Rage [Video]

Rage Cover
Platforms Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre First Person Fetcher
MtAMinutes to Action 12
Keep Playing? Probably not
Buy from Amazon

I've never played a game developed by id Software. Not Doom, not Quake, not Wolfenstein, not nothing. I didn't play PC games much back when id was more prolific, and I had a prejudice against overly gory shooters. To me, they prioritized shock value over sound game mechanics, kind of like Mortal Kombat. Considering their lasting appeal, that was probably not my most sound judgment.

In my defense, id Software hasn't given me much to work with lately. The developer has only just this week released Rage, its first major game since 2004's Doom 3. Rage had been building up a lot of good press since its announcement back in 2007, earning plenty of "most anticipated" awards from major media outlets (yes, there are awards for such things). All the praise was a bit perplexing to me, though: by all appearances, Rage seems like yet another competent first person shooter with some car combat on the side.

But hey, now I can say I've played an id Software game (or at least an hour of it). Check out an early mission video below to see a short sample of Rage's early goings.

My thoughts

- You gain control of your character after a two minute asteroid apocalypse recap, but you don't get to shoot anything until the 12 minute mark. Oh, and there's a 20 minute installation of eight whopping gigabytes beforehand. Rage would have you stare at the same dozen pieces of concept art for that time, but why not go play a video game while you wait for your video game to start?

- Technically, the game is a mixed bag on PS3.  It always runs at a welcome 60 frames per second, and load times are pretty quick, but I can't remember the last time I saw so much texture pop-in (Halo 2 springs to mind). If you take a few steps forward and then stop, you can actually watch nearby objects gradually gain detail, sometimes upgrading textures twice in one place.

Rage Textures

Textures one, two, and three, each swapping in half a second after the last.

And it's not like the game's scale is especially vast: each area is self-contained, and even the Wastelands that hinted at a more open-world game are comparable in size to Ocarina of Time's Hyrule Field. Seriously, there is a bandit hideout right across the street from the good guys. I bet they sometimes get each others' mail.

- There isn't much to say about the actual shootouts, as pretty much everything there is par for the course. Enemy AI and animations are certainly better than average, with foes bounding over couches and sliding into cover and even retreating when outmatched to bolster ranks elsewhere, but it doesn't really change the nature of the FPS beast we've grown so familiar with. Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, aiming down the sights, grenades, head shots, regenerating health, et cetera. There are apparently four(?) different ammo types for each of the four(?) guns, but the only extra ammo I've found thus far are "fatboy" slugs that transform your standard pistol into a powerful magnum. Stealth was encouraged early on, but the gray people seem to have eyes in the back of their heads, and once any of them catch a glimpse of you, your position is immediately known to all.

- The meticulous hideouts and carved canyon Wastelands are a credit to the game's environment artists. There aren't a lot other games that depict a post-apocalyptic future that is at once gritty and pretty, alien and believable. It's all thanks to the little considerations, like the short cave I found that led to a latrine underneath a bandit stronghold. However, the attention to detail amplifies some of Rage's "gamey" qualities that just kill the immersion, foremost being the stubbornly unmoving world. I'll be the first to say that knocking tables and boxes around rarely adds anything to a game, but it's just so strange to see a desk lamp completely ignore a shotgun blast these days, or to watch a pile of stones stay stationary while being trampled on. It's like the entire landscape was carved from a single piece of clay by a master artist: it all looks fantastic from afar, but you can practically see the seams connecting the ceramic vase to the top of the wooden cabinet up close.

Rage Pretty

- Going in, I didn't know much more about Rage's story than "post apocalyptic mutant kill-thon." After playing an hour of playing the game, I may know even less than when I began. I woke up from a hundred year nap. I was attacked by a gray person and saved by John Goodman. Then he drove me back to his five person "settlement" and told me to kill more gray people. Who is my character? Who are the other humans? How did the evil gray people become so evil and gray and British? Why am I being sent to wipe them out by myself minutes after I've just awakened from cryogenic sleep? Never before have I been so angry at a silent protagonist for not opening his mouth. A little mystery isn't bad, but in sixty minutes Rage hasn't even offered a clue that any of these questions might eventually get answers. And without any context, the characters and setting and conflicts that all show some promise are hollow.

- A lot of great games decelerate near the end thanks to obligatory fetch quests right before the endgame. Rage apparently bucks this trend by cramming them all right into the beginning of the game. "You just woke up! Go kill some gray people for me." "Want a gun? Bring back some medical supplies." "I'll let you have your own buggy if you go gather the parts." "A friend got lost. Go find him and I'll teach you how to make Band-Aids." There isn't even a story yet, and the side characters are already making me do their chores, trekking back and forth through the Wastelands enough times that the beauty of their orange peaks has already turned humdrum.

- The most memorable takeaway from the game so far? The auto-defibrillator. When you die, you play a ten second minigame with the control sticks and triggers, zapping yourself back to life and shocking nearby enemies. It apparently has its limits, but it did wipe away a mistake or two that I made in the heat of battle.

Rage Defibrillator

Minutes to Action: 12

Would I keep playing? Probably not. The entire hour was spent shuttling myself back and forth across a pretty landscape, scouring the gorgeous static details of the environment for whatever doodad was on my arbitrary to-do list and shooting the naked gray Brits who charged my way. Rage's colorful post-apocalyptic scenery looks the part of a notable game, but the rest of the experience barely flirts with mediocrity and desperately needs some clever gameplay hook or a character to latch onto. I'm still deciding whether to keep playing until I see what the car combat is about or to just shelve the game right now, but I'm tipping towards the latter in this pre-holiday avalanche of hit games.