You know, Daedalus could actually have run Rage… though probably in the same way that my computer before that “could run” Supreme Commander and Unreal Tournament 3 (to clarify: a combination of those two games (and a very hot processor and terrible internal layout) melted its graphics card).
Anyway, I added it to my crimbo list because I’m always in the mood for a solid, brown, narrative-driven shooter. What could possibly go wrong?
It seems terribly unfashionable to just make an actual first-person shooter anymore. The funny thing about Rage is how it’s a classic shooter with a whole load of add-ons to try to disguise the fact. Crafing? Check. Open world? Check. Driving? Check. Minigames? Damn straight.
So, while Borderlands‘ answer was to apply RPG loot-grinding mechanics, and Bulletstorm‘s was to embrace the inner Unreal Tournament, and Fallout: New Vegas‘ was just… to be an RPG, Rage added on some slightly different bells and whistles.
You can jump, you can crouch, and there is a a choice of weapons from a fairly standard but uninspired roster. Pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sub-machinegun, sniper rifle, crossbow, rocket launcher and, for the very final level, an EMP minigun (i.e. another machine gun). I suppose we never liked Quake II for its imaginative arsenal either, but a shooter lives and dies on, well, the shooting. The arsenal is… quite a big part of that.
Naturally there are iron sights everywhere, but I never found them particularly necessary except for sniping — the one thing Rage does get perfect is the crosshair, which is completely present and correct, with a solid dot in the middle and the wings of the reticule flying out to indicate accuracy. Good job!
Some weapon variation is provided by alternative ammunition types that can, for example, make your shotgun shoot explosions instead of buckshot. The sort of stuff you used to get for free by an alt-fire button, but I guess useless iron sights are more fashionable than instant access to alternative ways of
interacting with destroying the world.
Weapon selection is a bit weird, though. You carry all weapons all the time as soon as you find them, but you can only scroll through four of them in the real world by assigning them to your belt. It’s a weird take on the likes of, say, Far Cry, where you could only carry four and everything else has to be left behind — here, we have the same restriction but can carry everything anyway. The game pauses when you go into the inventory to juggle, so there’s no mechanical element at all barring the raw inconvenience.
There is, however, a terrible problem with jumping. Well, I mean, sure, you can jump, but ninety percent of obstacles won’t let you get over them. Yep, Rage is invisible wall hell.
Chest-high obstacles like flattened cars, which should be easily mountable in the middle of a battlefield, are often completely denied. Stairwells you’re not supposed to traverse are conveniently blocked by tyres lying flat — seriously? If you’re going to make an area be blocked off, at least bother to make it look like it’s blocked (though the number of totally collapsed stairwells gets a bit silly by the end).
It’s worse because the enemies are actually extremely mobile. Mutants will hop around walls and vault over fences, sentry bots will hang off the ceiling, human enemies will blind-fire from behind cover… It’s a bit weird, like the game should have been a third-person cover shooter all along.
At least Bulletstorm just didn’t give you a jump button (it gave you kick instead which is an acceptable alternative).
Not that the enemies are particularly interesting. Everything apart from the aforementioned sentry bots is a human, even the mutants — extremely well realised humans, sure, who limp when you shoot them and all the rest, but still just humans. I think we’re back to that argument where I would gladly take a drop in fidelity to get more variety and interest.
Basically, the game is comprised of shooting brown-clad characters in brown environments. A consistent colour palette is one thing…
Crafting is pretty fashionable these days. To craft, however, one must first scavenge materials.
While a proper RPG like Fallout: New Vegas imposes limits on what you can lug around, though (making the choice of what to scavenge have some meaning), Rage just lets you take everything without limit. It’s even baked into the controls — if you Take one item, everything next to it gets grabbed too.
The inventory pretends to be a grid but there’s no Tetris here either. The pretty interface disguises a simple list of icons that you can’t rearrange, a list with usable items and junk all mangled together in order of acquisition.
Having come out of playing The Witcher 2, which has the most finicky and annoying crafting system in the history of mankind, at least Rage wins this round quite clearly. Recipes don’t clutter up your inventory — they are absorbed into the crafting screen and laid out with convenient icons that tell you how much of each ingredient you have available.
Crafting didn’t seem particularly necessary to me, at least on Normal difficulty. Money was the most scarce thing of all but being able to hold up to 999 of any ammunition meant depleting one weapon’s stocks let the others all soak up ammo again in the background.
The items on offer are mostly gimmicks anyway. The remote-control car bomb, for example, is too vulnerable to be much use in flushing people out of cover; they just shoot it down. The mind-control darts don’t let you move the controlled person very far, and enemies will still shoot your own defenceless body while you’re messing with the other guy.
Wingsticks were kind of fun, I guess. The instant-kill decapitation is handy for chewing through even mid-tier enemies that would take much longer to whittle down with bullets.
Okay, the driving at least has some effort put into it, unlike the obvious comparison Borderlands. There are several vehicles to collect over the course of the plot and each has a suite of upgrades to be bought by winning races.
The open world contains vehicle jumps to make for bonus loot and completism, which are mildly amusing but not particularly exciting.
Vehicle combat, however, is a total mess. Mouselook is locked to the direction of the vehicle rather than allowing an independently-rotating turret, so there is a very limited arc for firing the miniguns or locking-on with the rockets. Driving battles are basically frustrating tail-spinning exercises, so it’s often best just to drive past vehicular enemies and ignore them.
Possibly the most damning criticism you can level at Rage is its limp ending. Not narratively, the actual plot conclusion is perfectly solid — but the final level is perhaps the worst final level I’ve ever played.
They hand you the biggest, baddest gun in the game, complete with self-referential alt-fire, ahem, alternative ammo “BFG rounds” and don’t give you the slightest reason to use them. There is no final boss and this is a damn shooter — give us a bloody Makron that has every gun in the game strapped to it, not a few half-hearted waves of shitty same-old-enemies.
There’s a climax there that just didn’t happen. It just stopped.
Worth the money? Well I put it on Santa’s list for a fiver or thereabouts and it’s fair for that price, but the shooting is only just good enough and the driving and crafting elements really don’t save it.