The future can make for some odd employment opportunities. An eccentric, Pickelhaube-wearing gentleman has just commissioned me to retrieve two bottles of his special “Blueshine” from an abandoned distillery. The journey inside was the easy part. The tricky part comes when I turn the machinery on to bottle the drink; the noise is a siren call to a horde of murderous mutants. The controls for the machinery are accessed via a catwalk that provides a great vantage point for the room’s only means of entry. I use the stairs to set up shop on the catwalk, equip my sniper rifle, and press the button to fill the first bottle. Inhuman shrieking commences almost immediately, and I wait for mutants to start streaming down the tunnels. Here they come! One barrels out of the tunnel to the left; it’s moving too quickly for me to hit it with the sniper rifle. By the time I switch to my assault rifle he’s already jumped onto catwalk’s railing and is intent on doing terrible things to my face. As I unload half a magazine into him and look down just long enough to notice more mutants coming in from the tunnels. My vision shakes and turns red. I got hit from behind. They used the stairs, too. Using a bandage to stay alive I switch to the shotgun and start blasting anything that moves. Eight shells are spent and I need to reload, but still more mutants barrel up the stairs. No time for reloading. It’s wingstick time. I press the button to unleash the three-bladed boomerangs of death at point-blank range. The last mutant to mount the catwalk has his head separated from his torso. Thankfully the machine shuts down and the onslaught stops. I have time to catch my breath before filling the next bottle. For the next wave I opt to deploy a sentry bot; a four-legged robot with a machine gun and a nasty swiping attack. After starting the machine a second time, my sentry bot heads down the stairs to meet the first wave of mutants. It can hold its own, but gets damaged quickly when foes get too close. I use my rifle to keep the mutants at bay from above. When there’s a slight lull in the action I deploy a second sentry bot on the catwalk with me. One mutant, two mutants, three; no problem! Another mutant pops over the railing and the bot leaps to take him out… and misses. I get off a few ineffective shotgun blasts as the mutant barrels straight towards me. Reload! I see my sentry bot shimmy slightly, like a cat ready to pounce. In that moment, I finally get off another shotgun blast which vaporizes the mutant. Just then, my sentry bot leaps towards the mutant that a moment ago was in my face. Momentum propels its powerful blow directly at me with full force, killing me instantly. Murdered. By my own robot. I stare at the monitor in bemused disbelief and press F9 to reload my game. It’s just another day in the wasteland.
RAGE is the ultimate post-apocalyptic cowboy simulator. If you think back to classic movies set in the American West, the protagonist was frequently a “mysterious stranger” that shows up in town to help the little folk. They’d usually fallen into despair from a pack of faceless bad guys who were around to do nothing other than be the “bad guys”. Mysterious Cowboy Hero steps in, devises some cunning plan to beat the bad guys, and comes out the victor in after few cool action sequences. By the end of the story he’d saved the day, won the girl, and rode off into the sunset. RAGE has a lot of similarities to those Western stories, keeping the core elements but changing the details to fit a more sci-fi apocalyptic vibe. For instance: instead of a Mysterious Cowboy Hero, you’re a nanotrite-infused superman who’s just woken up from a century-long cryogenic sleep. The little folk are a bossy bunch of leeches who have no problem letting you and your special abilities take care of everything. Instead of a trusty American Colt or other steed, you ride an off-road buggy with nitrous, dual machine-guns, and rocket launchers. And the shootouts are very, very fun.
The game begins with rendered cinematic sequence showing asteroid Apophis 99942 and its journey through the solar system, which results in a collision with and complete devastation of earth. Your character is part of the special people chosen to survive the apocalypse, buried safely underground in one of many survival pods called Arks. Resting in cryogenic stasis, you were supposed to awaken when the dust settled and then get to work rebuilding civilization. However, upon regaining consciousness you are alerted to your emergence being 106 years later than scheduled. Your Ark-mates are dead, and the only option available to you is to stumble forward into the brightness and face the wasteland. Ten steps later you almost die at the hands of mutants, twice, saved only by a kindly man with a rifle: Dan Hagar. He drives you back to the Hagar homestead in his buggy, and gives you a few starting weapons. Then the game begins in earnest.
RAGE plays like a first-person shooter with light role-playing elements added to it. There are two major game worlds, the North Wasteland and the Eastern Wasteland. Each wasteland is a large outdoor area with one central hub town and other locations which are explored in missions. Wellspring and Subway Town are the main hubs of activity, and from there you’ll get assignments to carry out missions elsewhere in the wasteland. Inevitably you’ll cross paths with other characters who will give you missions or other odd jobs to perform. Some of them follow the main story arc, such as it is, and some are non-essential side missions. It’s worth noting that each time a character gives you a potential mission, you seem to have the option to accept or reject that particular mission. It’s a false dichotomy, since rejecting the mission simply closes the interaction window. Talking to them again reopens the quest window with the same task you just supposedly rejected. It makes me wonder if there was a more complex quest system that got cut from the final release of the game. At any rate, completing missions will often give you a reward of money or resources or some other benefit. Accepted missions will show up in your missions list, and you can choose which one to pursue at any given moment. If you’re looking for a compelling story or some narrative thread that keeps you coming back for more, I’m sorry to say that there isn’t one. While you’re told five minutes into the game that there’s a struggle between “normal” folk and some authoritarian regime, it’s at least halfway through the game before this is explored in any depth.
At its best, the plot is filler that provides a loose context for the game. At its worst, there are a startling number of similarities to Half Life 2. Dystopian future? Check. Technologically superior authority imposing their will on the broken masses? Check. Robotic sentries that broadcast propaganda? Check. Mission where you break into a prison? Check. Long elevator ride up an impossibly tall tower? Check. At least in Half Life 2 you got to see the villain. In RAGE you’re told a few times that General Cross is the bad guy. He’s the one that rigged the ARKs so he could take power in the new world, leaving everyone else buried. But that’s all you know. You never see him in game or are given specific details about how the Authority came into being. Ultimately, it’s up to you to come to terms with the fact that you’re fighting the bad guy for no other reason than its what you’re supposed to do. RAGE would fall to shambles if the core gameplay itself wasn’t so fun, but I can’t deny the lack of a real story left me disappointed.
When the game begins, you’re at the mercy of the various townsfolk who inhabit the wasteland. More often than not, they’ll send you on what can start to feel like some annoying fetch-quests. Meet person at destination A, he tells you to go to destination B and meet someone. Meet person at destination B and he tells you to do something at Destination C. Do thing at Destination C and return to B, only to tell you to return to destination A. You return to destination A to learn that you have to talk to a different person at destination B. I was just there. But thankfully, the weird backtracking slows down once you’ve been introduced to the system. Once the game allows you to catch your breath and make a decision about what to do, the beauty of the system shines forth. In hub town of Wellspring, the mayor and the sheriff will give you story-based quests. Other inhabitants will request your assistance with side missions of various types. In addition, there’s a job board for other opportunities. Feel like driving your weaponized buggy? Join the sanctioned racing league and compete in different races to earn certificates, which can then be used to upgrade your vehicle. Deliver packages in the wasteland for the Stanley Express. Meet a bartender who offers you cash bounties to take out bandits. Gamble at a casino, play card games, try your luck at holo-chess, play five-finger filet, try memorizing guitar riffs, and on and on. For the most part you’re free to spend as much or as little time as you wish on non-story activities. These things have no real bearing on the story progression of the main game, but add a nice bit of depth and diversion to the wasteland.
And what a beautiful wasteland it is! In spite of a few warts, RAGE still owns a proud spot on my list of most beautiful games of all time. As far as I’m aware it was the second game to utilize something called megatextures. I’m not going to attempt to describe what they are here in this post, but here’s a good video about them if you’re interested: Reset Button: Megatextures. The end result is that megatextures allow every pixel of the game world to be unique and intentionally placed. As a result, RAGE’s wasteland looks and feels just like you expect it would. While it’s not quite realistic, it’s also not too far fetched. The overall art design favors a slightly exaggerated take on reality, which permeates every aspect of the game. Where it makes sense, locations are bleak and desolate. There are piles of junk, trash and other detritus where you’d expect them to be. No two rock formations look exactly alike. Unique graffiti dots the landscape. Scrappy shrubs and grass wave slightly in the breeze. Vast canyons and open areas prevent you from ever feeling like you’re stuck “in a level”. To me, the most impressive bit of level design goes to Dead City. The focus is a giant skyscraper of a hospital that’s gradually being taken over by some organic ooze. In order to get there you’ve got to navigate the ruined buildings surrounding it. Ruined apartment blocks, street corner shops, and even an inner-city highway form a natural maze are just some of the landmarks that must be traversed en route to the hospital. Even if the world design isn’t necessarily realistic, it makes sense. It rarely yields to immersion-breaking moments where you wonder, “Why can’t I go there?” Most of the unique locations get at least two missions devoted to them. In order to keep locations from feeling stale and overused, the developers utilized a trick most often found in racing games: the second time you visit a location, you’ll traverse through it backwards or via an alternate route. Generally I’d accuse developers who did this of trying to pad the game’s length, but the way the routes are laid out really feels ingenious. Odds are you won’t even notice what’s going on until the end of a mission, at which point you realize how clever the design was.
The great design isn’t limited to the game environment. Characters in the game world are wonderfully detailed, both visually and in their animation. One character, Doctor Kvasir, has a shoulder-mounted robot head that tracks Kvarsir’s hand gestures as he speaks. Stanley of the Stanley Express delivery company, wears a bomber’s helmet and has stamps stuck to his face. One elderly woman wears glasses. But in keeping with the post-apocalyptic scavenging locale of the game, her glasses are clearly halves of two different pairs, joined by a wad of tape. There’s so much detail in the appearance and mannerisms of each individual that they actually feel like a character with a personality and life. They’re not just waiting around to give me my next mission. Unfortunately, not all the character designs are laudable. Most of the female NPCs are rather textbook examples of sexism and objectification in video games. Of the few female characters present, I only counted two that were actually clothed according to what you’d expect for a harsh apocalyptic future. The rest have quite a bit of skin exposed that’s disproportionate to any of the male characters. Sarah, start of The Scorchers DLC, even gestures to her overly-revealing outfit and asks, “Does this make me look fat?” This portrayal, to me, is a few notches below the tasteful standard for video games.
So how does it play? Well, it’s been said that one of the original inspirations for the game was “muscle cars in a desert setting”. That game idea later morphed into something like “muscle cars with rocket launches in a post-apocalyptic wasteland”. Combine id Software’s famed ability to make great shooters with their newfound ability to make games with vehicle combat and you get RAGE. The first-person combat is as good as it’s ever been. Driving is fluid, responsive, and surprisingly fun. In fact, the driving mechanics are so good that many people, including myself, still hope to see id make a dedicated racing game someday. One of the reasons why it just works in RAGE is that you’re not really forced to do a lot of racing if you don’t want to. Your buggy is a necessary mode of transport to get from one mission to the next, and I quite enjoyed starting at the gorgeous scenery along the way. A few times you’ll be required to participate in races to further the story mode, but none of them are overly difficult. I for one enjoyed the varied race modes and spent quite a few hours on them.
Though the developers clearly spent a lot of time making sure the vehicle combat felt just right, they spent even more time making sure the shooting felt just as good. One thing that makes the gunplay so engaging is the varied enemy types. id did a great job giving each opposing faction a different combat style, so how you fight will be determined by the types of enemies you face off against. Mutants are fast, agile, and tend to rush you. They can make use of the environment to climb on walls and ceilings, swinging down from above. Don’t bother sniping unless you have the advantage of distance. Mercenary and bandit groups are better armed, use cover, flank you, and try to flush you out of cover with grenades. Authority forces are well armored and pack firepower, you’ll need to hit them hard and fast. There are a few other special enemies that require quick thinking and plenty of firepower to take out. Thankfully, weapons feel fantastic and responsive. Everything from the lowly settler pistol to the Authority pulse cannon are a joy to use, thanks in large part to alternate ammo types. Want your pistol to pack a bit more punch? Buy some Fatboys! Fatboys are larger bullets that deal twice as much damage as a standard round. Go one step up and use Fat Mamas. They do four times as much damage as a standard pistol round, and they can travel through enemies. Upgrade shotgun shells to pop rockets, essentially mini-grenades. Use the crossbow with standard bolts or explosive-tipped darts. Equip machine guns with armor-piercing rounds, and so on. The alternate ammo types ensure that each weapon remains relevant through the course of the game. Assuming you have enough of each ammo type, you’re free to approach every combat situation exactly as you want to. One of the things that makes combat so satisfying is the way your enemies respond to being shot. Hit a bandit in the leg while he’s rushing you, and he’ll stumble and fall over. Wing a mercenary and he’ll stop shooting in order to reset his footing. Land a shot in someone’s face and they’ll drop their weapon as they grab their head with both hands. It’s satisfying video game violence in the most entertaining of ways.
In spite of its flaws, I find RAGE to be a uniquely fun experience among shooters. Its pseudo open-world feels more meaningful than Borderlands and the action is clearly a precursor to 2016’s excellent DOOM. RAGE took a lot of criticism when it was released, and I think most of it was frustration with the game’s technology rather than the game itself. As a result the game’s reputation is tainted, and I’d say that’s rather unfair. RAGE stands the test of time and can proudly stand among the best titles ever produced by id Software. It’s the perfect game for those people who want to be a cowboy, taking their rocket-launching steed right into the heart of a pile of mutants.
Why you’ll love it:
- Action, action, action. The shooting is done as well as anything id Software has ever released.
- Vehicle combat is fun without feeling overbearing.
- Gorgeous art style and visuals still look good today.
- It’s a great game for people who don’t like to feel rushed.
Why you might not love it:
- It’s not a true open world. At its core, there is still a sequence of linear missions.
- Some of the visuals up close are pretty ugly – but please don’t let that distract you.
- The storytelling is only a shadow of what it could have been.
- The ending. You push a blue button.
Where to Purchase:
Steam – RAGE + Scorchers DLC – $14.98 (If you decide to buy the game, the Scorchers DLC is essential)
Compatibility / Configuration Steps:
Nothing major is required, but I recommend some tweaks to help with texture loading to minimize pop-in. A guide to do just that can be found here: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=122440311