I liked “RAGE” immediately.
Early in the game, before you barely have control of your character, you are rescued by a hearty sniper voiced by John Goodman (sounding a lot like he did in “Monsters Inc.”) As he drives you back to his camp and away from the marauding bandits who want to kill you, you’ll notice he’s got a bobblehead doll on the dashboard of his buggy. At first I thought it was Master Chief. Closer inspection reveals it is the space marine from “DOOM.” The message I took from it was that id Software wants you to know right away that even though you’re in a vehicle traveling through an open world filled with RPG elements, you’re still playing a First Person Shooter – the genre they invented with “Castle Wolfenstein” and revolutionized with “DOOM.” The driving in “RAGE” is finely tuned and the RPG/open world elements are a lot of fun, but this game is still all about shooting bad guys.
And in that sense, it is nearly flawless.
First, let me spend about as much time on the story as is necessary: Very little. When the Earth is nearly destroyed by asteroids you and others are kept safe beneath the surface in stasis. You emerge to find the planet has survived, but just barely. There are mutants and killers and some decent folks sprinkled here and there. The plot about a resistance movement fighting off the authorities is just the skeleton on which to hang the game’s action.
Of the game’s three-pronged approach to action – shooting, vehicular battle and exploration – the shooting is where it’s at.
Every FPS encounter in “RAGE” could be your last. From lowly mutants who come at you with blunt objects to heavily armed soldiers employing nearly indestructible shields, you will never feel safe or coddled in this game. Your first encounter with an enemy shows you what to expect: AI that does more than just flank and take cover, but are also athletic enough to pounce from walls and duck on the fly in their relentless pursuit of your death.
Every battle is intense. Shoot a dude in the leg and he’ll miss a step but keep coming. Get him in the gut and he may fall down but he does not fall out. Finally put a man down and you’ve got a few seconds to search his body for loot before one of his buddies appears to surprise you with a sneak attack.
The driving portions of the game – which range from simply getting from one place to another to elaborate battle races where winning nets you better stuff for your ride – are done well. Once you’re in a vehicle you feel like you’re in a driving game, not an FPS with vehicles. The car stuff got a little boring for me as the game moved forward, but it was always a nice distraction and is a blast to play online.
The RPG and open world elements work about as well as they can given the game’s high ambition. Looting is a ton of fun and is rewarding given how many cool things you can build with the stuff you find in the wasteland – lock breakers, RC bomb cars, and the best FPS melee weapon ever invented: The Wingstick. There’s not much in the way of leveling up your character, but there’s plenty of stuff to cobble together and weapons to modify. Also, there’s a rocking card game you can play in the local bars that’s among the best mini games I’ve ever played.
Those of you looking for id Software’s famous online death matches may be disappointed. id says they didn’t want to include their traditional death matches just because that’s what was expected of them. They’re trying to innovate. What they have are cooperative shooting missions and vehicular combat. I doubt people will be playing these once the big FPS titles hit in a few weeks, but they’re pretty cool.
It’s easy to compare “RAGE” to “Borderlands” and it’s a fair comparison. If you liked “Borderlands’ but found the shooting a bit shallow, “RAGE” will blow you away. Beyond that, if you’re simply tired of playing military shooters and want to try a campaign that is innovative – although a bit short – ”RAGE” is your game.
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