“Your appreciation of The Scorchers will depend fully on how willing you were to look past the flaws of the original game.”
Developer: id Software
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Platforms: PC (this review), X360, PS3
Genre: First-Person Shooter
WARNING: This review contains potential spoilers about RAGE’s main storyline. We suggest that you read our spoiler-free review of that game if you have not yet finished it.
Gaming is a medium that constantly evolves, meaning that gamers have to evolve with it. Whether we like it or not, innovations that have emerged in recent years, such as achievements and digital distribution, have since become realities that we have to cope with. But perhaps the biggest change this generation has seen, the introduction of the DLC model, is still the most delicate of these innovations. In absence of technical or ethical limitations, the contents and price or DLCs can differ vastly. While the lack of restrictions can and often does lead to shameless cash grabs and the monetisation of content that used to be free, it also grants liberty to developers in how to improve or expand their games. They can choose to simply add content like the expansion packs of old, add several minor expansions for smaller fees, or address issues with the main game.
The Scorchers, the recently released add-on for RAGE, demonstrates the versatility of the DLC model, as it does not only add a new questline, but also tries to wash away the bad taste of the main game’s disappointing finale. Even though id Software’s first person shooter provided bucketloads of old-school carnage, even the biggest enthusiasts had to acknowledge that the abrupt ending was a piece of thoroughly haphazard game design. The final stage provided too little challenge and opportunity to use all of the weapons and ammo types the player had been saving up in anticipation of a final showdown. With The Scorchers, id addresses these complaints, adding an extended play mode that lets players finish unsolved business in the game’s Wasteland overworld, and offering a new questline that allows them to finally unleash the powerful weapons that remained all but unused during the main storyline. The DLC certainly makes the initial disappointment with RAGE’s ending a lot more bearable, but also fails to completely avoid making the same mistakes as the original game.
The Scorchers is seamlessly integrated in the main game: players will get a quest update telling them to investigate rumours of a cave near the Hagar Settlement, one of the first locations you visit in the original campaign. This means that you can simply load your last save and travel to the destination with all your weapons, items and upgrades intact, instead of having to start a new game. While the questline can thus be started at any point, it is clear that most of the missions are designed for players who have already finished the main game, or at least have more gear at their disposal than the pistol they started out with. The titular Scorchers gang is armed to the teeth, with enough armour to make sure that they can take more than just a few hits from the standard assault rifle before they go down. In addition, their tank-like elite soldiers provide an excellent challenge, even with fully charged late-game weapons at your disposal.
Most of the missions are designed for players who have already finished the main storyline.
Fortunately, The Scorchers also provides an appropriate answer to the hordes of rugged enemies by expanding RAGE’s already impressive arsenal. The brand new nail gun, which is obtained early in the new questline, is a brutal piece of weaponry designed to take on any type of enemy. Weak mutants, of which there are plenty in the new missions, can be taken down with rapid bursts of small nails, while more persistent foes can be silenced with the help of skull-piercing steel rods. Even the biggest bad guys aren’t safe, because the weapon can be transformed into a full-fledged rail gun that will turn just about any lifeform into a messy collection of bloodsplatters. All this carnage does – quite literally – come at a price, because the weapon’s ammunition isn’t cheap and can probably only be afforded my more advanced and wealthy players. It is a price well worth paying, though, as the nail gun is not only a faithful expansion of RAGE’s already rock-solid, ultra-violent gunplay, but also a multifunctional piece of weaponry that makes the new missions a lot more bearable in terms of difficulty.
As with the new weapon, the missions appear to be a continuation of RAGE’s philosophy rather than a reinvention of it. This means that some of the gameplay potential is yet to be capitalised upon. More open-ended level design with less confined combat areas and multiple entry points would certainly have made the game’s already stellar combat stand out even more. Regrettably, the developers played it safe and went with the tight corridors and narrow paths that we grew familiar with in the main game, rendering the light exploration elements from the overworld virtually non-existent in the actual missions. This is not so much a substantial problem as it is a pet peeve, because the combat itself remains fresh due to the terrific gunplay and great variety of enemies. At the same time, it does reaffirm the observation that, despite its many qualities, RAGE could have been something even bigger and better than it already is.
The new areas retain an enormous variation in colour and structure.
On a more positive note, many of the strong elements of RAGE’s main campaign make their return in The Scorchers. The new areas retain an enormous variation in colour and structure. During the approximately three hours that it takes to finish this questline, you will fight your way through caves, abandoned industrial compounds and even a giant, Aztec-inspired structure that provides a surprising break from the game’s overarching sci-fi theme. It is a constant joy to see how fluidly the quests guide us from one area to another without conforming to the grey/brown design standard that has artistically crippled so many post-apocalyptic games.
Despite the obvious added value of The Scorchers add-on, it remains discouraging that even in the rebound, id Software leaves us with somewhat of a bitter-sweet feeling. While the ending of the DLC is not quite as out-of-the-blue as that of the main campaign, it doesn’t feel as conclusive as it should have been. Granted, you are less likely to walk out of this new adventure with your best weapons untouched, but the experience does end just when things start getting really interesting. Even some of the DLC’s additional features feel a bit half-baked. For instance, there is now the possibility to replay old missions, but these replays are marred considerably by the fact that you can only choose from a limited set of load-outs and are no longer able to pick up ammo from dead bodies, sometimes forcing you to face a level boss with nothing but your bare fists. While this can be frustrating, it could have been done consciously to make the replays more challenging. However, secret areas and rooms are still accessible, even though any items they may have contained have been removed, so the implementation of this feature comes across as rushed regardless.
If anything, The Scorchers shows that DLC can be revered or loathed, depending on one’s perspective. First and foremost, the add-on deals with the most common complaint about the main game: its anti-climatic conclusion. As such, it is ideal for the people who enjoyed RAGE, but were left somewhat perplexed when they saw the end credits rolling without having to duke it out against a powerful boss, nor being able to go back into the Wasteland and wrap up the side missions. At the same time, those who were not satisfied with RAGE’s gameplay in the first place, will not find any redemption in the Scorchers questline. The DLC builds upon the fundamentals of the original game, meaning that your appreciation of The Scorchers will depend fully on how willing you were to look past the flaws of RAGE proper.