Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: RAGE

Originally posted on Accursed Farms Forums on October 18th 2011.

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2011
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Buy on Steam

Is RAGE a rusty car worth checking out, or should you leave it in the Wasteland?

It is strange how two games released in the same year can be almost polar opposites of each other, and yet share so many similarities, almost like twin games that were never really thought of as such. Earlier this year I reviewed Duke Nukem Forever, a game that has been in development for well over a decade now. It was finally released in June this year and has so far gathered both praise from gamers and criticism from critics. In many ways, RAGE shares a lot of similarities with DNF. RAGE has also been in development for almost a decade now as id's last IP was Doom 3 in 2004, and also while DNF is best on PC and got a couple of below average console ports, RAGE has become the polar opposite, receiving a PC version that many feel has been weak in comparison to the console versions, which both clearly received more attention. The PC version was barely playable until Bethesda released a patch that fixed tons of compability issues and added some much needed graphics customizations in the options menu. This clearly affected my experience with the game as for the first couple of days of owning the game I had to struggle to get it running on a framerate above 10-15 FPS. However once I got it working, I spotted another similarity...

...I was having a blast.

The story in RAGE can pretty much be summed up in one sentence. Earth has gone FUBAR, you're a lone survivor (again) and has to save the world from a shadowy organization only known as The Authority. That's about all there is to it, which to a lot of people would probably be a disappointment. The plot is never really resolved through the game and it ends rather abruptly. However, I don't consider id a company that focuses on story in their games. RAGE surely leaves you with a feeling it might be nothing but a prelude to something greater (I smell possible DLC or sequel here). RAGE is more a pure gameplay experience, and gameplay is where it succeeds.

Gameplay-wise, RAGE feels like a strange hybrid between Borderlands and Fallout 3, with an emphasis on making your own weapons and gadgets, and racing vehicles taken straight out of The Road Warrior in order to progress in the game. At its core, RAGE is your standard shooter, and you'll mostly find yourself going through dungeon-like levels and blasting down enemies with a shotgun, and even though some element of stealth is endorsed, you'll mostly find yourself mowing down hordes of badguys with your weapon of choice. The racing comes into play when you drive around inbetween these levels in an overworld called the Wasteland (original name there *sarcasm*), and also on separate race tracks you can access in the towns you visit. Although racing is almost purely voluntary, which is good as it might not be something for everyone, you have to do some of it to progress through the game. The driving controls feel very arcady, which to me is a good thing as overly realistic driving could take away from the fun of the game. And that's pretty much the gist of it, fun. Finding new guns and ammo types is really as much fun as you'd expect and the enemy AI will constantly surprise you throughout the game, keeping the missions from getting boring. It seems id really learned their lesson after the rather monotone experience of Doom 3. It's not often you find games where the enemy has almost as much personality as the friendly NPC's. Most of the game is pretty money-driven and you'll find yourself often doing sidequests and small minigames just to earn enough money for "that upgrade" or just simply more ammo. These minigames and sidequests, while adding nothing crucial to the game, help add some flavour and variation to it.

Ark Survivor, Lone Wanderer, Mad Max. They're all the same.

RAGE is gorgeous. There is simply no other word in the English vocabulary that can properly describe the experience of playing RAGE more so than just gorgeous. John Carmack has invested a lot of time into writing an engine that supports so-called megatextures, and it is easy to see why. The amount of detail in RAGE is insane, and none of the levels ever look monotone. However, there are a few drawbacks to this technology as texture popins are painfully common, on close inspection the textures look like they belong in a game from early 2000's, and on PC the graphics tend to glitch out after a while of playing. However, the biggest marvel here isn't the megatextures, but the fact the game runs at a steady 60 FPS. Whereas other games often lag in certain areas, RAGE never slows down even once, and still manages to look absolutely stunning for the most part. For me, that's quite an achievement. And it's not only the textures that are impressive. The character animations are the best I've seen in a game, and have a ton of personality and humor behind them that really adds a lot to the experience. It's a welcome change from the rather emotionless NPC's in Duke Nukem Forever. Worth mentioning as well is that RAGE is one of the few games I've seen where the protagonist upon picking up a new weapon, really takes his time to inspect it. Since you never pick up weapons in the middle of the battlefield, RAGE allows for more detailed animations like these and I can only say I love it. It's those little details and quirks that make RAGE an enjoyable experience despite its graphical shortcomings.

Sound-wise I don't have much to say. The music is pretty good, though nothing outstanding it does its job in building atmosphere and tension. The weapon sounds are all very beefy and satisfying, another welcome change from Doom 3 where I felt the weapons sounded wrong in a lot of ways. Especially the shotgun they got right this time (thumbs up).

The multiplayer consists of two modes, and strangely enough there's no deathmatch to be found. Road Rage is basically a car-driven multiplayer battle mode where you fight other drivers, similar to the single player racing. Wasteland Legends are unique co-op missions somewhat related to the singleplayer but more sidequests. You can play these missions alone but you won't get achievements if you do.

Though RAGE might be a bit underwhelming in terms of story, the gameplay and graphics more than make up for it. If you can afford the 25 gigs of HD space, I'd say buy it.

It gets 8 out of 10 wingsticks.

- Alyxx

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