Posted by John on October 4, 2011

Review: Rage (360/PS3)

Surprisingly fun vehicle combat and a colorful post-apocalypse solidly places Rage in the upper tier of this year’s first-person shooters, technical issues aside.

  • McKinley Noble

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    McKinley Noble
  • October 04, 2011 00:01 AM PT
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For the most part, first-person shooters have evolved beyond your standard “invisible man with a gun” games. Several titles like Crysis 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and Halo: Reach have really fleshed out the genre’s most frequent commonalities, with everything from advanced cover systems to highly destructible environments. However, id Software’s Rage sometimes feels very much like a 1999 game with 2011 technology.

And that’s not a bad thing, either. In all honesty, Rage doesn’t look that different from other scavenger worlds like Fallout or Borderlands. With so many games sharing similar environments, Rage almost doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the pack without its branding. Everything here takes place in the fictional future, where your main character is a survivor of the “Ark Program” — a project meant to preserve human life after the 99942 Apophis asteroid collides with Earth in 2029. When you wake up in the far future’s new “Wasteland,” you immediately start joining up with friendly survivors, while trying to stay ahead of the new “Authority” government that collects Ark participants.

By far, Rage has one of the more memorable post-apocalypses I can remember, and the characters are what make the best impression. Several of them are backed by legitimate vocal talent, such as John Goodman (Roseanne, The Big Lebowski) and Steven Blum (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo), who really add to the high-quality feel of the game. Much of the single-player campaign usually involves running errands and collecting bounties for the various people you meet, and for the most part, the missions are diverse enough that they stay interesting without getting too repetitive.

Most surprising are the vehicle-based sections, both online and offline. Simply put, they’re fantastic — possibly the most fun to be had in the entire game. Once you upgrade from a simple dirt bike to a full-out buggy, you’ll gain access to races, rallies, and vehicle combat missions that provide a significant break from the monotony. Not only are the driving physics easy to learn, they’re a lot of fun when you’re gunning down bandit buggies and boosting off of jumps. It’s even better in multiplayer, where competing in the different race types unlocks various types of guns and secondary abilities, like force fields and cluster rockets.

Review: Rage

Different types of enemies will require certain weapons, which you can usually build from scattered parts you find in the Wasteland.

Above all else, Rage is a technically impressive game. Environments are exhaustively detailed (but not fully destructible), and the enemy A.I. will surprise you more than once. Not only will most bad guys blind-fire at you from behind cover and try to shoot you after taking fatal hits, but they’ll often use armored allies to flush you out of your own hiding spots. Each battle can be a bit of a puzzle, because you’re not safe just waiting behind a chest-high barrier until you get a good shot. Mutants and bandits alike will try to get in your face and will hunt for you if you start camping. However, your shoot-outs will suffer from occasional glitches, and it’s often noticeable to the point of distraction.

In many cases, it’s obvious that the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are struggling to keep up with Rage. Headshots occasionally don’t register, there’s often a one-second delayed reaction when you shoot an enemy, and melee attacks are hit-and-miss. On several occasions I was spotted from across an empty room, while enemies don’t notice dead allies right next to them when patrolling an area. Visually, there are other shortcomings: texture popping frequently occurs in many areas, and our retail PS3 experiment had lots of screen-tearing early on in the game.

Review: Rage

In Rage, the post-apocalyptic world is actually pretty bright and friendly. Many of the characters you meet aren’t out for your blood, and will give you valuable stuff for running them errands.

But while all those things are annoying, they don’t ruin the game — and I imagine a high-end PC build would likely yield fewer problems. A short 10 hours for a simple single-player grind can expand into 30-40 hours with all the optional missions, multiplayer races, and the co-op “Wasteland Legends” levels, so you’re getting your money’s worth for the retail price. Overall, I really liked the racing content more than the actual FPS gameplay.

About the only major issue I’ll warn you about is the game’s pacing. Rage tends to peak in the middle, and the ending is a total letdown. You’ll be expecting a nice boss encounter, but everything just abruptly ends at a weird point — almost like the game suddenly realized it ran out of levels. But even as a rental, Rage is a game you should check out, minor issues aside. It ultimately doesn’t live up to the hype, but this wasteland is definitely a fun experience while it lasts.

PROS: Excellent enemy A.I.; vividly detailed environments; solid voice-acting. Even by itself, the vehicle content is absolutely stellar. Online racing modes are a lot of fun.
CONS: Obvious technical issues on PS3 and Xbox 360; some glitches can glaringly affect gunfights; end of the single-player campaign is a big letdown.

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