Rage is an attempt by the makers of Doom and Quake to step outside of the box and do something unexpected. On that goal, they’ve succeeded, but you’ll never be confused about who made the game.
I wanted to love Rage. I tried hard. I was excited to play it. But my interest waned after the first hour, when I realized how little depth there was beneath its oh-so-flashy surface.
As Id Software’s first brand new IP in fifteen years, Rage is a very intentional step in a new direction for the veteran developer. And it’s about time. Id made its name with the Doom and Quake franchises, but the modern gamer expects a deeper, more customized experience from a triple-A title, with storytelling on par with a big-screen movie.
Rage takes place in the future, after an asteroid strikes Earth and wipes out most of its population. The decayed ruins of our society serve as the backdrop for this apocalyptic wasteland, which is now populated with anarchic mutant gangs and hardened human colonies who are just trying to survive. You play as a member of an Ark — cryogenic pods buried deep underground before the asteroid struck, carrying slumbering scientists and whatnot in a plan to repopulate our species, post-cataclysm. Now, years later, you awaken and emerge to find a world that’s nothing like the one you remember.
If this setting sounds familiar, it is; it’s nearly identical to the backstories of both Fallout and Borderlands. What Id brings to this crowded table is an incredible sense of scope, and utterly gorgeous scenery. And of course, the vehicles. (More on that in a minute.) It’s impossible to heap too much praise on the IdTech 5 engine, the new crown jewel of Id Software’s technology library. Not only does Id5 allow for jaw-droppingly beautiful graphics, but it smokes, too. Not once during my time with the game was there so much as a tiny hiccup with the frame rate. Even the high-speed vehicles cause no problem for the rendering engine, allowing the environment to fly by at a supersonic pace without ever losing resolution. It makes for remarkably exhilarating driving when you speed through the sun-soaked wastelands thanks to the engine’s beautiful, fluid motion.
Id5 comes with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles that help Rage stand out. Since distant areas on the map are loaded in the background while you play, for example, there are no tedious load times to wait through. The Id5 engine seamlessly transitions from indoor to outdoor environments — and on to racing those glorious vehicles — all as part of one big world, with no “sections” or “levels” divvying things up. It’s a small thing that you might not even notice for a while, but it lends a tremendous sense of realism to the game world.
There are so many good ideas poured into Rage, that it should have been a genre-defining ball-buster. It starts with all the trappings for a great story: interesting characters and locations, cool enemies and fun weapons, and endless potential in those crazy fast vehicle races. But somehow over the course of its 10-ish hour solo campaign, it squanders most of its potential by forgetting what made it so interesting in the first place. All those cool elements are quickly replaced with a standard, level-and-grind mentality that makes for an ultimately hollow experience.
It’s the gameplay where Rage falls short. Id clearly wanted to create an RPG/shooter, but just couldn’t stop themselves from building a standard dungeon shooter. Missions are repetitive almost immediately, with inactive NPCs sending you out on a vehicle to some nearby location, where you’ll run in and wipe out mutant gang types in order to earn the trust of the locals. There are variations to this formula, of course, but after a while you can’t help feeling like a glorified exterminator who keeps getting called in to take care of a local pest problem.
Weapons give the game a welcome dose of creativity, particularly when you start to customize them. The same goes for vehicles, and the gadgets you can create using found materials. But all of this RPG-style customization has been done before — and sadly, it’s been done a lot better. The most frustrating part is that you never really feel like upgrading your weapons or purchasing more powerful ones give you you much of an edge. The enemies use the same tactics time and again, and your defensive and offensive tools never vary all that much in the amount of damage they do.
Rage is meant to be a giant leap outside the box for Id Software, with its vast, sunny outdoor areas and numerous RPG elements. Yet for all the new elements thrown in, Rage maintains that core Id feel. Particularly in the indoor areas, where you proceed from one room to the next while monstrous enemies jump out of hiding and barrel straight toward you (though some are smart enough to use guns and cover). And then there are the indoor hideouts for the mutant gangs, which often contain the standard type of satanic imagery (skulls, pentagrams, etc.) that id uses so frequently. Okay, we get it already: these guys are the black hats. In that way, Rage feels like Doom 3 on LSD. The sights are so beautiful they’re intoxicating, and it’s dressed up with some welcome RPG trappings, but underneath it’s the same old, same old. It’s got plenty of muscle. What it needs is a soul.
Rage is definitely something fresh for Id, but for everyone else, it’s been there, done that. For my money, it is worth playing for its amazing graphics alone; if there’s one thing Id knows how to do, it’s build an incredible game engine. But wait for the price to come down. Sight-seeing isn’t enough to justify a $60 price tag.
If Id really wants to grow and evolve, it needs to find a way to get unstuck from the “dungeon grinding” mindset. That may have worked in the 80s and 90s, but this is the 21st Century, and we expect more from our games.