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Feature Review : RAGE

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Well finally I am ready to review RAGE. That’s right, the votes are counted, the mutants are dead and I finally managed to complete a 12 hour game in a 2 week period.

Because I’m just awesome like that.

So what did I think? Well, honestly, I think there are some misconceptions to clear up before I launch into the review.

Firstly, this is not Fallout 3 and this is not Borderlands. If you were looking for some fusion of the two, which was kind of what we were promised, then keep looking.

Secondly, this isn’t an RPG. This is an FPS. No amount of vehicle combat or engineering skill will change this. As id Software said themselves “we’re id, we make shooters”. And that has never been more true than in this game where it seems like they tried to do otherwise.

Keeping those two things in mind, RAGE is pretty great game. Not going to win Game of the Year and it’s not what hardcore post-apocalypse RPG fans have been waiting for, but it is enjoyable to play as long as you play it for what it is. And that is a shooter.

But I’ll stop repeating myself and get into the specifics.

RAGE begins with an awesome cinematic of the apocalypse, a meteor crashing down on earth (and scraping the Moon) in a very dinosaurian ending to our pitiful existence. Or at least, it should have been. But us crafty humans built “Arcs” (see: Vaults) to avoid the coming catastrophe, and so it is that our persistent species prevails once again. You wake up 100 years later as John Everyman (I invented that name since they never called me anything but “Arc Survivor”) in a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with angry (happy?) locals, mutants, gangs and the obligatory evil police-force (in this case named The Authority).

And the beginning feels streamlined, maybe too much so. The opening cinematic is polished and magnificent, but unfortunately runs for approx. 30 seconds and the only other one like it is bracketed at the end of the game. But the world of RAGE itself has visual pleasures.

RAGE is a game which looks great. There’s no getting around it. The use of levels and superior textures really set this aside from Fallout or Borderlands in terms of sheer visual splendour, but there is a very good reason for this. The world of RAGE is probably around 1/10th of the size.

So yeah, exploring is pretty much out.

But back to the action. RAGE introduces you to the vehicle element early, with Dan Hagar sniping a mutant off of your chest before giving you a nice ride in his van. Don’t worry, he plays nice. John Goodman is instantly recognisable, something which is somewhat of a disappointment since he is in the game for under half an hour. But yeah, the vehicles.

There’s something strange in the way RAGE approaches racing. They take it more seriously than Borderlands but somehow manage to negate the natural joy in racing around I experienced in that game. Maybe it’s paying for ammo, upgrades, repairs and all that jazz but the vehicle portion of RAGE quickly turned from semi-interesting to semi-exasperating. The racing elements felt forced and way too prevalent, and the system itself was reminiscent of Star Wars: Pod Racer on N64 but somehow a bit clunkier. Your vehicles are easily flipped, easily crashed and there are plenty of invisible walls on the terrain for you to run into. For me they quickly became a point A to point B thing.

Here is where I would say “that’s fine, since the story of the game is your main pull through the events anyway” – but it isn’t. I could write a whole article on the absence of story in RAGE. It almost seems like it was done on purpose, having you play as a man with no name who you never really see full-frontal (bar hilarious quad-biking) whose only motivation in life is to stay alive to reach the next town. By the time you reach the second disc (so 6 hours in) this is rectified, but by then it was a bit of too little too late. They neatly wrapped up what little story you were offered in the latter portion of the game for the ending, but realistically this should have been justified a lot earlier on.

Also, the end of the game has no boss fight. You have been warned.

So what’s the good news? Well with a mix-bag game like RAGE, there are bound to be some elements you enjoy. And for me there were two, the weapons and engineering.

RAGE, like I said, is a shooter. And like all great shooters, it has great weapons. With around 10 unlocked over the course of the game, there is a gun (or a crossbow) for every situation – and they feel good. You could honestly play the entirety of RAGE with just the shotgun (after the portion where you are shotgunless) and you would enjoy yourself. Not to say it’s not more fun with Crossbow, Sniper, Rocket Launcher and Rifle thrown into the mix – but the weapons feel real, and they feel awesome to shoot. There are a whole load of ammo types (between 1-4 per weapon) and these augment your weapons to give the game much more of a Bioshock feel. From explosive crossbow bolts (see: Torque Bow) to my personal favourite Pop Rockets (part grenade, part shotgun shell) if you are equipped with the right kind of ammo, you will get the job done and have fun doing it.

Unfortunately the great weapons are let down by the weapon selection system, which resembles the D-Pad Gears of War setup but unfortunately skips on the D-Pad quick buttons (on Xbox). This means you have to hold RB, tilt down the LS and then press A to confirm a weapon switch. Very annoying. Alternatively you can tap RB to change to your next weapon, but since this cycles through the 4 equipped and not all the guns in your inventory, it’s an imperfect solution at best. A weapon wheel (like Mass Effect) or simply better shortcut keys to changing weapons would have worked wonders.

No idea if PlayStation or PC copies suffered the same way, but it was close to game-breaking for me at times.

Another great aspect is the Engineering skill, which is basically identical to Engineering in World of Warcraft. Basically by buying or finding parts you can build all sorts of things, from bandages and lockpicks to different ammo types. You can also acquire the patterns for some nifty gadgets like auto-turrets, spider robots and bomb cars. Using this skill at the later end really made RAGE enjoyable for me, after a few hours without them which was basically just shooting my way through different types of bandits/mutants.

Also you can build Wingsticks, which are basically what would happen if someone made a Frisbee that could chop your head off at the neck. They. Are. Awesome!

Of course, it would help if the AI weren’t so predictable. As I hinted at earlier, the story of RAGE basically puts you driving from one place to another killing people. There are no gather missions, diplomacy is not on the menu. You move from one gang hideout to the next, eradicating all signs of life. There’s actually an amusing disparity between the friendly settlers (yeah, they are friendly as all hell – the apocalypse did wonders for manners) and the frequency that they ask you to commit genocide. Like I said, this is a shooter. Get ready to shoot, a lot.

The one exception to this rule is the racing missions, but we don't talk about those.

The AI of RAGE can seem complex. The movement patterns, reactions to wounds and differences between types of mutants/raiders/Authority patrols are really well done. Unfortunately, the base AI seems to have no real situationally-generated thoughts. Which means that after you have worked out the way they move, it’s comically similar to shooting targets in an arcade. Head pops up top, you shoot. Head pops to the side, you shoot. Gun pops over, you wait and then his head… yeah shoot.

This can be distracting at times, but isn’t really game breaking – just something that seems unpolished and can be noticeable later on.

Oh and another thing, when it tells you to save often – save often. Checkpoints in RAGE are few and far between. Luckily they employ a safety net in the form of your “Arc Suit” which basically brings you back to life on a long cooldown. Unfortunately it doesn't activate if you die from a car crash or say, walking into a propeller – which means that you can often accidently set yourself back an hour or so. It happened to me 3 times in a 12 hour game, it wasn’t particularly enjoyable.

At the end of the day RAGE has done a lot better than some of the titles this year. It’s a new franchise with plenty of room for growth, but some very enjoyable aspects that have guaranteed it as a replay candidate in my heart. The biggest problem seems to be that it tries to be too much. By throwing RPG elements, racing and a strong FPS vibe all jangled together – it distracts from itself. It tries to be funny AND scary. You both are meant to relate to the people around you, and yet can’t because you never talk and have no name. It’s a strange mix of features that definitely could have used editing back at the feature planning stage.

But for all of its quirks and odd elements, it is enjoyable to play and still probably in my top 5 games of this year. For a certain type of FPS player, you could easily find it preferable to Gears of War 3 (I know I did) despite the difference in review scores between the two.

RAGE tries very hard to be a bunch of different things, and I’m glad that it tries – instead of sitting back and growing complacent like most other FPS franchises around at the moment.

Did everything work? Definitely not.

Did anything work? Absolutely.

Is it worth buying? Totally. As long as you want an FPS that is a little more free roam than most, and nothing more.

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