Rage: Actually I think “Rage” is too strong of a word.
Released in October 2011, Rage is the newest first-person shooter from genre innovators id Software. With such iconic franchises as Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake, id spent over a decade defining and refining the FPS from the ground up. And in 2004, after 12 years of killing demons, Nazis, and Nazi super-demons, fans were excited to learn that id had something entirely new in the works. By 2011, the Internet buzz concerning Rage was almost entirely optimistic-and really, who wouldn’t be? Seven years in the making by a proven developer, a shiny new engine, id’s trademark array of fun weaponry, a wide-open apocalyptic desert to explore…things were definitely looking up.
Tragically-as is so often the case in these situations-Rage was eventually released, and hearts were broken. That’s not to say Rage isn’t fun to play, because a lot of it is. The main problem is that they’re the fun parts from other games I was playing over the last five years or so-games that, presumably, the guys at id were also playing. It’s one thing to be influenced by your competition, that’s normal and healthy. As I played through Rage, however, I could practically chart the moments where the lead designer burst into the office waving a new game in his hand and yelling “seriously guys you gotta check this out!”.
The game begins with our silent hero waking from stasis and stumbling out into a bright desert wasteland. It’s pretty, but you’ve barely got time to compare it to the bright desert wastelands of Fallout 3 or Borderlands before you are set upon by bandits! Luckily, you are rescued by post-apocalyptic John Goodman, who offers you a lift back to his post-apocalyptic shantytown so you can do some chores for him.
After a two-minute car ride, John Goodman decides that you’re the only one who can get some jobs done for the citizens of his shantytown, which was previously getting along just fine without you. First up? You guessed it! Some bandits have been causing some trouble. You’re entrusted with the town’s worst gun and worst vehicle, and sent on your way. And so it goes. The number of missions involving bandit-hassling is statistically indistinguishable from 100%.
Lucky for you though, this is 2011! The time of the corridor shooter has passed, and now we’re all about the open-world exploration and side quests. By the time you hit Rage‘s first major town, that job board will be shimmering before you like an oasis mirage in a Warner Brothers cartoon. And like that oasis mirage, once you get up close all you’ll see in this sandbox is sand. Most of the odd jobs available are “convoy protection”, and they all go the same way. Hitting “accept” teleports you to the mission start. “Mission start” is where you’ll be standing for the duration of the mission, by the way. A car drives up in the distance, and comes to a complete stop. It is then attacked by bandits. You snipe the bandits, then the car keeps driving and you get some money. Super bored after doing this like six times? Well good, so was id. There are no other job boards in the game.
The bustling cities of this wasteland have a lot more to offer than just a single job board, thankfully. In the first town alone there are a handful of minigames available for your gambling pleasure. There’s five-finger filet, a collectible card game, and a holographic board game that looks really promising at first but then you find out the rules are “press A three times and maybe you’ll win”. I wish that was a joke. The second city brings all those back, exactly the same, and adds in the guitar strumming minigame from Fable. And if you’re bored by the minigames by the time you leave this second town, then you’re in luck. There is no third town.
If it feels like I spent a lot of time complaining about side quests and minigames, it’s because these things are indicative of the game as a whole. Cars were supposed to be a big deal in this game, and it’s true that you can upgrade and race them, but there’s no point. Racing gets you certificates to trade in for things like upgraded tires, but trust me on this. On your way from a town to a mission, you will be halfheartedly attacked by like two other cars, and you’ll have blown them up long before you have time to lament the stock tires on your dune buggy. It’s not exactly Mad Max out there. Every time you need a better vehicle the game just gives you one before you can continue, making any upgrades you did buy a complete waste of your time and effort.
Weapons are handled in a similar fashion. I had a cool moment really early on where I bought a “monocular” (half a broken pair of binoculars), and then realized my character would use it like a makeshift scope, replacing the iron sights option on the pistol. That moment was never repeated. There are two “upgrades” for the assault rifle that make no real difference in its performance, one that gives your shotgun a bigger clip, and then literally nothing else for the entire game. I’ve never in my life seen a weapon upgrade system that was just discarded after the third weapon in the game. It’s almost like the developers forgot they were including it in the first place. Perhaps, like me, they just decided guns were useless after realizing that the boomerang-like wingsticks are more cost-effective than ammo and provide a one-hit kill on nearly every enemy type.
Even the story missions fall victim to this trend, defying the very foundations of good game design or storytelling. There’s no rising sense of intensity or urgency, no huge threat looming in the horizon. Big crazy boss fights are a time-honored video game tradition, and no developer has honored that tradition more consistently than id. From robot Hitler to fifty foot mechanical devils, they’re your go-to guys for FPS boss fights. This time though, any sort of large-scale battles or threats are dispensed with way too early, making the last half of the game feel like an interactive definition of the word “anticlimactic”.
It’s a shame that Rage follows this pattern so consistently, it’s like a great book with the last half of each chapter torn out. The combat is exciting, locations look cool, occasionally a character that gives you a job seems pretty interesting. But once the combat is over, it’s over. There’s nowhere to go in this game outside of the mission locales, you never get to just wander around and have fun with your new guns. Locations look nice but ultimately there’s nothing there. Outside a small handful of secret rooms that feel almost grudgingly thrown in, there’s nothing here to look for. And once that possibly-awesome character gives you a mission or two, they disappear from the story and sometimes from the world entirely, never to be seen or spoken of again. I ran through about five semi-clever metaphors to wrap up this review, but I think it’s best summarized with a question. If id really thought they were making some big fun world to explore like they kept saying, why didn’t they bother with an in-game map?
Posted on December 14, 2011, in Video Games and tagged desert wastelands, disappointing games of 2011, doom, first person shooter, game reviews, id, post apocalyptic, Rage. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.