Rage Review

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Rage Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Reviewed on Xbox 360

As far back as 2004, scientists noticed an asteroid the size of Manhattan that would approach dangerously close to Earth in 2029. By 2024, it is clear that the asteroid (dubbed "Apophis" after the Egyptian god of chaos) is likely to impact Earth catastrophically. The next year, humanity began the Ark Project, burying capsules deep beneath the earth, programmed to surface years after Apophis destroys most of the planet's surface. These Arks were crewed by people injected with nanotrites, a nanotechnology that allowed for superhuman recovery and could sustain those subjects through a long, cold sleep.

In December of 2029, Apophis grazes the Moon and strikes the Earth, destroying civilization and bringing about an impact-related winter that lasts years and exterminates 80% of life on the planet. The Ark Project should have been humanity's salvation, uniting the bedraggled survivors and restoring technology and hope to humanity. Instead, the program was subverted. Now, a single survivor on an Ark ejected from the Earth and awoken early by an earthquake stands to change humanity's future.

Kyle Ackerman

Rage! I loved my time with Rage – pretty much everything about the game except the name. I loaded up Rage and emerged unexpectedly from a damaged Ark to discover a broken landscape--hunted by bandits--and leapt into a buggy seat offered by a seemingly friendly settler who wanted me to do an awful lot of killing. The world wasn't what I had been promised before falling into a deep sleep to avoid the impact of the Apophis asteroid. I was bewildered, but not enraged.

As I first ventured into the stronghold of the cannibalistic Ghost Clan, I was horrified by grotesque piles of corpses and awestruck by the towering ruins of skyscrapers that once shouted the glories of humanity from rooftops approaching heaven itself. As I armed and armored a buggy to go hunt marauding bandit vehicles, I felt smug and skilled, armed with secret nanotrite technology. When overwhelmed by hordes of mutants as I explored the Dead City, I was anxious and even terrified, but never filled with Rage. I wasn't even irate! ...or exasperated! Mostly I was cautious, loving each moment of exploring this post-apocalyptic world, usually while looking down one of the barrels from my fine selection of firearms.

To See the Mountains and Breathe the Toxic Air

It's overly simplistic to say that Rage feels like a cross between the recent Fallout games (like Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas) and Borderlands. All have a broadly similar post-apocalyptic feel, but Rage is a gorgeous-looking and polished first-person shooter – exactly what I've come to expect from id Software.

Rage then adds what feels like a well-integrated, but entirely different game, involving driving around the wasteland, battling bandits with machine guns, rockets and pulse cannons, and even racing other settlers. Despite Rage's grounding in a strong story, the tale is a broadly linear one supplemented with plenty of optional missions, gambling minigames, exploration and vehicular combat. I always knew exactly what to do to progress the story, but usually had plenty of other activities to explore if I chose.

The two most striking things about Rage were the graphics and the shooting. The visuals, compared to other Xbox 360 games, are truly impressive, with the skeletons of towering structures looming over a decrepit and orangey-brown desert populated with few (and mostly hostile) survivors under the shadow of jagged mountains. Hostile hideouts are genuinely creepy and different areas each have a distinct feel. It's a pleasure to drive around the wasteland checking out the scenery, and exciting each time I get to explore a new location. Rage has its share of dark urban and underground tunnels, but raider hideouts and towns have tremendous personality, and the world is full of details that reward a deliberate pace and exploration.

My Armor's Full of Ammo

Rage's strength is the shooting. The heart of the single-player campaign is a series of linear missions in which I fought through hordes of enemies ranging from technologically savvy bandit tinkerers to slavering mutants to futuristic authoritarian oppressors. Rage doesn't bother limiting you to a pair of guns. Instead, it offers a tremendous arsenal with plenty of alternate forms of ammunition. The missions may be linear, but the broad ordinance options allow for a variety of approaches.

I really like Rage's approach to health. As an Ark survivor, the nanotechnology running through your veins guarantees rapid regeneration, but the world is a deadly place. If you suffer from a near fatality, the defibrillator implanted in your chest can revive you (and even shock nearby foes), but it takes time to recharge. This, effectively, guarantees two or even three lives in combat. Combined with the ability to save anywhere and a robust checkpoint system, Rage doesn't force players to unnecessarily replay the same moment over and over. The game's length comes from a wealth of content. Some optional missions (and one notable story mission) retread previously explored ground, but it's a lot more satisfying to experience firefight after firefight, punctuated by screaming mutant hordes, than it is to go through the same door, unsuccessfully, over and over.

Hunt Bandits for the Bounty

Rage's racing and vehicular combat are robust, but have such a different feel and pacing that it's a pleasure to take a quick break from the shooting to drive between locations, make some deliveries or just race. On the normal difficulty, the racing is just enough challenge to be fun, but not truly difficult. That changes at higher difficulty levels. Even so, no race or competition that's required to progress the story is particularly difficult. It's one way in which Rage is far more complete a post-apocalyptic game than other recent entries. How can you capture that Road Warrior feel if you don't strap guns or rockets to a junker and then weld on some steel plate armor?

I particularly loved that the driving and shooting take place in the same world. Race tracks and shooter missions may take place in different spaces, but the interstitial world is the same whether you are in a vehicle or on foot. If a parking meter is ripe for looting, you'll see it from the car, leap out without a loading screen and run to it without blinking an eye. I could drive right up to a hostile fortress or park far away for a stealthier approach. The decision was mine to make.

Live the Legend Online

The game offers two completely different, but equally entertaining, styles of multiplayer action. "Wasteland Legend" missions let two players work together to conquer missions on revamped versions of maps from the single-player campaign. While these are mostly a series of gunfights that are challenging enough on the "normal" setting, they are nicely grounded in Rage's lore and scenery. I liked the idea of participating in the mutant hunt that ended in trophy mutant heads I'd seen in a hub bar. The missions don't bother with unlockables and experience levels, but are tuned for difficulty through the enemies and available weapons. It's refreshingly pleasant that way.

If you want to drive against other players, the "Road Rage" mode lets you drive against human foes in all the racing and arena modes found in the campaign plus many others. On tracks based on Rage's geography, race, battle or compete to collect meteorites and pass rally points. Road Rage does feature experience game and unlockable vehicular enhancements. Some of these seemed overpowering when a higher-level driver faced a beginner. My disastrous driving skills still overwhelmed my opponents when I was the only one who could repair my chassis on the fly. I think Road Rage is a tremendously fun mode with transient appeal. It's good, but limited to four competitors. With eight contestants on the track, Road Rage would be intense with more lasting power.

What's a Manubrium?

Despite having far too many other obligations, I kept pushing things aside to play Rage. It's solid, and as fun a first-person shooter as I've played in a while. I only had two significant objections. Most significant is that I had a problem with shooting certain types of bandits. I could target the eyes of one of the Gearheads and miss entirely. Aim at his manubrium and the Gearhead's helmet would pop right off like a headshot. The problem only seemed to apply to a few enemies, but it was really irritating when trying to stealthily infiltrate a stronghold with a deadly crossbow that sent bolts passing through a skull like it was thin air.

It's also a mild irritation that the Xbox 360 version of Rage comes on three discs. I think the scope of the game forgives this, and Rage is very good about a discrete transition from disc one to disc two that requires almost no disc swapping. The irritation is that multiplayer requires the third disc. Most of the time, it wasn't a big deal to swap in the disc to play online. However, if I didn't find a game mode I wanted to play, it was really irritating to have to swap discs to play another ten minutes of the single-player campaign before swapping discs back to check again.

Rage offers an extensive, diverse and engaging experience. Once complete, Rage probably isn't a game I will replay, since I'll have done everything there is to do. But after the campaign, co-operative Wasteland Legend missions and tons of time playing Road Rage, Rage is decidedly an experience I will remember.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 4, 2011 12:01 AM.

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