Reviewed: October 4, 2011
Released: October 4, 2011
Itís been a long time since a game has left me as speechless as RAGE. If I had to think back, the last time I was this moved by the first 20 minutes of a video game, it would have to be BioShock in the summer of 2007. But then again, this is id Software, the guys who only release a game every 3-5 years, and when they do; well, you know something special is going to happen.|
Rage shattered all of my high expectations, hopes and dreams. Iíve been following this game closely since it debuted at the 2010 E3 show where we gave the game Best Graphics of the Show and deservedly so. The game is gorgeousÖalmost too much for mere mortal eyes, as I felt compelled to shield my gaze much like my character, as I emerged from my Ark slumber 106 years after a giant asteroid had smashed into the Earth leaving behind ragtag groups of survivors, various tribes of bandits, and roving bands of cannibalistic mutants.
But Rage is more than just a pretty face. In fact, itís more than just an FPS game. On the surface, the game looks like a prettier version of Borderlands, and thatís not too far off the mark save all that annoying RPG stuff like stats and leveling up. The game also mirrors Red Dead Redemption; only instead of a horse you now have an ATV and an assortment of buggies as the story progresses.
Rage thrusts you into this futuristic holocaust right out of the Ark door, as mutants ambush you before your eyes can adjust to the sun. You are saved by Dan Hagar (voiced by John Goodman), who gives you a ride back to his settlement, which will serve as your hub for the next several missions. Missions include the standard fare like clearing out a settlement of mutants, running fetch quests for supplies, tweaking a satellite dish, and looking into the disappearance of a missing boy. Things ramp up when itís time to get your own buggy, and you must invade an enemy garage to retrieve a large assortment of engine parts.
About four hours into this 30-hour game youíll make your way to Wellspring, one of the larger settlements that will serve as your hub for all activity including various missions and racing events such as time trials, combat, and rally racing, plus various odd jobs found at the community job board, and even a contestant on Mutant Bash TV, a popular survival gameshow. Wellspring is a fantastic place to explore with dozens of great characters to interact with as well as a store, tavern, sheriff, mayor, and several other sources of story missions and side quests that take place all over the Wasteland.
The Wasteland is huge, but thankfully you have a GPS that will guide you to whichever mission you have active in your jobs list. Interestingly enough, you'll visit most all major locations at least twice, but in a noble effort to keep things from getting repeitive, your second pass through each area will be in reverse, and yes it does make a difference, especially when they repopulate the level with new enemies in new locations. So while your first trip through the Dead City will have you fighting all sorts of mutants, your return trip will have you going up against Authority Snipers. Another perk to exploring each area twice is finding all the cleverly stashed collectible items and breaching locked doors.
While many may consider the racing a minor component of Rage, this driving game is so much fun itís hard not to get lost in these missions for hours. Divided into various brackets, you can pick races that require certain vehicles and specific weapons then try to come in first place to win racing certificate that can be redeemed for new car parts and upgrades. As you get new weapons and new vehicles more races will become available to you. The driving is pure arcade and totally awesome with tracks that take place in real Wasteland environments, so when you do go back to the story youíll recognize where those tracks fit into the real world.
As far as racing mechanics, think Mario Kart meets MotorStorm with a dash of Twisted Metal. Sorry none of those games are Xbox 360, but you get the idea. You pick either miniguns or rockets depending on the race, then hot-slot up to four items like shields, mines, armor repair, or several others that you can use during the event. Sometimes the race is pure racing with no weapons, other times you blast your way to the finish line, and rally races having you scrambling to certain locations in sequence to earn rally points. And for as much fun as this all is in the main game, you can also play online in four-player races that include a few modes not found in the story like retrieving falling meteor fragments as they hit the ground and a node capture mode where you have to hit three rally points in a row to score.
In addition to a surprisingly good racing game, Rage also delivers a solid FPS experience, which should come as no surprise to id fans Ė after all, they pioneered the FPS genre and theyíve basically reinvented it for a new generation of games. First up is the incredibly difficult combat with AI that makes the most out of available cover, and partly enemy pathing, and by that I mean these crazy-ass monkey-men mutants that will run along walls, swing from the ceiling, and somersault under your bullets as they rush toward you in a hungry rage. Iím pretty good at FPS games and I was having a helluva time trying to hit these mutants on the run.
Tactics will vary between human bandits and mutants however. Humans are more traditional, and you can snipe them from afar or flush them out with grenades or mow them down with machine gun fire when exposed. Mutants require a few tricks; either blasting them at pointblank with a shotgun or going for the one-hit kill with my new all-time favorite Rage weapon Ė the Wingstick. These three-bladed throwing weapons are perfect for decapitating, dismembering, or otherwise killing most lesser targets with a single strike, and if youíre lucky, the thing will fly right back into your inventory. It got to the point where I wouldnít leave a settlement with less than 60 Wingsticks in my pack. Things get more inventive when you get the crossbow that shoots dynamite bolts or better yet; mind control bolts that allow you to briefly take over an enemy and remotely detonate them.
Rage offers three levels of difficulty that will redefine the word, ďdifficultĒ. Even on normal mode you can expect to die a few times, but being an Ark survivor comes with a few perks including a built-in defibrillator that will activate anytime you fall in combat provided it has a charge. Just play a short analog-stick matching game to charge the device and shock yourself back to life. If youíre lucky you might zap any nearby enemies as well. It takes several minutes before this device can be used again so try not to die right away after using.
Rage also dares to return to the days of manually saving your game. The obvious benefit is that you can now save as often as you like and pretty much anywhere you like, so if you hear a scary noise ahead, save your game. You only get 15 slots per storage device before you have to start saving over your previous games. Of course the downside is that Rage isnít auto-saving nearly as often as other games have conditioned us to expect, so if you fail to save on your own and rely on the auto-save system, you can easily find yourself repeating up to two full hours of gameplay, so SAFE OFTEN!
While there is no RPG element in Rage, there is a surprisingly deep inventory system that allows you to discover all sorts of seemingly random and worthless items and construct useful tools and weapons. Along the way you will find recipes and blueprints that will itemize various ingredients. When you have enough of each item you can go to the engineering screen and construct these items in the field. This is an awesome idea since some of your adventures take place far away from any item shop. There are dozens of inventions ranging from healing bandages and explosive ammo to spider-like robot turrets and explosive RC cars.
Visually, Rage sets a new standard for Xbox 360 graphics, and I can only hope they market this new engine as aggressively as Unreal has over the past several years. We all saw "megatextures" in action with Quake Wars Enemy Territory but that was nothing compared to the masterful creation of this visionary world that blends the Wild West with Steampunk and a dash of Mad Max. The draw distance is to the horizon, the textures hold up when you have your nose to the wall, the characters look and act very realistically, right down to head tracking if you move around during the conversation. There are some very definitive themes that are consistently used throughout the entire game, very specific to location, clans, and society. But simply put, the game is jaw-dropping gorgeous, even when you have four bandit buggies bearing down on you at 60fps.
The audio is pure perfection with a stirring score by award-winning soundtrack composer, producer and recording artist Rod Abernethy. There is a lively mix of western and folk music combined with some haunting themes that will send shivers down your spine as you explore a vast underground water facility, a massive dead city, or the sinister lair of mutant cannibals. My only minor complaint is that combat music will often fade away letting you know all enemies are dead when I otherwise wouldnít be so sure. The voice acting is topnotch, kicking off with the rough and tough voice of John Goodman, but even the secondary cast (which is massive) all turn in high-quality professional performances. Technically, the Dolby Digital mix surrounds you and completely immerses you in this fantastical world with plenty of LFE for all those powerful explosions.
Rage is an ambitious title that will take up a whopping 22GB should you decide to install all three discs to your hard drive. The first two discs are for the story while the third disc is for multiplayer only. I found it a bit annoying that even after installing all 22GB I still had to swap discs. Itís not so bad for the story that only requires a single disc swap unless you need to go back and tie up loose ends, but whenever I was playing solo and got that online invite, I would have to put in disc 3. It just seems they could have put the multiplayer executable on all discs.
Speaking of multiplayer, in addition to the explosively entertaining racing games, there is also a co-op mode called Legend of the Wasteland that features side-story missions for up to two players working as a team. It works much like most other co-op games where each player can revive the other if they go down, but if both fall you have to restart the mission. These levels and the co-op gameplay are nicely refined and highly entertaining.
So Rage pretty much has it all; a solid FPS story mode with engaging characters and a great narrative, fast and furious racing action, and a surprisingly fleshed out multiplayer mode with plenty of room for expansion via future DLC. Most gamers will find the core game lasts about 30 hours if they partake in all the secondary material, and youíll easily spend that much time or more playing online. And there are numerous achievements to quest after, many of which require you earn during a single pass through the game.
As for the "Anarchy Edition", you get a few extra goodies but since all copies of Rage are the Anarchy Edition it's hard to feel special. It's only the renters and the second-hand purchasers that will get burned on not having this content. You get the Rat Rod Buggy, which I never drove once, a Double Barrel Shotgun that gives you a slight advantage during the first few missions, but the reload is so slow you'll quickly stow it and never use it again. Fists of Rage gives you these spiked gloves, and the Crimson Elite Armor is perhaps the most unfair item in the game as it negates your first and most significant purchase in the game - your armor. Without the Crimson Elite you'll need to make a calculated choice on which armor to buy when you arrive in Wellspring, each with very specific benefits for item purchase discount, damage resistance, or engineering perks. The Crimson gives you all three perks. And finally, there is a DLC code for the Wasteland Sewer mission, which is basically two stretches of underground passage with about 20 mutants that rush you - not very challenging or fun.
Rage looks like a launch title for whatever system Xbox is planning for us next. I still canít believe my six year old Xbox 360 is capable of delivering the graphics and the gameplay Iíve been enjoying for the past week. Rage is much more than just the best FPS experience I've had in 2011; it is a pivotal and redefining moment for the future of game design that will push your console further than anyone thought it could go. You donít want to miss this.