds and electric bolts. You can also construct various items from the junk you find laying around the game world- sentry bots to fight on your side, potions to increase your damage or health, and my person favorite- wingsticks. These bad boys are basically boomerangs that can lop off an enemy’s head before flying back to your hand. Very handy to have when you’re stuck trying to reload.
And this shows the game’s true strength. You have to constantly think about what’s the right weapon for the threat at hand and change it up accordingly. Sticking with one gun, no matter how much ammo you have for it, will just get you killed.
The car combat is less impressive. In the two towns you can find a variety of races to compete in for “Racing Certificates” that you can trade in for upgrades- improved armor, boost, etc. You can also strap miniguns and rocket launchers to your cars, which you’ll need because the game dumps a few enemies in your way to break up the monotony of travelling to the next area. But the cars have a very floaty feel to them and the combat doesn’t ever really gel.
If you’re trying to do all the sidequests the campaign will take you around 12 hours before it comes to an end that will have you wondering- was that it? There doesn’t seem to be any possible way they could have thought this was a good ending. All you do is fight off a handful of enemies that are merely upgraded versions of the very first ones you fought at the start of the game, and flip three switches. Then the ending cinema rolls, and you sit there in shock as the achievements for beating the game pop up. I didn’t even get a chance to use the BFG I had just obtained! Not that you need a final boss to wrap things up- BioShock showed us all that shoehorning a boss purely because it’s what gamers expect isn’t the smartest idea- but at least have some kind of climax. This just sputters out and leaves you unfulfilled and disappointed. It would be wise to keep a save on hand earlier in the game if you want to finish the side missions or minigames (like the surprisingly fun card game), because once you beat the game you can’t reload that save.
One could probably also write an entire article about the bizarre morality of a game that gives you absolutely no reason for becoming a mass murderer. Your silent protagonist doesn’t have to start killing all these people, he just does so because the first character he meets (voiced by John Goodman) asks him to. While I’d probably kill someone if Goodman asked me to, every subsequent person you run into asks you to kill some folks for them too, and you’re just happy to oblige. You become well known in town as people thank you for killing all those people and standing up for them, even though they’re doing nothing about it themselves. Perhaps it’s just me but I would have liked to see at least an iota of story here, some reasoning behind the character’s actions, no matter how sleight they may be. We’re given nothing. There’s also likely something interesting to be said about your American protagonist facing evil foes with British and Russian accents.
Regardless, after the single-player campaign you’ll want to try your hand at the Legends of the Wasteland co-op missions, which are really fun with a friend either split-screen or online. These detail some stories from before your character woke up from the Ark but you likely won’t give a shit about the circumstances. They do give you a lot of opportunities to try different tactics with a friend and think about how much better the main campaign would have been if you could have played it with a buddy, though.
The multiplayer car combat is a lot less impressive, four-player matches that are over quick and don’t have a lot of substance. There’s the usual XP system in place and stuff to unlock but I can’t see myself playing it more than a handful of times. A regular ol’ “dudes with guns” deathmatch mode is sorely missing here.
It’s really hard to recommend you pick this up over the Borderlands Game of the Year edition, which really hits all the notes that this one should have. Yes, it’s an easy comparison, but if you want a first person shooter with no semblance of a story, lots of weapons and a post-apocalyptic environment, it’s an easy choice. Pick up the one with some depth to it.
id Software has really proven that they know guns better than anyone, it’s just a shame they don’t know anything else. Nearly everything outside of the gun combat is a slog, and we’re left with an experience that’s more entertaining than not but is ultimately forgettable just the same.