I’m one of those people that consider id Software to be the father of the modern day shooter. Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake all raised the bar for the genre with their respective releases. Each game had a new 3D engine created by John Carmack that pushed the bounds of technology. After more than six years, we’re finally seeing a brand new game and a brand new engine from the studio - which is now part of Bethesda. But is RAGE the game and engine to move the genre forward once again like it’s older brothers before him? Not quite.
There’s no doubt in my mind that RAGE is one of the best looking games on a console, as well as the PC. What’s truly masterful about the game’s graphics, especially on the Xbox 360 build we played, was just how smooth everything ran. There wasn’t even a hiccup through most of our gameplay, just silky smooth 60 frames per second first person action with beautiful textures and character models.
RAGE puts you in the shoes of an Ark survivor, one of a group of humanity’s last hopes as a giant meteor came crashing into the planet. Waking up years later you find a world that’s filled with roving bandits, mutant creatures, and plenty of people that just want to kill you. It’s here you get a taste for something completely different from for id - driving. You’ll spend a large portion of the game driving your customizable vehicle across the deadly wasteland en route to different dungeons
These dungeon-like missions are gathered from hub areas, small towns, and settlements. While on the surface it appears to make the game a bit like an open world RPG, the reality is, it’s a pretty linear progression. There’s a lot of go here, get this, bring it back kind of missions - but the end result is still moving forward and killing everything in your path while doing so. Sure, you’ll find side missions that can help your character, but this is far from the open structure of something like Fallout 3.
That’s not to say there isn’t some solid and interesting RPG elements here. There’s a crafting system which uses random objects you find laying around in the environment to build things on the fly like grenades, bandages, lock breaking devices and my personal favorite - sentry bots. These spider like creatures follow you around, shoot enemies and jump on their unsuspecting backs as an AI buddy in combat. There’s are other mechanics like being able to upgrade your armor or tweak your weapons with different upgrades like laser sights or larger ammo clips.
The weapons themselves in RAGE are an interesting beast. You’ve got your standard pistol, machine gun, and shotgun going on, but the ammo system is truly unique. There’s a crossbow that can be equipped with things like electrical arrows or mind control darts. Other weapons offer alternate types of ammo which can be changed on the fly. A pistol can be outfitted with heavy duty bullets, the shotgun with plasma bursts, and the machine gun has armor piercing rounds. As awesome as all this firepower it is, id made the design decision to limit ammunition. No one likes counting rounds in a FPS. This is only the beginning of the many flaws present in RAGE.
While most shooters have no problem providing ample ammo, RAGE tries to make the resource scarce. Even looting the corpses of fallen enemies rarely yields any significant ammo (usually you’ll just find cash), instead you are forced to “stock up” before each mission at a store. Forget to stock up and you could be SOL, forcing yourself to take a five minute trek back to the nearest outpost. To make matters worse, the shooting never feels quite right in RAGE. You never feel like your guns are actually doing some significant damage. You know, when you have a bad dream and you need to shoot the bad guy, but the gun never works, it’s kind of like that. You’re never quite sure if you hit an enemy. Sure, there are times when a shotgun blast to a mutant sends them flying in a satisfying way, but most of the time I felt like I was shooting animatronic wax figures.
These dungeon (shooting) sections of RAGE are broken up by driving elements and mini-games. There’s dune buggy races in the towns where you can earn certificates to upgrade your vehicle. These upgrades are useful when driving through the Wastelands to combat roving bandits in their vehicles. The driving and races are fun in their own right, but at times, feels a bit out of place. There are other mini-games available like the five finger knife game from Aliens and a really in-depth collectible card game that’s a bit like Magic: The Gathering.
The biggest problem that RAGE has though, is a completely busted save system. It’s not that saving the game doesn’t work, it’s that it’s based on a philosophy of saving from the 1990s. Checkpoints seem to occur at random times, and the game forces you to constantly remember to bring up the pause menu and then save. It’s so bad in fact, one of the loading screens says - “remember to save often.” How...bout...no. We’ve moved past this. There were numerous times I had to play an entire 15-20 minute sequence over because I simply forget to pause and save.
Co-Op in RAGE is set across nine missions that are “flash backs” of the history of the RAGE universe. Completing each mission unlocks the next one. The missions themselves are completely devoid of any of the outdoor exploration elements of the main game, instead they are relegated to the indoor dungeons. You’ll revisit maps and areas you saw in the single player game, but slightly tweaked and redesigned for co-op play. These sections are purely action based - there’s no inventory system, no crafting, and no strategy to your loadout.
There are scoring elements layered on top of the gameplay in co-op which adds some replayability and gives it a bit of an arcade flavor. You and your teammate work together to build up a multiplier and earn points for any action. Shooting enemies in the head, double and triple kills, and even co-op actions like defending a friend from an enemy or reviving them earns you extra points. Speaking of reviving, the game’s defibrillator mechanic is simplified in co-op and if a partner goes down and can’t defib himself, you can bring him back with a nice shock to the back, reviing him and hurting any enemies in the area around you two.
The missions themselves are fairly short, taking anywhere from 10-15 minutes to complete. Which is good too, because there’s absolutely no save or checkpoint system. Each mission has a limited number of defibrillator revives, and once they are used up and both players are down, it’s game over. Thankfully the missions do have a nice variety, whether it’s a mission where you need to work together to disarm bombs or one where you race through a gaRAGE gathering as many autoparts as you can before time runs out. Of course these are mixed with your standard shoot everything that moves type missions as well.
RAGE might have an incredible amount of talent and technology behind it, but it just can’t make up for the fact it’s without an identity. RAGE is the perfect example of a game that tries to do too many things, but isn’t able to do any one of them very well. While RAGE meets our graphical expectations, nearly every other element; the shooting, the open world gameplay, and the RPG elements, all simply fail to live up to the potential game its predecessors were able to be.