There’s a certain preconceived notion of what an id game is that I carried with me on my first trip through Rage. This was the company that made the first person shooter genre. It is responsible for most of what gaming is today (for better or for worse) and for popularizing what would later become multiplayer. They have a rich legacy. When I think of what they’ve created recently, though, their legacy sours. On a technical level, there are few equals (although Crytek has taken a swipe at that crown), but in terms of what gaming has become, their recent games have been woefully ignorant of the history that they themselves didn’t create. Their last single player game, Doom 3, was plagued with old ideas that had been done to death, more tech demo than interesting game. Rage, their latest game, is built with an awareness of what the genre has become.
The game takes place in a rundown post-apocalyptic world. The protagonist was cryogenically frozen, shot up with nanobots and sent to space. Upon crashing back down to Earth he’s welcomed to a world in a state of decay where humans try to survive in a sea of mutants and dune buggies. (Mad Max is an obvious influence. Just look at the title of the game). With the help of your nanobots and some firepower, you try to survive in the wastes. Most of the game takes place in an open world. You can drive between towns and get missions from the locals. Eventually there is talk of a resistance movement called – wait for it – The Resistance fighting against the authorities called, ahem, The Authority.
Well, it looks good, at least. It’s rich in little details. The way enemies skid and almost trip over themselves looking for cover, or the one time I walked through a room that looked like an actual crappy apartment, down to the dingy lime-green recliner and bland wallpaper, or the way the view adjusts to the light when entering a new room. This strong visual sense plays into the game’s many dungeons. These include a ornate bank vault, a crumbling and dead city, a gang hideout that’s tied together with rope bridges in a canyon. Character animations, level design, and just in a purely visual sense this game looks great.
Visuals are only one of id’s strong suits. The other is shooting. Rage bucks a lot of current trends. There is no auto-aim in Rage. There is plenty of cover, but you can’t just press a button to stick to it. You have to duck behind it yourself. The game demands precision. The game’s weapons are as old as Doom II. You have your pistol, your shotgun, your rocket launcher. There are also tons of items scattered around the game world. They can be sold, or, if you have the right schematic, can be crafted into a new item. New ammo, for example, or a sentry bot that follows you around and provides cover. The enemies, too, have different sets of behaviours. The Jackals jump off the walls and throw axes. Running and gunning is the key. I was caught off guard the first time I ran into the Gearheads and saw them use sentries and explosive traps – my own tactics! – against me.
Rage stacks these choices and variety onto their classic shooter formula ensuring it never becomes boring. We’re performing all the same actions we’ve been doing since Quake. The game’s constant crush of enemies forces the player to think within these options. None of the gadgets or ammo types is extraneous. Rage even has some twists on old weapons. There’s a mind control dart that puts you in control of an enemy solider for a few seconds. And then they explode. A weapon that seems like it has limited use until that one situation where it’s perfect.
You will die often. The game does offer a reprieve in the form of a recharging defibrillator. When you die, there’s a short mini-game that lets you get back into the fight with your health intact. The charges themselves take a while to recharge, though, so relying on them too heavily will result in death.
Death is especially punishing in Rage because the game doesn’t autosave when in dungeons. To those used to modern console shooters, this can be a rude awakening. Saving is allowed at any point, but given that there’s no quicksave button on the console version, it takes a bit of training to remember to save diligently. Death also means a long load time. These can be alleviated with a 22 gig download, but it’s a lot of real estate to give up.
The multiplayer, usually another one of id’s strong suits, is lacking. There are a bunch of co-op missions, each acting as a little slice of back story. There are leader boards where scores can be compared. It’s a great diversion and a good exercise in world building. The more prominent mode is Road Rage. Up to six players get tossed into a arena and perform vehicular manslaughter on each other while trying to rack up points. One mode makes you collect fallen meteors for points, while another makes you chalk up points by getting three consecutive checkpoints. The more you play, the more levels you gain, the more equipment you have access to. The driving is fun and loose, more Motorstorm than Gran Turismo. It’s fine, for sure, but given how so much emphasis is put on the shooting, it’s a shame the multiplayer doesn’t take advantage of its bounty.
Rage’s strength is that it knows what it is. It’s a shooter, but id doesn’t let that limit it. The game could have coasted on its visuals alone, but the developers decided on created a better shooter. There are RPG elements and there’s some driving in the game, but none of it bogs down the game. There are a lot of modern takes on old ideas. id has proved that they can stand with the new crop of first person shooters and show them a thing or two.