RAGE Xbox 360
Last time id Software released a title of their own, as opposed to outsourcing one of their licenses, the video game industry was pretty much a different world. Call of Duty was just a minor quiver in Activision’s pants, Pro Evo was still better than FIFA and only one game had a cover system. id’s place in all this was that of the creator of the graphical benchmark. Their semi-legendary coder John Carmack created era-defining game engines in his sleep. Every time they dropped a new title, they were the always the absolute peak of graphical achievement. Can you remember when Quake came out and wouldn’t run on anything, apart from the one rich kid’s PC who you were suddenly really good mates with, just so you could talk your way into another sweet hour fighting demons on his dad’s work PC?
Unsurprisingly, their first game since Doom 3 is a first person shooter set in a world 106 years after a huge asteroid smashed into the planet, causing a near extinction level event. Your nameless character is placed into a vault in a cryogenic tube, sealed away into a mountainside to be awoken many years into the future, where society has broken down into small settlements of folk fighting for survival against gangs of bandits and hordes of horrible mutants.
So far, so Fallout. Fallout, eh? The lazy games journalists go-to game for ham-fisted comparisons. But unlike say, Dead Island, where every other talentless hack described it as ‘Fallout 3 with Zombies’, Rage does actually share quite a fair bit with its Zenimax stablemate. A post-apocalyptic setting full of RPG elements? That does sound a lot like Fallout.
Yes, RPG elements. id has been moving towards a much more narrative-driven experience since Quake 2, which is strange coming from the company ran by the man who once memorably stated that a story in video games was about as neccesary as one in pornography. Rage is an RPG-lite, with missions being given to you from the residents of the various settlements and cities that pock-mark the expansive wasteland terrain. There’s a simplistic crafting system in place and venues to spend money on upgrading weapons and your vehicles.
Different from Fallout, however, is the combat. As opposed to an RPG system based on invisible dice rolls and statistics, Rage is a goddamn balls out shooter. Enemies come at you thick and fast and just because you shot them right between the eyes doesn’t mean they are going to drop in one hit (unless of course, you blow them into tiny pieces or decapitate them with one of the nasty, quad-bladed wingsticks you can toss about). Much like the rest of their catalogue, strategy in Rage isn’t about which set of sandbags to hide behind, it is about choosing the correct weapon and ammo type for the job and setting out to get it done. id has always had a perfect feeling of weight vs. response in the combat aspect to their games that no other seems to be able to get right. The assault rifles in Call of Duty feel floaty, lightweight and with no real sense of impact as they kill another man hidden behind a box. Here, we have meaty killing machines that RIP and TEAR into the flesh of mutant hordes.
Their experience in making some of the greatest, most influential shooters of all time really shines during the many interior mission sections. Level design used to be more than just a series of straight, narrow ‘corridors’, punctuated by scripted sequences at every corner. Doom and Quake featured lovely little box levels, all full of their own tricks, traps and puzzles to solve, all perfectly organic and with little backtracking – in fact, each success would lead exactly into where you needed to be next, looping around on itself with perfectly paced encounters. The wasteland itself is a tad deceptive. Despite looking like a sprawling landmass that you could lose yourself in for hours, it is fairly linear, instead serving as a place for the games vehicular sections to take place.
As opposed to merely being transport between locales, driving is practically a game within itself. The vehicle combat is fun, with a generous auto-aim removing any ‘gotta line up the sights’ frustrations. Racing is also geared towards arcade-style laughs, with weapons, boosting and all those things that make Excitetruck and Rollcage amazing and without the things that make Forza and Gran Turismo gigantic bores. The multiplayer racing isn’t going to stop many playing Battlefield 3 over the holiday season and beyond, but is still quite enjoyable for those who fancy taking on their mates.
Online Co-Op missions pad out the rest of the multiplayer experience, and much like every game ever made ever, playing through some set scenarios with a bro is pretty fun. Although the lack of a traditional deathmatch is disappointing, it hardly detracts from the overall experience. In all honesty, perhaps they’ve learned that, unless you’re one of the ‘Big Three’ shooters, within a few months your servers are going to be abandoned and developing these modes seems like a colossal waste of time. Anyone still playing Dead Space 2?
Finally, there’s the bloody engine. The idTech 5 beast that powers Rage gives way to easily some of the best graphics on current-gen consoles. Some of the sections mid-game, like the Dead City, look a generation apart from some of their peers. In true id fashion, it does show up the fact we may be reaching the very end of this console cycle, with the Xbox version coming on three discs and requiring an install to get by with even just minimal texture pop-in. The deal they’ve clearly done with the devil to get it running at a solid 60 frames per second has also paid off, as the super-smooth feeling it gives to the combat and driving was worth the alleged sacrifices made in the amount of enemies you can tackle at once. It is a shame that the engine can only be used by others within the Zenimax family, as per terms of their purchase of id, as I’d love to see what other companies can do with this clearly very, very powerful technology.
Rage may not represent the gigantic leap into the next era of games that’s usually embodied by titles by id software, but it has reaffirmed their position as a premier developer when it comes to everything first person shooter-y. I’m sure those looking for a Borderlands/Fallout-esque experience are going to feel shortchanged. But really, how can you expect anything but a high-octane murder-em-up from the people that allowed us to fight a gigantic robotic Hitler all those years ago?
A wonderful return from Carmack and his boys. Doom 4 now, please?