Saturday, 12 May 2012


It pains me that I don't like Rage. You could say "it makes me rage"... but I've no plans to such things... even though it does. How can a game built by id Software turn out so obtuse and stupid - looking new, yet feeling old. What went wrong?

id are known for revolutionising the first person shooter genre - after all, they're the ones often cited as its creators. FPS games is what id Software do, and though I'd argue Commander Keen was better than all of them, the likes of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake solidified id's title of masters of the first person shooter.

Yet unfortunately, despite a plethora of innovations over the last twenty years, id Software have struggled to find a voice outside of the hardcore PC community in recent years - their products are recognised as "good" but not "great", and a game like Quake IV is easily displaced in favour of some form of Call of Duty or Battlefield. It seemed as if id's time in the sun was well and truly at an end.

But Rage was meant to be different. For the first time in a long while it set out to be a brand new, compelling experience showcasing the next stage in FPS evolution. On a technical level, perhaps it succeeds (the brilliance is less noticeable on the Xbox 360), but unlike previous outings from the company, this one doesn't strike me as something which raises the bar significantly higher. Life is very much the same as you would find elsewhere.. it just looks prettier in Rage.

It's been widely accepted by the gaming media that Rage is a jack of all trades but master of none. It's an FPS with driving segments, and minigames and RPG bits, all with their own little flaws entangled in a generic and predictable story, yet I don't see this as much of these as issues - these "diversions" from the core FPS experience aren't overly broken, just perhaps under-nourished, and you'd expect that when they're playing second best.

I'm not even too bothered about the 360's cumbersome 3 DVD scenario - I too question why they needed to go down that route when we're recycling settings and the map is relatively small, but I'm not loosing sleep over it. There have been worse decisions in gaming.

But Rage as a first person shooter? I can't say it's a very good one. For the most part, Rage fails to do anything even remotely new, and thus I can't help but question its existence. You travel around murky, linear environments shooting the same AI scripts for a few hours. Some ideas are interesting, but nothing is revolutionary. It's a bit depressing, actually.

As far as I can make out, Rage does two things right. Though the game is murky at the best of times, it sports a wide array of detailed murk, and the fact that it runs at both a higher resolution and higher frame rate than most other games is definitely a point in its favour. Likewise the AI in this game is also very clever - groups of infantry retreat to safer ground if they think they're being overrun, and it can negotiate the environment like nothing I've ever seen before. Also when you shoot them in the legs, they limp about and react accordingly. There's some good here - I'm not here to deny that.

But Rage is not a pleasant experience, and for me, this all hangs on its ridiculous saving system. Rage has an auto-save feature, but one that only bothers kicks in when you enter a new area - otherwise it's up to the player to manage his or her save files. It's the sort of thing you may have seen during the 1990s - something the industry was supposed to have grown out of. Due to the lack of mid-level checkpoints, if you're not monitoring the situation you could be thrust back to the front door after death.

Now of course we had these systems many many years ago, but they were typically suited to games where the safe zones were clearly defined, to help curb the cycle of loading screens and insta-kills. But because Rage likes to build suspense, you're never entirely sure where the best save locations are until you've played through more than once. I can understand a game that purposely limits saving to add to the challenge, but that's not what Rage does - you can manually save at almost any point, so this is a needless inconvenience that can drag out your experience for a good few of hours if you're not careful.

I had to constantly stop and save to limit my frustration in Rage, because you are often vastly underpowered and death can be quite common. The game was clearly built for the PC, but even though there's an Xbox 360 version, it makes no effort to balance things. Precise aiming or fast reactions when you're in close-range combat are challenging with the Xbox 360 controller, yet nothing was tweaked to compensate.

I also found that the loading times are long, but apparently I'm in no position to complain because I refused to install the game to the console's hard drive. I get that the PC version is meant to be the best, but Bethesda, don't bother publishing console versions if we're not meant to play them. 

There is a lot of padding in Rage. The saving part is the worst example, but you're also forced to go on backtracking quests, as well as wandering through the same level environments to add an extra half an hour of play here and there. You have to enter races to get parts for your vehicle, and you're almost forced to sift through every corpse you find because resources are hard to come by.

To succeed in Rage, you're forced to shop for ammo before undertaking a mission - another tedious journey. When you arrive at the counter you're often forced to guess how many bullets you require for a level you haven't played, analysing the possibility of needing to use a sniper rifle or grenades based on what some bloke said in a different room. If you play your cards right funds are never in short supply so these aren't challenging questions, but the point still stands - they're not questions the game should have been asking. Just litter the world with ammo like previous titles.

Rage strikes me as little more than a glorified tech demo, except here it's one for a seven year old system so the effect doesn't really work. Yes Rage is a pretty game, but that's the only thing it's got going for it. Audio is generic, gameplay is very linear and scripted, and for something that supposedly has a terabyte of uncompressed assets, the enemies like to recycle their lines quite often. None of the in-game characters are particularly memorable, and it's extremely unlikely this will be treated as a classic like the Dooms and Quakes of this world.

In some cases, the technology behind id Tech 5 isn't actually all that good. NPCs struck me as more animated in Half-Life 2 (not including the enemies), and that game's nearly eight years old. Outdoor environments are claustrophobic, and the indoor environments aren't much better. Though I admire the many Easter eggs hidden in Rage, I can't help but come to the conclusion that I'd rather be shooting cacodemons on Mars. This is more like BioShock. I don't like BioShock.

In conclusion, Rage isn't awful, but I can't say the four years of development have been overly fruitful. It's a bulky game and I'm sure the dozens of side quests and races will keep you occupied for years, but this isn't one for me. I just hope Doom 4 can make better use of the technology.

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