Matthew Sawrey

a portfolio of videogame writings

RAGE

The heritage of a studio like id Software brings a substantial weight of expectation when releasing a new FPS. The developer not only houses the genius programming mind of John Cormack, responsible for a myriad of 3D graphical innovations including raycasting, binary space partitioning and mega textures. But also solidified the foundations of the genre with Wolfenstein 3D and popularised it with Doom in the early 90’s. RAGE is the studio’s first attempt at diversification in a long time, emerging from the cramp clautrophia inducing corridors of the aforementioned series, into the dust laden sunlight of a post asteroid impact, apocalyptic open world, mixing vehicular combat with the FPS foundations that the studio is famous for.

It is unsurprising then, considering its creators, that RAGE is a technically flawless affair. A buttery smooth 60fps is unflinching throughout, which is miraculous given the magnitude of the jaunty rock canyons and the detail of the neon-junkyard settlements on display. It is an aesthetically rich world as far as post-apocalyptic settings go, with a slightly goofy tone. Yet it lacks the character of a Fallout, the minutiae of immersive detail and charming quirk that takes a by the numbers construction and creates a truly individual, immersive world.

Unlike the dinosaurs humanity had prepared for the asteroid and managed to construct a small number of underground shelters (named Arks) around the globe to house survivours, who would eventually rise from their stasis and repopulate the world. As one such survivor you emerge from your Ark to the realisation that life outside has survived the impact and adapted in some rather freaky and aggressive ways.

The progression of events that follows is muddled and confusing and it is hard at times to differentiate between hostile tribes of survivors. It never is explained why bandit gangs of eastern European gearheads with stereotypically  German accents have made their home in what can only be presumed to be the American south considering the rest of the cast. Narrative seems simply to serve the purpose of constructing gameplay scenarios, instead of providing any interesting insight into the lore and backstory of its fiction.

Mission variety is sadly equally as uninspired amounting to little more than fetch quests, defending areas or killing colonies of tribal mutants. RAGE plays it safe and for the most part fails to provide many original scenario’s or gameplay situations. But while the set ups may be plain, individual encounters are a little more vibrant, with enemy AI being challengingly varied: The rabid mutants of the wasteland athletically bound around environments, crawling along the roof and leaping over cars. More intelligent foes take cover, flank and lob grenades with aggressive effect. And some simply charge headlong with the terrifying disregard for personal safety of the Helm’s Deep Wall destroying Uruk-hai in The Two Towers.

Interesting encounters are let down by a slightly less interesting armoury to deal with them. Weapons are the standard FPS fare with the usual assortment of long/mid/short range guns. RAGE takes the Bioshock approach towards variety, with an assortment of ammo types for each gun mixing up tactics. The shotgun is transformed into a grenade launcher with “pop rocket” ammo and the mind controlling crossbow bolts give you possession of an adversary for a short period of time turning him into an amusing walking bomb.

The most interesting combat options emerge out of your engineering abilities, allowing you to construct machines out of junk collected from the world or procured from a vendor. A Modern Warfare style RC controlled car bomb allows for amusing stealth kills, whilst a four legged spider sentry bot proves particularly aggressive and adept at navigating environments. Combat feedback is thick, thudding and weighty in all the right places and is handled through some of the silkiest FPS controls outside of Call of Duty.

One of RAGE’s few truly unique ideas is the way in which it deals with death. “Nanotrites” within your body act as defibrillators that can restart your heart, essentially giving you a second chance during any situation. A simple but enjoyable mini-game ensues in which you match up the joysticks with directional prompts on screen before pounding the triggers to deliver the electrical shock. How well you play determines how much health you regain and perfect timing electrocutes a close proximity of enemies. It serves to relieve the frustration of restarts and allows for a little care free attitude to tough fights.

It is in the outdoor environments that id’s experimental diversions from its typical shooter formula are most visible. Almost from the outset vehicles are necessary to traverse RAGE’s wasteland and just as the surviving inhabitants have aggressively adapted to these dilapidated surroundings, so to have their methods of transportation. Dune buggies with rocket launcher roof racks are the order of the day, as the threat of bandit attack is ever present during travel. Driving handles like a nice mixture between the realistic physics of Motorstorm and the arcade physics of Twisted Metal and each vehicle is upgradable in armour, boost and attacking capabilities. Racing provides the major campaign distraction alongside a couple of meager side missions, with an assortment of tournoments avaliable from the wasteland’s two main hub towns.

Sadly driving and on foot shooting rarely mix, with vehicles acting as transportation between dislocated campaign objectives. It soon becomes apparent that RAGE’s supposed open world is little more than pretence to what is actually a series of connected corridors, surrounded by sumptuously detailed “mega-textured” rocks.  You are never quite given a sense of scale or position within the world due to the lack of an overall map and venturing out into the wasteland on foot exposes it as nothing more than a nicely detailed race track.

Given the studio’s legacy and the predominance of FPS gameplay throughout the campaign, it is a surprising decision that the online competetive multiplayer potion of RAGE has been constructed solely around vehicular combat. Playing like a mixture between a Mario Kart and Twisted Metal death match, power up pick ups are strew throughout stages taken directly from the campaign. A well consructed and fun distraction for a short period there are only a few avaliable modes and nothing of any real note or originallity to hold attention here.

In contrast the co-operative multiplayer reverts back to RAGE’s FPS mechanics. Much like its competetive brethering the co-op is a little slight with a few stages again taken from the campaign and an additional Gears of War style revival mechanic for a downed teammate. It is points based with bonuses for skilled headshots and avoiding death.

Both are welcome additions, but in terms of its multiplayer suite RAGE is extremely lacking in comparison to the modern day standard bearers and feels largely like an afterthough.

It is disappointing then, that where RAGE intended to expand upon id’s already proven FPS track record, the studio’s first foray into a non-linear open worlder is smoke and mirrors, constructed from corridors and dislocated levels with, admittedly, beautiful window dressing.  But as impressively fluid as the tech powering it may be, it isn’t the lovely rock textures or enemy animations that will be remembered but the bland, repetitive mission design and a lack of real world building character. Dreams of a Fallout/Motorstorm/Doom amalgamation serve as bitter reminder for what could have been. And while RAGE is by no means a bad game, and its basic mechanics all work wonderfully, it is simply uninspired and a little to derivative outside of its technical showcasing. A fact that might leave some feeling a little more than angry…..

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2012 by in Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .
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