Rage – the PS3 Attitude review
There is a point in Rage when it stops being a solid FPS and becomes a great one. That moment occurs about two or three hours in, just when our recent hands-on preview ended.
Up to that point, we had been ushered down narrow paths and asked to do routine objectives. It was a confident introduction to the game, and it did give us a good grounding for what was to come later, but it felt like it was keeping a tight rein on us.
It starts to loosen its grip once you reach Wellspring. There are many small settlements scattered across Rage’s vast wastelands, but Wellspring is one of two major ones. It is a vibrant and busy town, where you can play mini games, spend money in shops, accept side quests and even race.
However, before we could do any of that we had to prove our worth to the mayor, who wanted us to perform a couple of small task. He basically asked us to flex our trigger muscles and find a less conspicuous outfit. Completing these tasks increased our influence, which in turn made us more appealing to the locals. Afterwards, they were happy to trade with us and offer missions. Bonus.
In this sense, it’s quite like that other Bethesda game, Fallout. Characters alter their perception of you throughout the game and there is no pressure to stick to the main story . It’s not as deep or as complex as that grand RPG — there is only one narrative and the range of sidequests is limited — but Rage is unquestionably freer and more flexible than the majority of FPSs around.
Rage offers a mission-based structure with its main story arch developing at a slow and steady pace. It takes you through several small steps before you even make the slightest dent in the story. In Wellspring, for example, we’re told we need a better car to survive in the wasteland, and that we can get one by winning a race. We need more money to enter this race though, so we need to find a sponsor. This sends us across the wasteland to speak to JK Stiles, owner of Mutant Bash TV, who is happy to sponsor us on the condition that we star in his show. As we said, lots of small steps.
For Mutant Bash TV, contestants take part in gladiatorial battles across a series of gory circus-themed arenas. Each stage unleashes a new wave of aggressive mutants and other quirks like spinning spiked gorillas. It is intense, challenging and more than a bit insane. It’s essentially the first time Rage really embraces the madness of its wasteland, and it is better for it.
It is also the point that we started to appreciate Rage’s excellent arsenal. We had been satisfied with our humble pistol for over an hour, but seemingly, from out of nowhere, we had managed to acquire a nice range of weapons, including a crossbow, two shotguns, assault rifle and a sniper rifle. The fun doesn’t end there either, we get plenty more as the game progresses, including rocket launchers and pulse cannons.
Some of the weapons are upgradeable, including the Authority MG (laser sight), the combat shotgun (extender) and pistol (monocle), and many can equip different ammo types too. The pistol for example can carry regular pistol rounds, fatboys, fat mammas and pop rockets. The pop rockets are especially pleasing, but the ammo types that give us the most thrills belong to the crossbow.
The crossbow can equip Rambo inspired dynamite bolts, electric bolts (ideal for electrocuting enemies in water) and mind control bolts. The latter lets you control an enemy for a short period of time before making him explode – preferably when he’s next to his mates. It is as fun as it sounds.
There is also a nice variety of quick-use weapons, including bandit-splatting grenades and bandit-beheading wingsticks. The wingsticks are essentially boomerangs and almost certainly inspired by the one the Feral Kid uses in The Road Warrior. More creative options include RC car bombs and turrets, but our favourite is the sentry bot. These spider-like bots act as an AI companion, capable of attacking enemies using its guns or melee blows.
The weapons are all fantastic, offering just the right amount of weight and a fine balance between feeling powerful and overpowered. You also have to work hard to get the best performance from them, and that makes them very rewarding. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, and the scenarios are constantly changing in a way that encourages you to also change your weapons and tactics. However, if in doubt, the shotgun is usually a trusted friend.
The in-game currency system also keeps you thinking. You can find ammo in the environment and from looting bodies, but the vast majority comes from shops. It costs more to buy an armour-piercing bullet than a regular one, so it’s obvious you’re going to save those rounds for the times when you actually need them. The currency system also encourages you to take part in the racing and mini games, which are a great way to make some extra cash.
There were more than a few eyebrows raised when rumours started circulating that id Software were looking for a racing specialist. That was before we knew anything about Rage. It sounded strange. You associate id with Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein, old-school FPS action games in which you shoot anything that moves. They are games that don’t bother with frivolous things like racing.
Thankfully, racing is a great addition and definitely not a gimmick. Rage can’t compete with specialist off-road racers, but the controls are tight and solid enough to make driving very enjoyable. The cars provide a welcome break away from shooting bandits, and they are ideal method of transport for getting round the large world. The cars can also be customised with weapons and armour, which comes in handy when you run into trouble in the wasteland.
As pleased as we are with these fringe elements, the core gameplay is still the shooting; this is the department that Rage truly excels in, and it is down to the high quality of the AI. Rage features some of the most exciting enemies we’ve ever come across.
The bandits and mutants swing from ledges and climb out of pipes. Some attack head-on, others come in from the side while others launch ranged attacks. Their attacks patterns are heavily scripted, but in the heat of the moment, when there are so many of them, it’s not something you notice. You simply worry about staying alive for long enough because their waves come with some force.
The authority guards offer a different style of combat. They are less aggressive, but they are equipped with heavy armour and better technology. Some use electric shields, which leave little for you to aim at, so you often have to use some tactical nous. You may toss an EMP grenade to disable their shields. We personally like to send out a sentry bot to draw their attention while we sneak up behind for the kill.
It is not all-out action though. One of id’s best achievements with Rage is that they have managed to create a real sense of tension throughout the levels . You spend a lot of time anticipating action, like in the subway, where you see mutants scurrying about around you. They flash on and off the screen too quickly for you to pop them, but you know they will be back soon – with company.
There is a brilliant level near the end at the Jackal Canyon. The Jackal bandit clan live in huts and caves, high up the canyon walls, connected by narrow and rickety bridges. Some Jackals launch flaming attacks from above while others come flying down the zip-lines. In the moments when you aren’t defending yourself, you can see them running across the bridges around you, positioning themselves for an attack. There is a great sense of atmosphere surrounding the events.
It is pleasing that id hasn’t fallen into the trap of thinking bigger is automatically better. This flawed logic has suckered in plenty of other developers in this generation. Big can be good, but it’s more common that the big enemies slow play down and create awkward gameplay moments. Rage shows that you can get higher levels of intensity from simply creating more aggressive and varied AIs of human size.
There is, however, a moment halfway through Rage, in the Dead City crater (it is as it sounds), when you encounter some larger than normal enemies. It is a well-handled section, which offers an interesting change in direction, but Rage thankfully returns to the fast and dynamic fights afterwards.
Rage is stunning looking game. It is running on id’s fancy new game engine, id Tech 5. The engine is robust and more than copes with the developer’s ambitious demands. It offers a solid frame rate, richly detailed and smooth textures and a great range of lighting effects. It has no issues generating the huge draw distances either.
Rage is set in the future in a post-disaster world, where most planetary life has been wiped out by an asteroid except for small pockets of survivors. These survivors have grouped together to create tribal clans. Meanwhile a fascist military group called the Authority has grown in power and is up to no good.
Our hero survived because he was part of an Eden Project, which put selected individuals into status pods deep underground in things called Arks. Those placed in status were injected with nano technology to keep them alive, but these nanos give the recipients special powers that the Authority fear. The Authority are therefore killing Ark survivors as soon as their Ark rises to the surface in a bid to stop any possible rebellion. Thankfully, our Ark malfunctioned causing it to rise earlier than expected, allowing our character to escape from the Authority’s clutches.
The plot is fairly well developed and it is interesting, despite the odd moments when things make little sense, such as when you have to infiltrate a heavily guarded, high-tech Authority prison, only to discover that all those guards are there to watch one prisoner. It is nonsense but we are happy to overlook those moments, because we could frankly play Rage without a story.
The reason why we have mentioned so little about the story in this review is because we’d much rather discuss Rage’s great gameplay. Shooting is hugely satisfying, the variety of quests is good and even the mini games are great fun. We, unbelievably, lost a couple of hours to the Five Finger Fillet mini game.
Rage does have some niggles. The menu system isn’t the easiest to use, weapon changing could be more responsive and there are occasional lulls in the game; town maps would be useful too, and our inability to step over low objects is frustrating. We wouldn’t want to dwell on these for too long though because they are fairly insignificant. They clearly didn’t affect our overall liking of the game. It is an essential purchase for all FPS fans.
You may have noticed that we didn’t touch on Rage’s online side of things. Keep your eyes peeled for a full online review later.