Remember how promising the beginning of this generation was? New franchises popped up everywhere. Gears of War, Resistance, Assassin’s Creed, Wii Sports, and Uncharted headlined a large list of brand new IPs across multiple platforms. Fast forward to 2011, and things aren’t quite so rosy. Sequel after sequel plagues the release list, and while no one’s going to complain about more great games, originality and all-new experiences are at a premium these days. Along comes RAGE, acclaimed developer id Software’s first internally developed game since 2004’s Doom 3, and their first new franchise in a decade and a half.
With Bethesda’s revival of the popular Fallout franchise, post-apocalyptic dystopia is all the, er, rage right now. Fortunately id’s title absolutely owns its setting. RAGE’s opening cutscene shows an asteroid striking the Earth. You and a bunch of other important humans are sealed away inside underground “Arks,” in the hope that when you are later revived you can rebuild society. Unfortunately, upon awakening you find the rest of your Ark dead, and when you emerge you find the Wasteland full of peril.
The background is solid, if not incredibly original, and the world is in general pretty believable. Society has rebuilt itself into small Wild West-style towns and communities, each ruled by its own mayor and sheriff. Above them all is the oppressive Authority, a massively technologically superior group who claims right of rule over the Wasteland. The story is revealed in bits and pieces, but the overarching plot is really barely grazed in this entry. Few games have been more clearly designed for a sequel. Luckily, the more personal stories of the individual characters and towns are much more fleshed-out. There are plenty of interesting personalities, although our hero himself takes the silent approach, and there’s more than enough narrative strength to keep you interested. The ending, unfortunately, doesn’t really resolve anything. RAGE is clearly designed as the first in a series, and not a stand-alone title.
Luckily, the Wasteland tells its own tales without the need for a ton of spoken dialog and complex plot strings. The world of RAGE is gorgeously and lovingly detailed, albeit the over-world itself (called the Wasteland) doesn’t fare quite as well as the rest. The Wasteland is divided into two major sections (separated by the two campaign discs on the Xbox 360). Each section is really a series of long roads connecting small towns and dungeons. The roads themselves are full of jumps, alternate paths, and enemy bandits for you to blow up on your travels. Slightly edited versions of these Wasteland roads will also be where you race when picking up races in town. However, there’s not really that much reason to be in the Wasteland other than to travel to the individual locations within, and each section of the Wasteland can be driven from end to end in a matter of a few minutes.
While a more detailed and varied Wasteland would be nice, it’s not what you actually play the game for. The towns and dungeons of RAGE are incredibly well-designed. Each town is rich and believable, with unique citizens and storylines to go with them. The two main towns of Wellspring and Subway Town are especially impressive. Dungeons, which you’ll encounter around a dozen of during the campaign, are incredibly atmospheric, and range from a dead mutant-infested city that could be straight out of a zombie movie to the pristine sci-fi structures of the Authority. Each area is lushly detailed and designed for a unique experience. They are all pretty linear, however, and the most a path will branch is down a short hallway to find some extra loot.
And boy is loot important! Have you ever played a shooter and thought “Man, I wish this had all the stuff I like in my RPGs except that whole leveling thing?” If so, RAGE is for you! The game features just about everything you could expect out of an RPG, including loot, crafting, modifiable equipment, questing, and exploration (albeit this last one is reduced some by the game’s linear dungeons and simple over-world). All sorts of weird items can be found in the world of RAGE, from vendor trash to crafting components. Crafting components can be bought at vendors, as well as certain schematics, but a lot of them will have to be obtained in the world and through questing. There is an economy, but I never struggled to buy what I needed.
As for all your customization options, they are many. RAGE offers only a handful of weapons, and they just cover the basics (shotgun, pistol, assault rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher, sniper, crossbow, etc.). The real fun comes in the ammo types. Almost all the weapons in the game have at least one type of alternate ammo, and these ammos often completely change the function of the gun. For example, the Combat Shotgun can become a grenade launcher with Pop Rockets inserted. Id Software also included the most famous gun they ever designed in the form of ammo for the game's final weapon. This ammo variety is combined with the ability to craft all sorts of interesting secondary items, including exploding RC cars, grenades (regular and EMP), turrets, and the incredibly awesome Wingsticks, for a varied first person combat experience. Add in some fun boss fights, and the campaign does not fail to impress. For some odd reason the final dungeon lacks a final boss, however, which was odd.
Outside of combat you’ll find plenty to do. Side-quests range from deliveries to revisiting the dungeons in the main campaign, and races are always available. You can also participate in a variety of money-making mini-games around town. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, there’s not a ton of reason to explore the Wasteland itself outside of what you’ll see as you head to your next mission. You can, however, hunt bandits for some extra racing certificates (which upgrade your vehicles) and cash. There is a simple dice game to gamble, five finger filet for a less luck-based experience, and even a full-fledged collectable battle card game called RAGE Frenzy.
In RAGE Frenzy you will gather cards across the world of RAGE and use them to build a deck to compete with two possible opponents (one in each main town). You shuffle your chosen deck, and then one card is dealt per turn to each player. Character cards have an attack and health value, while vehicle cards just have health (they can only defend). Explosives can also be drawn, and they are dropped on your opponent’s team as soon as they enter play. You can have up to five cards on your play field at a time. As you draw, the card is positioned automatically on the furthest available position. Melee cards can only attack those enemies across from them, but ranged cards can shoot any enemy on the field. The catch is that ranged cards also have to attack a vehicle if it’s in play. The game ends when one player’s deck has been completely exhausted. The game is simple in mechanics, but addictive enough that I found myself playing many rounds, and I was incredibly excited whenever I found a new card. I spent at least an hour on the game between building decks and playing matches in town.
Getting back to the races mentioned above: while RAGE plays like a shooter first, the vehicles are an integral part of the game. There are three vehicle classes, which basically boil down to light, medium, and heavy. In the over-world you want to go with whatever vehicle you have that’s currently the heaviest armored and armed (to kill bandit vehicles), but in races the vehicle and weapons available are stipulated by the event type. The off-road nature of the game’s design makes the racing feel similar to MotorStorm, although the battles and rallies are closer to something you would find in Twisted Metal.
There is only one vehicle for each class (two for buggy if you pre-ordered), and there aren’t a whole lot of racing modes. You can buy better equipment for each vehicle as you earn race certificates, but unlike the weapons there’s no real customization; you simply put on whatever you own that’s best. The racing modes include a standard vanilla race, a rocket race, and a rocket rally in which you try to capture rally points while driving through them while blowing up your foes. Online this is limited further to three types of rallies (which vary by how you score, not by the basic game type) and a deathmatch mode. All of this is great fun, but more expansion to the entire driving side of the game, including more things to do in the over-world, more online racing options, and more customization to the vehicles themselves, would have been great.
Fortunately for RAGE, it still has quite a bit of content. The campaign lasted me 14.5 hours, and while I did spend a good amount of time sampling the available side content, I didn’t complete all of the races or nearly all of the side-quests. Completing everything should take a solid 18 hours or so, and it’s certainly worth doing given the high quality of RAGE’s available distractions. Hunting down all the trading cards could take even longer if you don’t cheat and look them up. On the multiplayer side, RAGE offers vehicle combat in the form of three rally modes and a deathmatch, and a cooperative Legend of the Wasteland game mode, in which you fight through specially made co-op dungeons as characters from the campaign. Both of these modes are fun and well-made. That said, the lack of more racing modes is puzzling, and the lack of competitive first person shooter multiplayer is disappointing, given the excellent shooting and fun ammo variety.
On the graphical side, RAGE is stunning. It’s easily among the best looking console titles, carried both by the technically impressive id Tech 5 engine and the great artwork. It doesn’t fare very well on 360 if you do not install the discs, however. Textures do not load properly, and you’ll see plenty of pop-in, so make sure you have the hard drive space free to install both discs. On PS3 you’ll also have a mandatory install, in this case one of 8GBs. The voice acting is great, and carries the recognizable video game regulars (Steven Blum voices at least two characters). The music is appropriate to the action and tone, but it’s not all that catchy and doesn’t stand out.
If you’re as tired as I am of playing sequel after sequel, and miss the exciting pioneering days of the early generation when new franchises were just arriving, RAGE is probably for you. With excellent design, pacing, presentation, and a unique combination of mechanics from multiple genres, it is absolutely worth your attention. I do hope that future entries in this series (and it’s clearly designed to be a series) expand further on the vehicle, over-world, and multiplayer aspects. RAGE is an auspicious start to a great new franchise and worthy of id Software’s incredible history.