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id's Rage: Flawed, Flat, But Occasionally Fun
Date: Oct 13, 2011
Author: Joel Hruska
Rage is id Software's first game in seven years and its lead developer, John Carmack, has more than earned a spot in the video game industry's all-time Hall of Fame. Rage, however, doesn't live up to its pedigree*. While it's not a bad game, it's a shadow of what we hoped for. There's no character customization in Rage and the game world, while gorgeous, is fairly small. You'll see plenty of jaw-dropping scenery, but you won't be visiting 95 percent of it.

Tomorrow's weather: Cloudy, with a 100% chance of impact winter

The game takes place 106 years after Earth is struck by the asteroid 99942 Apophis. Prior to the disaster, the US government created a number of Arks as part of a plan to ensure human civilization wouldn't be irrevocably wiped out by the asteroid's impact. You awaken as the sole survivor of your Ark, stagger outside, and are nearly killed by mutants. A local roughneck, Dan Hagar, shoots them off your back, offers to give you a lift to the nearest settlement, and the game begins. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't.

Mission Structure, Plot Holes:

Rage's engine is capable of producing some stunning visuals, both across large amounts of terrain, and in closer environments.
The town of Wellspring is pictured on the right

Rage's Uprising trailer, released in early August, implied that the game is a struggle between the heroic members of the Resistance and the tyrannical Authority. In reality, you won't even encounter the Authority until more than halfway through the game. NPCs make disparaging remarks about the organization and claim that Ark survivors meet a bad end if the Authority finds them but for an evil dictatorship, the Authority plays a very limited role.             

That's a Sand Person Shrouded Clan member on the left, a rather cranky mutant on the right.

Instead of battling an oppressive government, you spend most of your time wiping out local groups of bandits, even when they don't actually offer a believable threat. At one point, the local sheriff tasks you with wiping out the Shrouded Clan due to the number of RC car bombs they've been manufacturing. Imagine the look Darth Vader gave George Lucas when informed that Ewoks would be responsible for blowing up the second Death Star, and you've got an idea how well this comes off.

Other than a few fetch quests and delivery speed runs, Rage's missions boil down to "Go to X and kill everything that moves." The lack of alternate solutions is downright distasteful in some cases—at one point, you're charged with killing off the Gearhead Clan because the mayor of Subway Town doesn't want to pay his electricity bill. NPCs repeatedly refer to your "special skills" when it comes to handling such jobs, until we began to suspect that the player character was packed off to the future as some sort of murderous enforcer.

* Note: If you intend to play Rage on a PC and you own an AMD videocard, you'll need to update your drivers. The game is effectively unplayable on Catalyst 11.9 or previous versions. Some Nvidia users have also complained of texture artifacts, screen tearing, and texture pop-in, but the problem seems more severe on ATI hardware. Nvidia recommends gamers experiencing problems install the 285.38 beta Forceware drivers.

Graphics and Gameplay
On a positive note, Rage is one of the most beautiful games we've ever seen, even with the current detail level issues. It's a good thing it is, because the game tends to make you revisit the same area multiple times on different missions. Luckily, the environments are worth a second trip.

The hapless Authority grunt on the left is about to demonstrate why carrying a large combustible tank on your back is a bad idea.
Rage's environments are varied, colorful, and evocative despite static lighting.

The game's various enemies are brilliantly animated and each tribe has its own style of movement, fighting, and taking cover. Members of the Ghost Clan are incredibly acrobatic and favor leaping and tumbling attacks, often armed with melee weapons, while the Shrouded Clan favors heavier armor, automatic weapons, and tends to fight from cover. Mutants, meanwhile, tend to boil out of nooks and crannies and will climb along the ceiling to reach you. The only downside is that the bad guys get to have all the fun. There's no cover system in Rage, and no acrobatic options for the player.

The game's various weapons are solid and sound great. Various ammunition types extend weapon usefulness—the game's starter pistol is a pea shooter when loaded with standard ammunition, but can take down even late game enemies in a few shots when equipped with Fatboys or Fat Mamma rounds. Weapons can be swung in melee attacks, but the hitbox feels too small and the swings are too slow to be effective against the game's quick-moving enemies.

Rage tends to spawn certain enemy types behind or to one side of you, but the behavior is much more organic than it was in Doom 3, when aliens had a tendency to come boiling out of the ceiling or pop out of nowhere from a room you just cleared. Mutants will often scramble through cracks in a wall or hammer their way in through an inconvenient wall. As a tactic, it keeps the pressure on without devolving to the level of a sucker punch. 

The driving races and missions are fun (and almost entirely optional).  Vehicles can be customized to a limited degree. If you're looking for a detailed driving model and tons of upgrades to tinker with, you'll be disappointed with what Rage offers, but casual players wanting to run a few quick races without sweating a bunch of details should find plenty to like.

A rogue's gallery of Rage. Characters are beautifully detailed

The game's controls were clearly optimized for console's first, PC's second. Scrolling with the mouse, for example, only switches between four predefined weapons, ammunition switching is bugged (it only functions properly if the weapon in question is on your preferred list), and there's no support for more than three mouse buttons. This is particularly glaring, given the need to juggle offensive and defensive capabilities when driving.

It's a small issue, but the lack of proper mouse support from the company that invented an entire genre of PC gaming, is a discouraging sign of where the big money is.

For example, mouse function during a card-based mini-game is particularly limited.  The mouse wheel can be used to scroll horizontally across one row of cards, but you can't click on a specific card to select it, or change the highlighted row without clicking on a down arrow.
If you're looking for a short, straightforward shooter with solid eye candy, good weapon response, and a plot you'll never have to care about, Rage delivers. The co-op multiplayer is a nice touch and the multiplayer racing is great quick matches, though it tends to get repetitive. The problem with recommending Rage strictly on these merits is the game's price. $60 is a lot to play for a game with a 10-12 hour campaign and the depth of a box of kitty litter. The game's linear nature and total lack of alternate quest solutions leave it with very little replay value.

We then sat down and had a calm discussion on the base principles of the universe

Ultimately, Rage feels like a missed opportunity. The racing component isn't deep or strong enough to carry the title on its own, the plot is nearly nonexistent, and the combat, while good, isn't head and shoulders above other games in this genre. That leaves graphics as the game's greatest distinguishing factor, and while they're gorgeous, graphics alone aren't enough to make it compelling at its current price point.

We'd recommend waiting at least a few weeks before buying the game, even if you think it sounds fantastic. id has already released a patch to add more graphics adjustment options and both AMD and Nvidia are working on driver-side optimizations. The screen tearing, texture flickering, pop-in, and uneven performance aren't enough to kill the game's visuals, but they're significant enough to be a constant low-grade irritant.

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