“RAGE brings back the glorious goriness of old-school shooters, but suffers somewhat from its disjointed design.”
Developer: id Software
Release Date: October 7, 2011
Platforms: PC (this review), X360, PS3
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Review by DraugenCP
It is interesting to see how obsessed our culture is with ‘new’ and ‘cutting edge’ products. No matter if we are talking about iPads, tooth brushes or shaving devices, stating the novelty of something near automatically implies its superior quality. Whether this actually corresponds with reality I will leave in the middle, but it is important to realise that this mentality is but a part of our cultural construct. In Ancient Rome, for example, a salesman would not try to sell you a piece of soap by claiming it is the latest, state-of-the-art invention, but by telling you it is of the same kind that his grandmother used, thus ‘proving’ its quality on the long run.
When you sit down and think about this, ‘retro’ is a thoroughly strange concept, as it tries to combine our obsession with cutting edge technology with the Romans’ affinity for familiar, tried and tested formulas. More than ever, video game developers now try to charm their old fans by promising them to go back to their roots. This can often prove to be a simple ruse to evoke nostalgic sentiments in order to regain interest for a series that has since gone astray. The recent Duke Nukem and Need For Speed instalments are text-book examples of games that have an old-school pretence, yet show little similarity with the initial games other than having the same name slapped on the box. It becomes more interesting, however, when a new IP promises to cater to a ‘retro’ crowd, as such games are more likely to actually include old-school design elements rather than merely cashing in on the familiarity of a name. Such design choices may also prove risky, however. Games, more than other media, thrive on advancing technology, making the line between old-school fun and archaic, redundant design a fine one. RAGE, id Software’s 2011 open world shooter, is remarkably successful in this sense, as it brings back the gory pleasure of ’90s first person shooters without tipping the scales in favour of obsolete game design. At the same time, however, the game’s structure often comes across as disjointed, if not downright messy, making it hard not to consider how much more potential id’s cyberpunk world had.
A dynamic combat experience forms the backbone of the lengthy campaign.
Though the underwhelming premise of a cryogenically preserved soldier awakening in a post-apocalyptic world will initially encourage comparisons with other futuristic shooters, the first minutes of gameplay experience in RAGE immediately set the tone for an experience that differs considerably from the so-often-copied Halo and Gears of War games. While undoubtedly being an arcade shooter still, the game features combat with a tactical edge that is more prominent than is usual in futuristically themed action games. Enemies, who in the initial stages of the game consist mostly of cyberpunk-styled gang members, take cover, communicate with each other, try to smoke you out and fall back when they’re wounded. This makes for a dynamic combat experience that forms the backbone of the game’s lengthy campaign.
As you progress further into the game, the versatility of the combat will only increase due to the tons of weapons and alternative ammo types that are acquired throughout the campaign, as well as an ever-growing palette of bad guys to slaughter. In one area you may be carefully aiming for headshots on rugged armoured foes as you pop in and out of cover, while in the next room you’re wading through swarms of rabid mutants, using nothing but your trusted shotgun. The impressive armoury is filled with upgradable multi-purpose guns, as well as tons of craftable items such as exploding toy cars and boomerangs, offering you a fitting solution for every combat situation. And, perhaps best of all, there is no carry limit. As such, RAGE offers a perfectly balanced combination of the unreasonably bloody, logic-defying carnage of old, and the slick, responsive gunplay of more recent shooters.
The connection between the racing element and the core gameplay remains vague.
Where the combat aspect demonstrates a remarkable equilibrium, the game’s over-arching design testifies of a lack of direction. RAGE wants to be an open world game, a linear shooter and a racing game in one, but there are cracks in each of these elements, resulting in a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ type of composure. The game is set in the Wasteland, a desert-like but colourful area that can be fully explored by the player, either by foot or by car. The actual missions, which seldom venture beyond the ‘kill this group’/'retrieve that item’ formula, take place in separate, more linear places. As a result, most of the ‘exploration’ practically comes down to travelling to the location of the next mission. On the way, enemy vehicles will try to block your path, but you can easily dispose of them with weapons you can install on your car. While this car combat aspect works well in itself, its connection to the core gameplay remains vague. The driving element is expanded by the numerous races you can participate in, but seeing as the rewards you’ll reap almost exclusively translate themselves in (credits for) car upgrades, it is not very lucrative to invest a lot of time in this part of the game other than what is necessary to progress through the campaign.
The open world/linear dichotomy also has a backlash on some of the more technical aspects of the game. RAGE was clearly designed to look detailed even in large areas, but as a result, the more confined sections of the game suffer from blurry textures that look decent from a distance, but will quickly disillusion any player that inspects them from closer distances. Fortunately, the game’s technical issues are largely compensated by the wonderful art design. The Mad Max-like world may take place in a wasteland, but it is filled with bright, vibrant colours that contrast the treacherous nature of the game world. Even the underground locations have pronounced colours that are further enhanced by elements such as fog, rays of light, rust and shiny objects. This provides virtually every area in the game with its own, unique vibe, whether it is the cosiness of the yellow-brown distillery, or the greenish gloom that creeps through the eerie subway system. Vastly varied and detailed, the character models further enrich the environments, making RAGE a game with an original, recognisable look that mask most of the technical hiccups.
Though slightly tarnished by unnecessary travel sections, RAGE’s campaign is a true joy to play through, which is mostly the result of the rock solid action. Even in the most confined areas, the expansive, unrestricted weaponry offers the player a multitude of ways to handle any situation, an experience that stays fresh with the large numbers of enemies and the occasional boss fight. It’s a shame that id seemed to not have been fully aware of what it was doing, resulting in somewhat disjointed gameplay at times. Some of the game’s elements feel unnecessary or aren’t fully fleshed out, even though the developers didn’t have any reason to distract from the wonderful action that lies at RAGE’s core. The game’s anti-climatic ending helps confirm the suspicion that the developers didn’t work with a very clear structure and simply ran out of ideas.
Yet, even if the people at id Software bit off more than they could chew, they proved that they understand what a retro game is truly about: bringing back the old, unrestricted fun while leaving clunky, archaic design elements where they belong: in the past. Because in the end, neither the Romans’ mentality nor ours is wrong. What has worked for many years will most likely continue to work, but new technology can always help improve these tried and tested ideas.