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Review: RAGE for PC, PS3 and Xbox360

ID re-affirm themselves as the kings of first person shooters.

You may remember ID Software as the people who basically invented the modern first person shooter with titles such as Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake.

Thing is, ID haven’t been up to much in the last few years, and now I know why: they were making RAGE.

RAGE has to be one of the most polished games that I have ever had the privilege to play.  That’s not to say that its without flaws, I’ll get to that, but overall playing it is a fantastic experience, though not entirely what I was expecting.

Premise

RAGE is published by Bethesda, the people behind Fallout, so it’s not hard to believe that it’s set in a post apocalyptic wasteland.  RAGE’s wasteland is the after effect of an asteroid which is depicted in the opening film sequence.

After side-swiping the moon, it collides at full speed with the Earth igniting the air and killing pretty much everything on the planet, save a few scattered survivors.

The player takes control of an unnamed man, preserved as part of the Eden project; a series of underground “Arks”, each containing 12 persons with the skills to rebuild society following the disaster.  No information is given regarding the player’s name, their background or their amazing skill that warranted them being saved in the first place.

Straight out of the Ark you’re attacked by ghoulish creatures, before being saved by a local man and taken to his township.  Still no details on who you are or what you’re doing, and herein lies the problem.

Just like ID’s previous shooters; there’s a distinct lack of storyline in the early stages of the game, which was great twenty years ago, but these days it just feels like something’s missing.

The only thing that you know for sure is that the bad guys are called The Authority, presumably a sort of police state military organisation.

Gameplay

ID have thrown a bit of a curve ball here.  RAGE has always been pushed as a 1st person shooter, but large portions of the game take place in vehicles traveling between various townships in the wasteland.

That being said, it’s far from boring, you’ll usually be attacked en route by raiders of some variety, requiring you to use weapons and shields bought from one of the township traders.

The missions are picked up by talking to characters in the towns.  Mayors, sheriffs, store owners, each can offer you missions to complete, be they part of the main story arc or one of a whole load of side missions.

Early on there’s a lot of driving going on, but as the game progresses you’ll find yourself taking on more and more 1st person action in a variety of different locations.  The fact that you drive around between missions is that it gives ID an excuse to provide some pretty diverse environments.

When you do find yourself embroiled in first person action, you’ll not be disappointed.  As you’d expect from ID there’s not much emphasis on puzzle solving or clever map design.  You can find your way around the maps pretty easily, though there are a few surprises on the way.

The bad guys are animated very well and have a variety of different fighting styles depending on their genus.

Mutants will usually just run at you in a frenzy, where as raiders will fight with a bit more skill.  A lot more skill, actually.  The AI is a breath of fresh air, bad guys won’t just step out in front of you and wait to be shot at, they’re cunning, they’ll lay in wait for you to step out and then they’ll take a shot at you.

All this adds up to a more rounded gameplay experience than you might expect.  It’s easy to lose hours in RAGE without finding yourself bored.

Graphics and sound

Expectations were high for RAGE, it’s development had been a long time coming and ID had been quite vocal about what to expect.  People’s expectations were raised further when it came to light that RAGE would be shipping on three DVD’s for the PC and Xbox versions of the game (and a single Bluray for the PS3).  Even the Steam version is over 20GB in size, which is a lot for any game at the moment.

When you play the game it’s obvious why the installation size is so big; it’s stunning.

Graphically, I haven’t seen many games that are in the same league as this one.  Textures are beautifully rendered and character animations are flawless.  There have been some performance issues with the PC version, these seem to be isolated mostly to users with ATI graphics cards, with ID promising to work with ATI on improved drivers.

On initial release, there were issues on the PC version with textures taking a long time to buffer, the result was the world being plunged into a low-level of detail when the player spins around too quickly.  It wasn’t long before a patch was released to help fix this, by allowing PC users greater control over their graphics settings.

ID have also done a great job of incorporating sound into RAGE.  In the townships there’s a lot of background noise to keep you interested.  Townsfolk will talk to you and each other as you pas through.  ID have clearly spent a lot of time scripting the characters, with few uttering the same phrases twice.

In action scenes, you’ll probably hear the bad guys before you see them, sound is used to great effect to both assist and terrify you, depending on the situation.

All this adds up to a great playing experience, at times you’ll find yourself well and truly immersed in the game, to the point where a tap on the shoulder from a friend results in a very un-manly yelp… once.

Conclusions

While it may not be the shooter that some people expected, RAGE is still a great title.  The environment graphics and character modelling are of a level that have rarely been seen before, and the story itself is pretty enthralling, if a little tried and tested.

Unfortunately, RAGE does have its flaws.  Performance on the PC version has been hampered by poor driver support for ATI cards, while the console versions suffer as much as any first person shooter does when using a control pad.

That being said, on the whole it’s still a pretty decent effort from the originators of the modern first person shooter.  Perhaps a bit more polish could have been given to some areas, but that shouldn’t stop you buying it.

RAGE is available now on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

Author

Matt

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