RAGE’s developer, id Software, has ever been on the forefront of technological innovation. They—along with John Romero—have developed and launched the first games to define the first-person shooter genre, coined the term “Deathmatch” (Romero), and with the release of Doom 3, launched the very first game engine that introduced specular highlighting and bump mapping, two features that catapulted video game graphics to new heights. They even trumped Romero a year after he left id Software with the Quake 2 engine (which featured advanced lighting and 3D acceleration, forcing Romero to further delay the launch of the ill-fated Daikatana).
While I never got to play Quake 2 and three when they launched, I did spend a substantial amount of my life playing Doom 2 and 3, two games that really impressed me. id Software’s dogged persistence to bring to the table avant-garde technology and/or innovative gameplay concepts with each release firmly made me a follower of the company’s brainchildren.
Fast forward several years later and RAGE got released. Read this RAGE PC review to find out the answers to the following: Did Carmack and company manage to impress the industry once again? Has the game’s gameplay concepts manage to shape another niche in the PC first-person industry? This RAGE PC review discusses the aspects that make RAGE an above average game and the flaws that pull it down from joining the elite ranks of its id Software forebears.
Several of the flaws are the bugs; game-breaking ones at that. Let’s delve into these first before the good parts.
The RAGE PC user review after the jump.
The Horrors of the Future
[Note: This review was made before the 1.2 patch came out.]
When I first started the game, a powerful and haunting intro provided me a glimpse of mankind’s valiant efforts to protect its intellectual elites from an asteroid impact. The cinematic’s series of scenes that alternate between asteroid Apophis’ inexorable progress towards our planet and the pre-cryostasis sequence that Earth’s inhabitants subjected themselves to effectively sets the player’s mindset that the survival of Earth’s civilization as we know it will still rise from the ruins of the impact.
After this impressive start though, things take an apocalyptic turn—both in the story and the technical aspect of RAGE. The game proper launched—and greeted me with psychedelic bands of white, green, and black. I got it to work by exiting Steam and restarting the game. To my consternation, I found that the game didn’t autosave after the introduction, forcing me to watch the whole sequence again. Up to this day, I still get this bug occasionally when I start a new campaign. RAGE seems to loathe PC applications running in the background. Letting other programs run while launching RAGE oftentimes causes this glitch to rear its ugly head. To say that the bug is annoying is an understatement; if there’s ever a thing that totally breaks the immersion, it’s a glitch that forces players to watch a game’s introduction 1-3 times before letting the thing run.
The game also intermittently suffers from this bug when loading new areas. However, this is easily solved by reloading the autosave that kicks in at the start of each level so it’s more of an annoyance than a major issue.
What will really vex you is the infamous RAGE texture streaming pop-in bug: every time you abruptly turn around, you will notice the game trying to catch up with you; textures will pop-in belatedly—think 640X480 textures being rapidly “clothed” with higher resolution ones. While I have solved this (see my “How to Solve the RAGE Texture Streaming Pop-in Bug” guide), this does present problems to those who aren’t into tweaking PC games.
There are also mini-freeze bugs that last for 2-3 seconds though these happen only rarely on my system.
The above aside, RAGE is a great PC first-person shooter. True, it does have some glaring flaws but this FPS still provides powerful peregrinations across a dystopian landscape.
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Before the RAGE PC review proper, I would like to stress this out: RAGE is NOT an RPG-Shooter hybrid. Many people discovered to their chagrin that it’s not a Fallout-like game and have expressed their ire in video game forums. I find this strange as id Software never actively advertised it as such. Granted (and as I’ll discuss later), there are several aspects that might initially mislead the player into thinking this PC FPS is an RPG-shooter hybrid, but RAGE is more of a full-on shooter with several minute RPG aspects thrown in. I’d like to think the these aspects as things that break the monotony of a pure shooter and not as failed efforts on id Software’s part to make an RPG-shooter game as others purport.
There; you have been warned.
RAGE tells the story of an Earth ravaged by an asteroid impact. At the game’s onset, you emerge from an “ark,” a massive underground metal sphere that was designed to protect mankind’s elite. The plan was to preserve scientists, leaders, and military personnel in numerous arks and then rebuild civilization several years after Apophis hits the planet. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and the timing of your ark goes haywire; you emerge several years late than the rest of humanity’s remnants. Upon stumbling out, you immediately get ambushed by bandits but get rescued by the head of a nearby settlement. From there you embark on a series of quests that pit you against bandits, mutants, bands of hostile settlers, and the Authority, a faction that reminds me strongly of Fallout’s Brotherhood of Steel.
What bothered me was how the game is structured; RAGE sets you off on a string of missions that never fully captivates the player. Why should I help these people? If the missions are so important why do they set me off alone against swarms of mutants? What motivates these other factions? Why should I exterminate the whole lot of them? While the characters in the game are certainly interesting enough—the crazed, rambling hermit and the silver-tongued TV show host come to mind—the PC game just doesn’t draw the player in to really care about the world RAGE is set in. Several scripted events or cutscenes would have helped. As it is, this dearth of compelling reasons why you should throw your lot in with the quest-giving NPCs leaves the game’s plot uninteresting.
And then there are choices: when NPCs give you a quest, you are given the choice to accept or decline. This is just an illusion of freedom. In reality, choosing “Decline” doesn’t divert the plot into another story arc; you’re just effectively putting that quest on hold. Some of them you can take later but some need to be accepted and completed before the game can progress. As has been mentioned, RAGE is NOT an RPG PC game.
This isn’t saying that RAGE is a bad game, far from it—every time I start the game hours fly past without me noticing. It has flaws but it is as (bugs aside) immersive as the best ones out there.
RAGE’s gameplay is a breath of fresh air from all the games that have copied Halo’s two-weapon inventory system. While I still prefer the latter (being more realistic and tactical in the sense that it forces you to think about which weapons to carry in what situation), I was pleasantly surprised that id Software has stuck with the old school tradition of letting you carry a whole arsenal with you.
And what an arsenal it is. In the course of the game, you’ll acquire a pistol, a shotgun, an assault rifle that looks every bit a Kalashnikov, a crossbow, a sniper rifle, an Authority assault rifle, and a rocket launcher. There’s a weapon you get to use in the finale but I’ll leave that for you to discover. It’s gratifying to fire these; unlike in Doom 3 where most of the conventional weapon sound effects lean towards the higher frequencies (the assault rifle for example, sounded too tinny), the weapons in RAGE sound just right: massive and powerful without going overboard. Sure, there are other games whose weapons sound better (Killing Floor comes to mind) but RAGE is up there with the better ones.
What ups the ante in the weapons department is the ammunition system of the game, which makes the firearms veritable Swiss Knives. Running low on rockets? Craft Pop Rocket ammunition for your shotgun. Getting peppered by long-range fire from hostiles who are in close proximity to each other? Load your crossbow with mind control bolts and inoculate one of them with nanites, making the hapless individual a ticking time bomb that you can control and detonate at will. Ran out of sniper rounds? Whip out your pistol, load it up with armor-piercing Fat Mamma rounds and use a makeshift scope to take out targets from afar. It’s this system that makes RAGE fun to play. Even your other items can be upgraded or converted with the recipes that you can buy from merchants. Grenades for example, can be converted to EMP ones, which are very useful for shutting down force shield-equipped Authority soldiers. Sentry turrets and bots can be upgraded to advanced versions, which have better rates of fire and armor respectively.
And yes, there’s a limited crafting system involved. Objects that can be picked up pepper the game. Some of these are worthless other than that they can be sold off while others are better off being kept as recipe components. Recipes range from straightforward ones like the aforementioned Pop Rockets and Fat Mammas while quite a few are situational (like the one that boosts the damage you dish out, something I’ve never really used). While the range of recipes in RAGE isn’t as numerous as that found in MMOs, crafting is one of RAGE’s numerous aspects that instill diversity in what would have otherwise been a purely linear shooter.
id Software really made efforts in diversifying RAGE’s gameplay. As most probably know by now, it features vehicular combat. Players can take part in various races that provide three types of games: time trials, races, and rallies. Time trials are solo events that are pretty much self-explanatory. The second category is made up of minigun, rocket, and pulse races, which are traditional races with a twist—you get to use the type of weapon listed in the event you sign up for plus a few consumables (discussed below). The third was what struck me as flawed. In rallies (which are still made up of minigun, rocket, and pulse types), you don’t do lapses. Instead you race around a racing track running over pillars of light. Each time you run over a beam, you score a point and the beam vanishes for a time. While this is fun, the beams respawn in sequence. What this means is that once you run over Beam C, Beam A respawns. This mechanic inadvertently punishes players who are going too fast; AI-controlled vehicles who have eaten your dust might be near the vicinity of Beam A when you made the grab for Beam C, resulting in you not being able to catch up to them to get to the first pillar. Time and again, I had been forced to purposefully slow down to let them catch up to me before taking a beam. Even then, the time it takes you to turn around will cost you precious seconds—time enough for the other cars to get a significant lead over you. This slowing down to let others purposefully catch up so you can have an equal footing when going for the next pillar just doesn’t strike me as an exciting gameplay mechanic. The only map where I thoroughly enjoyed a rally was Canyon, which featured a linear path. There, the one who leads typically gets the most number of pillars. Other maps are just too open for the rally modes, resulting in the odd mechanic I discussed above.
Racing prizes come in the form of racing certificates, a form of currency that can only be used to buy car upgrades. Upgrades come in the form of armor, traction, shock absorbers, engines, and ramming grills. The upgrade system is not extensive but it’s still enjoyable upgrading your ride. (Again, there’s only a handful of these; don’t expect a whole fleet.)
You can also buy numerous consumables in car shops with money. While these are numerous—ranging from plain minigun rounds to hover turrets, there are only three of these that you should consider as mainstays—shields, repair modules, minigun rounds, and rockets. Later in the game, you can buy pulse rounds, which are more effective than rockets. The rest are still useful but aren’t as cost-effective as the ones I mentioned.
Players who are worried that purchases might slow down the game need not worry; RAGE does provide opportunities to make easy money while in the confines of friendly towns. Players can engage in three types of game: dice rolling, 5-finger fillet, and a card game that strongly mimics the mechanics of the Facebook game Warstorm. The last one is addictive for a time. In the course of the game, you will acquire cards. You can use these to bolster a starter deck that you can buy at the settlements. Each card has a point level; the more powerful a card, the more points it has. Cards come in four types: melee, ranged, vehicles, and explosives. Explosives are single use cards that damage all cards that the opponent has in play. Vehicles, while not having the ability to attack, force ranged cards to target them, making them hit point caches that tank for your other cards. Melee cards can only target cards that are opposite them (cards are arranged in rows; yours and the enemy’s). Ranged cards can choose which cards to target (unless there’s an enemy vehicle in play as mentioned above). Aside from the above, some of the cards have special abilities; some can heal other cards, some provide hit point and/or damage buffs to specific types of cards, and some have the chance to stun enemies, to name a few of these. The card game is by no means as complicated and as engaging as Magic: The Gathering but it’s far from bad either.
Nothing to write home about really; RAGE’s audio effects are impressive but they don’t push the bar. Water drops are soothing to hear when you are in subterranean levels while at the same time reinforcing the feeling that you are far away from the safe confines of civilized parts. Bullets clang against armor. Sentry bots sound like what they appear to be—a combination of salvaged high-tech components and rusty gears and plates of metal. There are better games out there though in terms of audio clarity in a surround sound setup. I’ve now careened off towards the subjective but for me, Dead Space still has the throne.
Either the MP community had died off or the game suffers from connectivity issues. After eight tries of looking for a match and not being able to connect to a server, I gave up. Maybe it’s my router or my ISP but this is irrelevant: I’ve lots of games and most of them don’t let me jump through hoops if I want to play multiplayer.
Where visuals are concerned, this first-person shooter is one impressive powerhouse. RAGE’s story unfolds in a region wherein the terrain is dominated by sheer canyon walls, sun-scorched valleys, and serpentine desert paths. The id Tech 5 game engine delivers this desolate atmosphere with searing intensity. Sun flares dazzle your eyes, canyon walls reflect the midday sun with unmatched realism, and dust eddies roil and billow in your wake as your vehicle rips through the landscape. In underground levels, drops of water convincingly snake down your visor, shafts of sunlight lance through dark hallways, and steampunk machinery and cobbled-up towns that are a mishmash of corroded and chrome-plated components jut out from the landscape.
id Software’s attention to detail is laudable. Sentry bots walk rapidly on spindly legs while closing the gap between them and the enemies, firing their mininguns all the while. When they get close enough, they do this rapid, in-your-face kill sequence that has to be seen to be believed: they leap, firing all the while, shredding their prey with white-hot lead and sharp appendages. When the dust clears, they run up and turn their robotic eyes up at you, very much like beagles seeking approval from their owner.
It doesn’t stop there; some of the enemies have helmets that get blown off when you score headshots. Enemies reel from such impacts. In RAGE you can see the effects of your withering fire as bandits and mutants get chewed up and armored adversaries whip every which way as each round slams against them. These visual reports make the game one of the more impressive first-person shooters out today.
RAGE’s AI is a mixed bag. On one side, it’s hands down, the most convincing AI I’ve seen to date. Enemies take cover; communicate; swear; throw grenades; cower behind shelter with only their arms and rifles sticking out, spraying you with suppressive fire; switch covers; and even—when they see their numbers dwindling down—retreat to more advantageous positions while holding their hands above their heads. (Minute details like elite Authority troops not running helter-skelter away from you, armored foes reeling from explosives, and bandits springing from the ground to dash across nearby walls to confuse your aim are admirable.) Dying enemies even keel over in pain and fire potshots at you while clutching their torsos. It’s enemy behavior like this that lends this first-person shooter truly immersive firefights that few PC games today can match.
On the other side of the coin, RAGE’s AI shares the same flaws as that of FEAR 3’s (See my FEAR 3 PC Review HERE); they rely too much on cover and most don’t really advance on you (nor flank). Most of the factions also don’t fire as often as the AI in other games. Worse, more often than not, parts of them stick out from cover, resulting in some firefights devolving into turkey shoots. With the scoped pistol’s range and accuracy, you can take out most enemy groups one soldier at a time; you won’t even need your sniper rifle.
It’s this observation that really struck me as perplexing. id Software has been known for the Doom series, a series that has been known for their cathartic difficulty levels. Since then, I’ve seen a massive drop in their games’ difficulty levels. Doom 3 for one, displayed a significant dip. Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil upped the difficulty but with RAGE, the difficulty level has once again, taken a serious nosedive. I’ve completed the game on Normal, Hard, and Nightmare but even in the last playthrough, I died less than ten times.
Really, what good is a Swiss knife approach to the ammo and consumables system when the game is too easy? Give a game a rocket-firing shotgun, medikits and regeneration potions that can be crafted, a pistol that can double as a medium-range sniper rifle, a built-in defibrillator, and a ridiculously timid AI and you get a character that’s well-nigh invincible. The regeneration potions are overkill, given that you already have a regenerating body courtesy of the nanites that have been injected into your system when you submitted yourself to the Ark project.
Did I mention a defib? Yes, you have a Lazarus device in your chest. You die and you play this seconds-long minigame where you have to time pushing the activate button when these two nodes crisscross each other. The better your timing, the more health you get when you revive—at which time your body emits a powerful electrical charge that kills all nearby enemies. Talk about overkill. (Did I mention the word “overkill” twice now?)
It’s this ridiculously easy difficulty level (that's brought about by the factors I've discussed above) that’s really the most frustrating point about RAGE. You can see it claw and hammer away towards being one of the classics that John Carmack and company have created but sadly, it gets stopped dead in its tracks by a huge wall of design oversight. The ending doesn’t help either; it’s marked by uninspired level and enemy design and a weapon that appears much too late. Even the ending cinematic is an invective-inducing cliffhanger sequence that’s neither exciting nor powerful.
As it is, the firefights are still impressive but they could have been so much more. Let’s hope they introduce beefed-up difficulty levels in another patch.
RAGE is a rare gem that dazzles you with bleeding-edge technology while hurling players back to the days of yore when blasting everything to bits wasn’t saddled down with a bazillion features that aim to please the market. This isn’t to say that RAGE isn’t an innovative first-person shooter; far from it. The innovations it has flow seamlessly with its core mechanic, planting powerful, old school shooter action firmly on the center stage. However, several things mar its numerous gameplay facets, preventing this game from reaching the heights others of its id pedigree have achieved.
Is RAGE a good game? Yes it is. It’s just frustrating that for all its pros—an AI that moves realistically, jaw-dropping graphics, vehicular combat, etc—numerous cons like ammo-conserving enemies, objects that have blurred textures, and the bugs really prevent it from becoming one of those games that people talk about months after its release.
Tilt: 7.0 – RAGE is one awesome shooter that is as immersive as it is fun to play. However, numerous bugs, story, and design issues hurt the game. (Note: This has been tested on an Nvidia-powered gaming PC; ATI-AMD users might give this game a much lower score due to the game-breaking bugs it contains.)
Gameplay: 7.5 – Solid, blood-pumping action that’s reminiscent of the old Doom games can be found here. However, timid AI, design flaws in one of the racing modes, insufficient enemy count per skirmish, and an anemic ending prevent this game from scoring an 8.5 or higher.
Graphics: 8.5 – I would have given this a 9 or even a 9.5. RAGE though, is an odd game where graphics is concerned. It would have set a new level with its unparalleled textures. However, even casual players will quickly notice that many objects in the game appear blurry. Effects are top-notch though: enemies move convincingly and explosions are spectacles to watch.
Audio: 8.0 - RAGE has impressive audio effects but they don’t really push the envelope.
Replayability: 7.5 – RAGE is good for a replay or two but it’s not exactly a multiplayer-centric game. While it does have several game modes, they’re not really the type you would be investing your time on for several months.