A giant meteor tumbles towards the Earth, gaining speed as it plummets through the Earth’s atmosphere spelling certain death for the planet and all inhabitants below. It hits with the force of a million atom bombs wiping out every living thing on the planet, unless they were in an Ark of course. This brief introduction outlines what happened to the Earth giving you an insight into why everything is now so completely messed up and before you can say “Fallout 3” id’s new shooter Rage begins.
You play as one of the few Ark survivors; as you step out into the light for the first time you are greeted with a ruined decaying world filled with feral gangs and dodgy mutants all too happy to blast you into a million pieces. Luckily you are a bit of a bad ass who is not to be trifled with, that said knowing when to run is an important skill. As you venture out of your Ark you are immediately in danger and a lovely guy called Hagar swings by in a funky little buggy to save you from a right kicking. As it happens Ark survivors are rare and fetch a pretty penny so you are immediately a target for lots of bad people.
Hagar is a lovely chap who is more than happy to take you under his wing and ease you into the world of Rage. He introduces you to your first few fetch quests, helping you acclimatise and presenting you with your first weapon. The world of Rage is made up of a series of small towns and ‘other’ random locations, primarily for the story missions. Traversing the landscape is part of the fun and can be done in one of several transports. Initially when working with Hagar you will be presented with minor simple activities and it’s all very straightforward. One of the biggest criticisms that can be levelled at Rage is the first two hours game play - It’s a painfully uneventful start to a game that’s been hyped as the next big FPS RPG hybrid. Luckily if you wade your way through this disappointing opening things start to open up upon reaching the town of Wellspring.
Wellspring is one of the bigger ‘base’ towns and it is here that the real game begins. Quests are divvied out via key characters and a jobs board; buggy racing is also available as well as a number of entertaining mini games. Rage has a lot of things to do, sadly for the open world RPG gamers out there all activities are isolated and contained within towns such as Wellsprings. Jump in a buggy and you can indeed take off to explore the wastelands but except for a handful of bandit buggy’s you will not find a great deal of action. Exploration is almost non existent within the world of Rage and it most definitely is not an open world adventure. Exploration inside and outside of the various towns can frustrate at times, especially early on in the game. There is no mini map for objectives and/or key characters so you do spend quite a bit of time running around trying to find progression points while you learn the layout.
Sadly the story gets a little lost after the initial few hours which is a crying shame really as it’s one of the those things you’d hoped this kind of game would absolutely nail. The opening sequence is very brief and following that you get so caught up in quest after quest with very little overall narrative that the story just evaporates, never really returning. It’s a pity as the premise is an excellent one (if nothing new) and the world is so beautifully realised you want it to engage you that little bit more than it actually does.
Whilst looking (and being marketed) like a mixture of Fallout 3 and probably more accurately ,b>Borderlands, Rage really isn’t like either. It is a very linear adventure with only a handful of side missions desperately trying to pull off the illusion of an open world RPG and sadly in that respect it fails totally. That said if you can look past what you thought it was going to be and accept it for what it is, it’s a hell of a shooter. Brought to us by arguably the kings of the FPS genre, Rage is a fairly simple balls out shooter hiding behind the mask of a modern day RPG adventure. This really isn’t necessarily a bad thing but people whose expectations have been set by some of the marketing that’s been put out for the game may stop in that initial few hours and think “What the hell? This isn’t what I signed up for”!
The main campaign is littered with some side missions, Mario Kart style races and some crafting but these additions do nothing to address the overall linear feel of the game. The crux of the single player adventure sees you working through the core missions, taking on the odd side missions should you feel so inclined and all in all the adventure is lightweight compared to a proper RPG but reasonable for a mainstream shooter. The game is really broken up into two parts; tight, smart corridor shooting and racing. Both are hugely entertaining, providing some of the best FPS action of recent times and the more you play the better it all gets.
If anything is in complete tune with gamer expectations it is the game’s looks as Rage is absolutely stunning on the 360. The colour palette is used to perfection and as a whole visually the game is up there will the best that the current generation of consoles have to offer. The environments are breathtaking, character models expertly realised and the animation is second to none - had Fallout 3 looked this good several gamers would have spontaneously combusted. Sure Fallout 3 is an epic game but if anything needed to be changed it was the game’s engine and its overall graphical quality.
The graphics give an unrivalled visualisation of an apocalypse which sets the bar on this generation of consoles. The 360 is clearly being pushed to its very limits and whilst fantastic does lead to some excessive texture pop in. Even after undertaking the massive 20GB+ install long load times and texture pop in are still quite evident.
Whilst stunning visually the combat is what makes Rage worth your time (and money). id Software are no strangers to first person shooters (some would inventing the genre) and with Rage they refine the experience creating a balls to the wall kick ass shooter. A few hours in and your arsenal will comprise of a shotgun which packs a hell of a wallop and is devastating up close, an assault rifle which feels fantastic, having just the right amount of kick back, and an Authority pulse cannon that does all sorts of terrible (epic) things to bad guys. The feedback in general from all weaponry is absolutely spot on especially from the ‘special’ ammo which can be used in a few of the available weapons. You will need it also as the enemies faced do not lie down easily.
Enemy AI is one of the key elements in Rage which sets it apart from the usual ‘peep o’ game play military shooters in particular have adopted over the years. Enemies don’t just hide behind cover and pop their head out for you to shoot them before moving to the next area, far from it - they dodge, they weave, they strafe, they use the environment and in a lot of cases take a fair few bullets to put down. Enemy AI is extremely aggressive and they really do come after you on some of the later missions, this all adds to the feeling of Rage being a fluid old school shooter.
To aid you in your battle against such aggressive psychotic enemies (aside from your pile of guns of course) is the ability to construct some really cool gadgets. Spider bots will spring to life and hunt your enemies down when deployed, static turrets do a great job of nailing enemies but by far and way the coolest item is the Wingstick. A boomerang like device with blades attached, this puppy cuts off heads like its going out of style. Easily constructed these little fellas are perfect in the heat of battle, triggered quickly, easy to aim and devastating with enemies in short range. To add to this plethora of gadgets you can build/buy some powerful ammunition as well as upgrading your existing weaponry. This is about as far as the RPG mechanics go with your character, you can buy blueprints for both weapons and vehicles and then use spare parts to create, but that’s it, no stats, no levelling etc.
The racing element to Rage is at first a little odd but after a while a hell of a lot of fun. Imagine Mario Kart with proper guns, proper missiles with huge explosions and you get the picture. Racing is required to upgrade your existing vehicle and acquire new ones, for the later mission this is a must so expect to take part in a fair few races to progress smoothly through the entire game. Thankfully it’s a riot and it complements the main gun play superbly - giving you just enough to spice things up a little when you become tired of going from A to B to collect X while shooting loads of bad guys in the face along the way.
In addition to the gun play and the racing there are several mini games within the inhabited towns and whilst they are a little bit of fun (achievements attached), you needn’t really play them to progress. Small amounts of cash can be won but it’s not something you’d happily plough hours into.
Clocking in at around 12-15 hours the campaign is a blast, epic gun play matched with some fabulous racing are enough to overlook the paper thin lacklustre story telling and overall lack of narrative. To beef up the content a little there are also co-op and online multi-player modes to get your teeth in to:
Co-op - The Legends of the Wastleland missions are a clever addition; essentially these are fun little isolated missions featuring some recognisable faces from the main campaign and are an excellent edition to the main campaign. They do a really nice job of filling in some story gaps from the main campaign so are definitely worth playing. All can be played online or locally if you prefer couch co-op.
Multi player - Bit of an odd one this as it’s an id Software title but there is no online FPS game play, not even a simple death match game mode. The least you’d expect from a game with this level of superb gun play is a handful of multi-player modes but no, nothing of the sort. What you do get though is Road Rage - spread across six maps and four modes, up to four players can battle it out Mario Kart style. It’s short lived and doesn’t really go far enough to remove the disappointment that there is no proper multi player but it’s a laugh while it lasts. You will not come back to it after a few attempts but it’s fun while it lasts.
Overall there are mixed emotions when playing Rage from beginning to end, clearly reflected in the varying tone of this review. Ultimately though even if your expectations were not correctly managed in the lead up to the games launch, Rage does stand tall as an excellent old school shooter and is well worth your time. The story may be wafer thin and the RPG mechanics are shallow but with fierce gun play, superb graphics and one of the best Mario Kart clones to ever grace the Xbox it’s a sound purchase.