When id tell you they’re making a new shooter you sit up and listen – history has taught us that. When id say that John Carmack has a brand spanking new engine you wonder in awe at the tech on display – history has taught as that too. When you sit down to play the new id game then, post Quake 2, you kinda expect it to look great but ultimately blow – history once again has taught us that. Well it’s apparently time to rewrite id history as RAGE breaks the status quo.
When we sat down and spoke with game lead Tim Willits last year his main bugbear was that everyone kept making two assumptions of RAGE. Firstly that the game was a Fallout / Borderlands clone and secondly it was a car racing game set in a wasteland future. These assumptions are utterly wrong – mostly.
RAGE takes places over a 100 years after a massive meteor has smashed through the moon and plunged in to the earth. Several “Arks” were sent plunging on to the earths outer crust filled to the brim with people placed in stasis. The plan was simple. If the planet survived the impact then the Arks would be programmed to surface at a time deemed safe and the inhabitants would be awoken.
Like all great plans this failed to run smoothly and as you awake from your stasis pod all hell has broken loose. You stumble in to the light and are immediately floored by a crazed mutant. It looks like curtains until rifle fire rips the mutant apart. As you greet your saviour you embark on your journey to discover what exactly has gone on since the meteor hit. A mysterious force called the Authority appears to be in charge but all is not right and the people are getting restless.
Game play works in a similar vein to ODST or maybe even Borderlands to a lesser extent. The game may give off an open world aesthetic but in fact the free roaming areas basically act more like a hub world than a living, breathing external world. The vehicles that have featured so heavily in the marketing and caused the “car battle title” moniker are just a means to an end. You use them to get between each “level” area. For instance one mission giver might ask you to go and clear out one of the distinct factions bases as they’ve been manufacturing RC truck bombs. You then hop in your vehicle (several car types and a quad bike are on offer) and race to the marker on the mini-map.
On these trips you will encounter a few bandit cars and Authority machine gun towers. These can be taken care of or boosted past. Taking care of them is advisable as it earns you money from the local bar owners (provided you accepted the job) and will also lead to racing certificates – more on those later.
Once at the location you enter the location and a load screen pops up as the level loads. Each of these separate levels takes roughly ten to twenty minutes depending on how much you explore them and how tough the stages are. These make the game feel like a series of mini levels all joining with a central hub landscape.
Currency can be earned by undertaking both main and side quests as well as the afore mentioned bandit car smashing. Vehicles can only be earned by taking part in races though. In both of the main towns you will find speedway tracks. Here you take part in a selection of different races that allow you to earn new vehicles and racing certificates. You can then trade in these racing certificates for extras for your car. New spiked tyres, armour, machine guns etc are all available here and allow you to make your time in the wastelands a little easier.
Graphically the game is both stunning and bitterly disappointing. Firstly to the stunning part. Exiting the Ark at the start of the game you are presented with a huge expansive quarry like area. The HDR blooms and dies off as you exit and your eyes fill with a sun drenched wasteland with blue skies. The sheer quality of the static image is breathtaking and you’d be fooled in to thinking id had replaced your console with a next gen model. The crispness of the textures, the view distance and the sheer number of things happening (especially in towns) is mind bogglingly well done.
What about when you move? How does all that visual fidelity moving at a smooth 60 frames per second grab you? Hell yes this game looks just as good on the move and it runs at an absolute cracking rate. Players and NPC models are well made and varied. Environments are mainly diverse and in some places great fun (just wait for the Mutant Bash TV studio!). So what seems to be the problem here?
Well, the new mega texture system used by id in idTech 5 takes massive texture maps and uses them in varying fidelity levels on the fly. This allows RAGE to produce some truly spectacular vistas and exterior areas – heck even the interiors look great… until you get close to anything. Get in close – even a few “feet” away from the walls, control panels, lights, floors etc and you will see the ugliest Xbox generation textures you’ve ever seen. Step back a few virtual paces and they look sharp and gorgeous again.
Another issue with the engine is its version of Unreal Engine 3’s texture pop problem. Here rather than things necessarily “pop” (which they also do slightly on new loads) you can seem them almost build in rastered levels as the engine loads in. Oh and I don’t mean at the start of a level only. No I mean zoom in with a weapon then snap back out and things will suddenly go blurred and then re-texture in the periphery of your view. Another example is look maybe up at the horizon and skyline then turn around and run up to your vehicle and watch it build the texture layers and put in the higher resolution images. Not exactly a game breaker but very off putting at times. Oh as is the omission of dynamic shadows/lighting and physics on world objects – ie I can shoot a hanging skull and it stays stock still.
Luckily when the game is off and running you won’t really notice this weird materialising and dematerialising of textures. No when the game is at full tilt you’ll be far to busy grinning as you unleash another Wingstick into an enemies neck. These three pronged boomerangs are basically what Dark Sector’s Glave should have been. A super simple object to buy or craft and then a hit of the left bumper and several heads go flying – great stuff.
In actual fact the weapons in RAGE, although a little generic, are great fun. The standard pistols, shotguns and rifle types are all well and good at the start but later you can buy, pickup or craft special ammo. Things like the Fat Mammas (an explosive pistol shot) will take even some of the games later enemies’ heads clean off in one shot. The Pop Rocket ammo for the shotgun is an explosive shotgun round that disintegrated insurgence with a single pull of the trigger.
Yes the weapons leave a massive smile on your face for sure. This wouldn’t be half as bigger smile though if the enemies weren’t so damn fun to take down. The game has a variety of badit, mutants and Authority enemy types for you to take down throughout the game. The all behave a little differently and they all make life interesting for you. Not only do the enemies approach you in generic attack waves but they also clamber walls, run at you then flip over crates or off walls. They will shoot then back flip over an obstacle to take cover. They will drag themselves behind cover if you fail to down them before they can crawl to safety. They will flank and generally try and out gun and think you. It never becomes too much to handle but the combat is certainly a lot more varied than almost any other shooter out there.
Each enemy has momentum as well. Take a couple of shots to a rushing foe and even though they are dead their momentum carries them on until they rag-doll crumple and stumble in to things, or you. A classic moment for me was shooting an Authority grunt as he pelted towards me. His body mass carried him onward and I side stepped and turned to see his lifeless body crumple and slide through a set of railings landing crumpled and contorted on a gantry below. And it moved exactly as you’d expect it to throughout that process.
The game does employ some light crafting and questing but these are just window dressing to a very hardcore and fun shooter. The crafting will allow you to make RC bomb trucks, Wingsticks, ammo types, lock pick devices, bandage packs (health packs but the game also uses slow life regeneration) and a few other items. These are a good distraction but ultimately stop short of any real RPG content.
The game also features two very different multiplayer elements. The inevitable car combat levels are actually pretty great fun. They take the guise of the events you undertook in the Speedway sections of the game (capture point beacons, collect fallen meteors, death match etc). They vary per round and you can unlock more through a XP based point system. The unlocks are pretty useful as you get through the levels bringing you more powerful machine guns, rockets, armour and the like. The only real issue with this mode is that, for example, a level 14 could be playing against a level 1 and it makes getting any points a little tricky at times when you’re starting out.
The second online mode is co-op. This allows you to take on specially designed missions that fill in a little back story of the inhabitants you meet in the main story. You will go back through areas from the game with a partner and take on new enemies, sometimes with an objective (collect engine parts) or against a time limit. These are great slices of shooting fun and last around ten minutes each.
The game does live firmly in the old school of shooter though and some may not like this one bit. Check points? Pah, checkpoints are pretty much for pussies. Here you have to hard save A LOT to make sure your progress is kept. There are auto saves at the start of each level but if you forget to save frequently you will find yourself having to redo levels over and over. So remember to save religiously and there’s no issue. Also not being able to utilise a fallen enemies weapon is frustrating at the start too.
Those looking for more depth than a standard shooter offers might be a little disappointed as the story is scattered a patchy and serves to move things along at best. Oh and you should definitely install all three DVDs to hard disk on the Xbox 360. This improves performance and load times greatly. It is a little weird though that the game still asks for Disk 2 half way through and disk 3 if you ever load multiplayer. I would have thought that if those discs were on the hard drive it would have just loaded them if a valid RAGE DVD was in the drive.
RAGE is the first id game I have truly enjoyed since Quake II. It represents one of the finest titles they have put out and the idTech 5 engine shows great promise on its first outing.
The game does suffer from that horrid popping and terrible close up textures. The mechanic of get job, drive ot level, do level, drive back could have used more variety over all as you’ll be ready for it to end come the end of you time.
I put twenty glorious hours in to the single player of RAGE and I enjoyed every moment of it. If you want a great shooter that takes what was great of the old school shooter and slaps a next generation engine on it then I can not recommend RAGE any more highly.