With stunning textures and a consistent 60 frames-per-second, id's latest release is one of the best looking titles available on the PlayStation 3. But for as good as the game looks, the experience is marred by a number of inconsistencies. An offensive save system and an emphasis on unfulfilling mechanics distract from the overall quality, resulting in a consistently good game but never a great one.
You'll encounter a wide variety of emotions during the ten or so hours that RAGE's campaign persists: wonder, disappointment, bafflement, amazement, intrigue and frustration. Coming from the founding fathers of the first-person genre, id, it's fair to say that there's an expectation upon RAGE's shoulders that few other games carry.
But RAGE does nothing to push forward the genre that id defined with Wolfenstein and Doom nearly twenty years ago. Strip it away from its open hub-world and various side-distractions and this is very much the same game with a modern technical polish.
The game's set some one-hundred years after a tragic meteorite strike partially destroyed much of the world. You play as a mute survivor — one of the few remaining personalities from the old-world who's spent the past century cooped up in an over-sized toy capsule embedded into the ground. But the plot doesn't really matter. It never particularly gets going, nor does it ever present itself as anything worth investing in. Instead it fumbles along, offering little more than motive for the shooting at the game's core.
The wafer-thin narrative is enough to pull you through a variety of populated settlements. It's here that you'll flesh out your quest list and set about a hearty romp against a mixture of mutants, bandits and controlling Authority soldiers.
While the game is technically open-world, giving you freedom to travel wherever you please at any time, it is actually much more restricted than it first appears. For starters the open-world is extremely small, representing something closer to a hub than the likes of New Marais or Liberty City.
It's in the populated towns or instanced corridor shooter environments that you'll spend most of your time, with the hub-world explored during short rides between destinations.
RAGE deserves some credit for offering a distinct mixture of gameplay styles. At times it's an RPG, others a racer and of course, latterly a first-person shooter. But while each element is perfectly competent, only the shooting really stands out. The vehicular combat is functional and fun, if utterly forgettable. Races are pushed to the background of RAGE's campaign, with optional participation rewarding you with better vehicles and upgrades.
Some will find enjoyment in the game's distinctive brand of vehicular combat, but ultimately it's not Twisted Metal and thus it feels like a unnecessary inclusion to the package. Much of our time spent behind the wheel during RAGE's campaign was focused on travelling between distinct markers in the hub-world to continue our progress through the narrative.
That said, id has stacked the game with little vehicular side distractions if you're willing to find them. The number of races to participate in, track types and upgrades keeps things feeling fresh — and even the wasteland itself is populated with chasms for you to leap and bandits for you to destroy.
Those that especially enjoy the driving will find a wealth to do online too, with RAGE doing its very best Twisted Metal impression across a wide variety of car combat game-types. These span straight-forward deathmatch modes, to chain reaction and meteor rally — each tainted with a destructive edge and buoyed by an involving number of ranks, upgrades and badges to keep you playing.
It's an entirely satisfactory multiplayer component — and in many ways its refreshing to see something unique in the multiplayer space — but its hard to lavish the game's entire driving sub-set with anything more encouraging. "Good enough" is a mantra that rings true throughout much of RAGE.
And sadly it applies to the game's simplistic RPG mechanics too. Managing quest lists, interacting with NPCs, trading at shops and crafting items is about as far as the game goes. Which is fine, RAGE is still an action game at heart, but the financial system at the core of it can leave you unwilling to experiment with the more expensive types of ammo. "What if there's a boss up ahead, better not use the good stuff," we found ourselves querying a lot. Of course, there never was a boss up ahead.
Which is a shame because RAGE is at its very best when it's being an id shooter. And thankfully it's being an id shooter a hell of a lot of the time. Quests will nearly always send you to instanced, corridor sections, where the gameplay is dramatically linear but beautifully conceived.
The weapons arsenal, while entirely predictable, is a breath of fresh air. Machine guns chug, shotguns smack and even a crossbow delights in both stealth and when equipped with explosive arrows. id's ability to create interesting fire-fights is unparalleled, with a slim number of enemy types spanning enough variation to make for compelling gameplay situations.
The AI is fun to play with too. Mutants climb up walls, pirouette and spin about the world, desperately trying to avoid your firepower while they close in on you. Soldiers too dodge, dive and leap behind cover, carefully analysing your motions before picking off a shot. With the weapons feeling so powerful it's a shame that the enemies take such a long time to drop — a point-blank shotgun shell will take at least two hits to down an enemy towards the end of the game — but with a variety of ammunition types on offer to experiment with the combat remains fun throughout.
With such a frantic pace, and the option to switch through multiple weapons whenever you wish, it's a shame that RAGE's weapon selection is so inefficient. Holding the R2 button pops up a couple of diamonds on the screen, allowing you to switch between four different weapons and four different ammo types. It sounds fine on paper, but when the action is hectic it can take a while for you to select the weapons that you want, leaving you open to damage in the interim.
In addition to the main weapons, you'll also happen upon various schematics and electronics which can be combined to create bots, exploding cars and turrets. All of which will fight on your side during the game and can be distributed using the D-Pad. Unique weapon types such as wingsticks — lethal boomerangs — add something a little individual to the action, and the whole crafting system goes hand-in-hand with RAGE's make-do presentation.
And what presentation it is. RAGE is a technical powerhouse, maintaining a consistent 60 frames-per-second despite having texture quality in leagues with the likes of Killzone and Uncharted. Much has been said about RAGE's mega-textures technology, but it really does deliver. The game's two main village-esque hubworlds — Wellsprings and Subway Town — are packed with a vibrant attention to detail that makes you want to explore every facet of their presentation.
Characters too are wonderfully realised, both in the sheer detail of their models and the cartoon-like animation that brings them to life. You might not ever be interested in what RAGE's characters have to say, but you will listen regardless because the game boasts such an interesting and diverse cast.
It's not just those characters on your side that are lovingly brought to life either. Mutants and foes are wonderfully animated, naturally swinging around the environment in a startlingly realistic manner. There are moments when RAGE looks and feels like a high-end PC game running on a PlayStation 3. And that's an enormous compliment to pay the game.
Unfortunately, it's not always smooth sailing. Everyone that plays RAGE will have a moment where they notice the game's exaggerated texture pop-in. And for a while it's hard to ignore. The mega-textures come at a cost, and the read speed of the PlayStation 3's Blu-ray disc is a huge problem in this instance. Despite boasting a whopping 8GB install, textures still take some moments to render, meaning there are times where you'll be looking at an ugly scene for a second or two. The game rectifies itself quickly, but it's hard to ignore in places. The problem is heightened by some stages seemingly having less texture detail than those before it. While some of the game's confined areas are sights to behold, others will leave you waiting for the textures to load in — only for you to realise that they are and the environment you're in is simply much uglier than those before it.
But on the whole the game looks extraordinary and is right up there with the very best looking games on PlayStation 3. To think that id managed to maintain 60 frames-per-second while pushing out such textures on aging hardware is head-scratchingly wonderful. We imagine nearly every other developer on the planet will be trying to understand exactly how the developer's managed it.
When you're not shooting up mutants, racing through the wasteland or staring at the graphics, RAGE boasts a variety of mini-games to maintain the game's variety. Perhaps the stand-out of these side-distractions is the game's on-disc card game, which works similarly to the likes of Magic The Gathering and other popular deck building games. You'll find various cards around the wasteland — RAGE's answer to GTAIV's pigeons — which can be used to build your deck in a variety of genuinely interesting card game battles. To think that id went so far with a mini-game is testament to the amount of work put into RAGE, and it's an excellent distraction from all the shooting.
And yet, it's hard to believe that the developer went so far with a mini-game and yet still managed to forget to implement autosave into its modern, blockbuster shooter. The game's save system is not only archaic, it's downright frustrating, as you're forced to manually save the game whenever you want a checkpoint. It wouldn't be so bad if the game had a quicksave button, but it doesn't. In order to fashion a checkpoint you'll need to hit the Start button, select save and wait a good 15 seconds while it does its business. The save system completely breaks the illusion that the game's trying to create. And don't even think about not saving or you'll lose anywhere up to 30 minutes of progress should you die in the meantime.
Once you're done with the single-player campaign, there's a co-operative mode to keep you busy. Entitled Legends Of The Wasteland, this sub-campaign is split into nine unique missions which ultimately re-purposes assets from the main-game but piles on the lore and back-story. If you liked the single-player, then it's even better with a buddy, and id's done some cool stuff to make the experience scaled to compliment two players.
When it's at its best RAGE is a refreshing piece of entertainment. The visuals are outstanding for a console game, and are complimented by a wide variety of interesting art-styles and id's commitment to 60 frames-per-second. The developer's ability to craft interesting fire-fights is still in tact, and RAGE is up there with the best in the business when you're behind the barrel of a shotgun. But it's also an experience marred by inconsistencies and mediocrity. The racing, while entirely functional, never goes further than settling for "satisfactory" and its inappropriate save system and technical hiccups lessen the game's appeal.
For a game so packed with variety and ambition, it's hard to shake the underlying feeling that RAGE actually brings very little to the table. The combat is fantastic, but then so was it in DOOM. There's nothing offensively wrong with RAGE, but sadly it just never comes close to achieving greatness.