Game Review: RAGE (Xbox 360)
Release: October 4, 2011
Genre: Action FPS / RPG Hybrid
Developer: id / Bethesda
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Players: 1-2 Local / 2-4 Online
MSRP: $59.99 US
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
NOTE: This review contains one section of spoilers that are clearly marked at both the beginning and the end so that they can be easily skipped.
RAGE is first person shooter pioneer, id software’s, latest entry into the gaming market place. This is their first game developed completely in-house since DOOM 3 was released in 2004. First mentioned in May of 2007, the hype surrounding RAGE has built expectations of id fans to the point of nearly undeliverable heights. RAGE is also the first game to be released using John Carmack’s id Tech 5 engine. So, does RAGE meet the expectations of gamers, given the surge in popularity of open-world games since the release of Elder Scrolls IV in 2006/2007 and Fallout 3 in October of 2008? Add to the mix that id was acquired in 2009 by ZeniMax Media (owners of Bethesda Softworks – the developers and publishers of Fallout 3) and Bethesda was brought into the project to publish RAGE. Not since the immanent completion of Duke Nukem Forever have expectations swelled to such proportions. Let’s see how id did in meeting them with this rather exhaustive review.
Even though installation to your Xbox 360 hard drive is recommended, it is not entirely necessary. The campaign spans two discs and all of the multi-player action is on the third disc. Each disc can be installed individually so, you can install the disc you are currently playing then un-install it when moving on to the next disk. If you choose to install the complete game, have 22 GB of disc space ready because this game is huge – and this is before adding on any DLC.
Let’s start with what the box has to say about the story.
“After an asteroid impacts Earth, humanity attempts to rebuild. Sheltered in cryogenic lifeboats, survivors emerge years after impact to a devastated planet where some of mankind survived in struggling settlements or murderous bandit clans, while horrific mutants roam the dead cities. And a mysterious tyrannical government is on the hunt… for you.”
The game opens with a gorgeous cinematic of an asteroid approaching and striking the Earth. The next thing you know, your arc has opened, you awake from suspension, and you are the only survivor aboard your ark. You exit the arc and step into the post-apocalyptic steam-punkish Wasteland of RAGE.
*** BEGINNING OF SPOILERS ***
Upon exiting your ark you find a new world inhabited by several groups of people who have survived the impact without the aid of an arK and have rebuilt their own society. While there are several groups of “enemies” in the RAGE world, the story-line is built around only three groups: The Authority, Mutants and the Resistance.
You find yourself in the folds of the resistance when a kind man happens to be driving by your arK when you walk out. He offers you a ride to their nearby settlement where you work through the game’s primer.
Mutants are humans that have quick ape-like movements, a primal urge to kill and a hunger for human flesh. It is thought that radiation from the asteroid caused the mutations, but we learn by digging a little deeper that they are the result of experiments carried out by the Authority.
The Authority is the military from the past. They have advanced technology and their arcs were programmed to open earlier than all the others so they would have the advantage in establishing control over a new society. All arc survivors have nano-robots implanted in them to help heal their bodies and make it possible for them to survive the long suspension process. The Authority has been experimenting with reprogramming the nanites and has cast their failures out to the wasteland, where they have survived and bred, thus the Mutants. Why are they experimenting? They want to build a controllable, self healing army to aid them in the repression and control of all of society.
Ark survivors with the implanted nanites are highly sought after by the Authority, which puts you in danger. The Resistance is determined to stop the Authority and their evil ways, and many of your missions will be taking steps to help the Resistance. They feel the only hope for the remaining ark survivors is to release them all at once so they can join forces to battle the Authority. The problem is getting the data needed to locate all of the remaining arks Worldwide and using the data to send new commands to the arks forcing them to “wake up” and open.
Eventually everything needed is gathered and the Resistance, with your help, is able to open all the remaining arcs, and that is where the game ends. We never really know why the Authority is doing what it is doing, and the game ends before the “war” between the Resistance and the Authority with their Mutant Army has a chance to begin. We are left hanging in wait for the obvious DLC additions to the story, but my guess is that the war will be seen in RAGE 2.
*** END OF SPOILERS ***
Overall, the story feels like a pilot episode to a much bigger story, and all pilot episodes end with a cliffhanger of sorts to make you want more. The ending of RAGE has left many angry who were expecting and wanting for a bigger payoff, but RAGE is the first game in what is clearly meant to be a franchise. In the end, RAGE definitely made me want more.
If you haven’t heard it before, RAGE is absolutely stunning visually. The eye-candy is endless and in every polished detail. Everything shows wear and sparkles with reality, from the beautiful sky and landscapes all the way down to the graffiti on the walls. It never feels like the objects in the environments are duplicated. Every room, every hallway, every object feels unique, and this goes a long way in telling the story of RAGE, because you get sucked into that world.
Not lagging too far behind the visuals are the voice acting and music scoring. Both are impressive and dripping with character. Even the environmental sounds, wind, crickets, machinery, weapons, everything is flawless and completely convincing.
Rage is a bit like the Hollywood movie depiction of a high priced escort. When asked who it is, it answers with “who do you want me to be?” Rage can be a rather story-less shooter if that’s how you play it. If you want more of an RPG, the story is there to uncover should you choose to seek it out. If you are a fan of racing games, dive deeper into the racing circuit and keep upgrading you cars. Even within the mission levels I felt the game adapting to my style of play. If I wanted to run and gun, I could, but if I wanted to be covert, use cover and silent weapons, I could do that too. The enemy AI adapted quite well too, pulling back or pushing forward based on how I was doing.
Hardcore shooter fans will want to crank up the difficulty settings. I played through on “Normal” and felt it was not overly difficult – and I’m definitely not the best FPS gamer out there – I’m usually head-shot fodder for teenagers. Fortunately there are four difficulty levels: easy, normal, hard and very hard.
Mission checkpoints are far apart and somewhat unpredictable. This means that you should follow the advice in the included manual: save early and save often. Since saving your game only takes a few seconds, and there are plenty of slots to use, the checkpoints only become a problem when you get so involved in the game that you forget to take a pause and save your progress. Believe me, it will happen.
The Mission Levels
All of the mission levels are linear with very little room to wander. The combat is organized in segments with music cues to let you know when a wave is starting as well as when the last enemy in each wave has been taken down. Loot varies widely from place to place depending on the mission and the enemy type, as some enemies (mutants) disintegrate shortly after dying and carry nothing. Blowing enemies up also destroys anything they may be carrying so weapon selection will also affect the loot available. Some loot rooms are locked and require lock grinders to be crafted in order to open them. There is no re-spawning of enemies here, and that also goes for loot. So, even when returning to the same location for a second mission, loot taken the first time through is still gone, likewise, loot missed will still be there (excluding bodies). Even though each location is used for multiple missions, the environment is different each time, with different passages opened or blocked. This adds to the illusion that the environments are home to living characters.
In the case you take some damage, and you will, a quick duck into cover will heal you fairly quickly, thanks to the little nano-robots coursing through your body (put into you as part of your Arc hibernation). If this just isn’t quick enough for you, bandages can be assigned to a key on the D-pad to heal you instantly. If you should die, no worries still. You have a defibrillator built into your chest which shows up as a mini-game where you position the two analog stick appropriately then pull both triggers several times. Your success in the mini-game determines how healthy you are when brought back to life. Just be careful not to die again until the defibrillator recharges or you will have to resort to a saved game or the last checkpoint – which may be the beginning of the level. Fortunately there are upgrades available for your defibrillator as you progress through the game that gives you multiple recoveries before recharging completely.
The first minute playing this game left two impressions with me. The first was the amazing visuals that I have already mentioned. The second was the glassy smooth movement controls. Everything was responsive and natural, the kind of integration that makes the controller vanish and puts you right in the game. If you don’t care for the default setup, there are pre-made configurations that are similar to other games that can be used.
Weapons and Ammo
Weapon selection is more along the lines of traditional FPS games, with just one of each type of weapon you will need. This includes a pistol, combat shotgun, sniper rifle, cross bow, assault rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher, etc. Some weapons can be upgraded with the purchase of add-ons or blueprints but for the most part, when you will need a specific weapon, it is given to you by a NPC or it is waiting for you at the mission location. Weapons cannot be looted from killed enemies but ammo can be. Certain items can only be crafted from parts, such as sentry-bots and advanced wing-sticks (think smart boomerang made of three razor-sharp blades used to silently lop the heads off of enemies).
Economy and Inventory
In each city, and in the settlement, there is a supply store where items can be bought and sold. Scavenged items like bottles, cans, parts, etc. can be sold here and turned into cash. Cash can be used to purchase ammo, blueprints, parts for crafting, bandages, etc.
The inventory system is elegant and simple as it groups like items automatically and just shows you a total count or total value. Items are also ordered by type, grouping all ammo, supplies and parts. There are maximums for how many of each item can be carried, but they are high enough that it’s more of a hint that you are a hoarder rather than having an effect on how you play the game.
Upgrades for your vehicles are purchased with racing certificates. Racing certificates are earned in two ways: by competing in and winning racing events and by destroying bandit cars in the Wasteland and getting a reward from each city’s bartender. Apparently bartenders and bandits just can’t get along in the Wasteland.
Do not confuse the RAGE Wasteland with the Fallout Wasteland. RAGE is touted as an “open world” game, but it is not very open at all. The connections from the cities to the mission sites are called the Wasteland and it serves as roads and a small battleground for vehicular combat. Outside of the mission sites and the cities there just isn’t anything to explore. Granted this is firstly a first person shooter, but the RPG elements of the game leave you wanting more as there are far fewer destinations and missions than in Fallout 3, New Vegas or Borderlands
The Vehicle Combat
Historically, any time driving is added to a shooter or RPG, it ranks quite high on the suck-meter. This is not the case with RAGE. In fact the vehicle handling is excellent; so much so that there is an entire separate section of online multiplayer racing. Add weapons like mini-guns, pulse guns, mines, homing missiles, shields, etc. and you get a ridiculously fun free-for-all with ramps, explosions and very predictable e-brake turns that let you turn your guns on your pursuers with ease. The only drawback here for me is that I tend to like using the view from inside the vehicle rather than a third person view. All racing in RAGE is third person with no ability to change your view.
There is one small settlement and two larger cities in RAGE. The settlement serves as a primer to introduce you to weapons, vehicles and the way missions and economics work in the game. Very soon you move on to the first real city, Wellspring, which serves as the central game hub for the first disc. Here is where most of the NPCs reside and provide missions, supplies, a vehicle garage and a race track. Subway Town provides basically the same resources for disc two. There is a way to travel back and forth between the two cities to facilitate disc swapping.
When returning to the cities after each mission there are slight changes, such as NPCs in new places or doing different things that give life to them. Much of the storyline is picked up from speaking to the people in the cities, but it is not necessary. You could blow through the missions and not interact with many of the by-standing townsfolk, but in the end, you would wonder just what it was all about, because the missions tell you where to go and what to do, but leave it to you to answer the question why – if you are so inclined to find out.
In each city there are several gambling mini-games to be played in order to win (or lose) money.
This is a battle style card game played with a started deck you can buy from any supplier plus additional cards that can be found hidden throughout the entire RAGE world. It plays a bit like Pokémon. You choose a money level you would like to gamble at which determines how many points you can add to your deck. Each card has a point value, an attack value and a defense value. It is simple to learn and fun to play.
Five Finger Filet
This is a pattern / timing game where you must press A to plunge your knife in-between your fingers at the appropriate time. Three strikes (cuts) and you are out. The game increases in speed as you progress from level to level making it much more difficult.
This is a pure game of chance using dice. Using four dice, each having images of gun sites and bandits on them, you have three rolls to kill off four bandits that are approaching you on a cross shaped game board, A gun site on a die shoots one bandit and a bandit emblem allows a bandit to move one step closer. The closer the bandits get, the lower your return on your bet. If you have not killed all four bandits after three rolls, the remaining bandit(s) reach you and you lose.
This is a musical pattern game. A banjo player plays a sequence of chords that each represents a controller key: A, B, X or Y. If you repeat the pattern correctly, more is added to the end of the pattern and your potential earning go up in each round until you make it through three consecutive rounds.
Each the cities has a race track where you can compete in a variety of racing event ranging from simple lap races to fully armed, kill or be killed, murderous rampages. Completing events earns you racing certificates that are used to buy upgrades for your vehicle and earn you way into new categories of events.
Mutant Bash TV
Technically Bash TV, like the racing, is not really a mini-game, but is is somewhat a stand-alone, repeatable game experience. Bash TV reminds me a lot of the Mad Moxxi DLC for Borderlands. You are put into an arena and must survive waves of enemies. Once a room is completed, you move to a new room. This continues until you have completed five rooms.
The multi-player player portion of the game is a completely separate experience from the main campaign, meaning there is no multiplayer campaign. Instead, there are separate stories called Wasteland Legends. These are separate storylines from the campaign and are based on some of the tall tales told in the wasteland. Stis is the only part of the game that supports split-screen play. It can also be played in a quick match or private match online.
Road RAGE is also part of the multi-player features. This is an online-only racing game for 2 – 4 players. There are three variations of race rules on two tracks from the campaign. Triad races make you collect three checkpoints in a row to score. The first one to score 50 points wins – so it’s not really a race. Check point races are all about getting to check points to earn points. Since they can appear anywhere on the track, it’s mostly a frenzied free-for-all to find the next check point. Finally, there are Meteor races where races compete to pickup falling asteroids that are each worth point.
The Anarchy Edition Pack DLC
Included with the Anarchy Edition is a DLC code to download the suitably named “RAGE Anarchy Edition Pack. One of the codes is for a weapons pack that includes a double barrel shotgun, some fancy spiked gloves for your fists, a Rat Rod dune buggy and some upgraded Crimson Elite armor. I found all of this rather useless since I did not enter the code until after making it to Wellspring, the first city in the game. By that point I had weapons I preferred over those in the DLC and my car was already better that the Rat Rod. So, if you missed out on the Anarchy Edition, don’t sweat it. After the first hour of so of the game, it really doesn’t make any difference.
The Wasteland Sewer Missions DLC
This DLC places sewer hatches scattered throughout the Wasteland. These hatches lead underground into, you probably have guessed by now, the sewers. The sewer level is visited repeatedly for looting but is very small and it takes just a couple minutes to clear it. While I’m sure that there are more entrances to the sewers that I have not found yet, so far it is not impressive enough to feel left out if I didn’t have it. Again, if you didn’t get a code for this, let it go. It’s no big deal.
Scattered and hidden all through the game are tributes to a little bit of everything. Doom shirts and coffee mugs, props from TV shows, secret rooms from DOOM, Quake and Wolfenstein, character dialog from movies (it’s all about the spice!), logos and references in the wall graffiti, and even a Vault-Tec Bobble Head from Fallout 3. The list goes on and on and we will probably be finding references hidden in RAGE for months to come. If you want to keep exploring for these before finishing the game, keep in mind…
When It’s Over – It’s Over
Make sure to keep multiple saves, because when the game ends, it is over. There is no more exploration or racing or side missions. When it’s done – it’s done. So if you want to be able to go back to town and race some more, or play RAGE Frenzy, you will need to load a save from before the beginning of the last mission. I thought the entire industry learned this lesson thanks to Bethesda’s original ending to Fallout 3. I guess id didn’t get the memo.
Wrapping It All Up
Overall, there really is a ton of stuff to do in RAGE, and all of it controls as good as it looks, however, the RPG fan in me says there should have been more. More story. More locations. More missions. And this brings me back to where I started; expectations. I expected “open world” to be like Fallout and Borderlands, big and sprawling. RAGE isn’t.
The multi-player part of RAGE is fun, but too separated from the campaign portion of the game. It feels tacked on, like an after-thought.
Even with these minor (dare I say) disappointments, RAGE is a fantastically made game that is a pleasure to play, nearly bug-less on consoles (there are video driver issues on PCs that AMD and Nvidia are working to resolve), and completely immersive. My biggest problem with RAGE is wanting more. Bring on the DLC.
- Visually Stunning
- Glassy Smooth Controls
- Bug-Free Play-through
- Huge Installation Size
- Story Falls Short
Final Score: 9 out of 10