RAGE [Review]

id Software delivers the most exhilarating FPS campaign in years.

It starts slow.  A nameless person exits out of a cryogenics chamber 106 years after an asteroid strike effectively brought about the apocalypse.  He looks around the college dorm room-sized government Ark that has been his home for more than a century and sees the brightly lit screens and metallic machinery that endured all those long years of neglect only to malfunction now, at this seemingly random juncture of time.

Exiting out into the wasteland, his eyes burn from the fury of the sun’s rays pouring down over the simultaneously bright and gloomy rocky canyon in which he now finds himself.  A stranger quickly swoops in and carries him off to safety – away from the cutthroat bandits and wild mutants that now inhabit the Earth.  A pistol is placed in his one hand; keys to an ATV his other; and a quest in his head.  This is RAGE, and it is glorious.

You’re going to hear many comparisons and contrasts made in reference to two other post-apocalyptic titles – one of them from this very publisher – and you may even feel compelled to define the game by how nicely it fits into the mold those titans pounded out; but doing so would be folly.  Id Software’s latest foray into the FPS genre that it helped create many years ago is, despite some surface similarities, a game all its own.  It’s no secret that the shooter market exudes cookie-cutter sequels, but what we have here is a fantastic original title from a studio that has made its fair share of sequels over the past two decades.
The combat is the star of the show in RAGE and, oh, how brightly it shines. As I mentioned before, the game starts in the most simplistic of fashions: with naught but a basic pistol in your possession.  Get deeper into the game and you’ll be rewarded with the usual lineup of FPS weapons such as assault rifles, a sniper rifle, a shotgun and a rocket launcher.  Yes, these are all staples of just about any shooter, but players are given the ability to both upgrade them and pack them full of special ammo types.

Shotgunning a ravenous mutant in the face seconds before his eager arm swings down and his crude club wallops your noggin as dozens of others – themselves just as eager to use their faces as new casings for your shotgun shells – descend upon you from seemingly all directions is great fun.  Doing so before swapping in “pop rockets,” blowing away a guard from “The Authority” (more on them later), and then turning to your trusty crossbow’s mind-control darts that guide and forcefully move a soldier into position in order to explode and take out his buddies in the process? Well now you’ve got something that is downright delightful.  Sadistic, yes, but indubitably alluring to any who fancy himself a shooter fan.

The crossbow is one of several less traditional weapons in the game.  It functions as a wonderful little tool for stealth kills – supremely handy when invading bases full of baddies – and can be loaded with the most inventive ammo types in the game.  Ammo that is doled out at extremely appropriate times throughout the approximately lengthy 12 hour single-player campaign.  The pacing is handled with such aplomb that I am reminded of the great Nintendo titles that never spoiled the magic by giving out the lion’s share of weapons and items too early; instead, players are given new tools of destruction only when they become necessary.
There’s a problem with bandits poisoning the water supply?  Take these electrical bolts and fry the bastards as they make their patrols through shallow waters. Oh, cool, I just got a rocket launcher! You know what that means: a fifty foot tall beast that can bring down an entire building on your head is about to assault your position. Get locked and loaded and be prepared to improvise, because id has politely declined to lackadaisically skip through the world of RAGE while holding your hand.

That defensible position with walls on three sides and your sentry turrets laid down isn’t as safe as years of playing FPSs have made you believe it would be.  No, friends, the enemy will not sit back and patiently await your health to recover before you pop out to squeeze off a head-shot or toss a frag into the fray.  The enemy is at the gates… and also in the walls… and also in the ceilings and floors.

While the visceral combat is what will sell this game for most gamers, the outstanding AI is perhaps an even greater achievement.  Your foes will not behave in a way that is convenient for you to kill them in satisfying ways: you’ll have to earn those impressive kills.  The bad guys – of which there is an excellent variety – are smart.  Not all in the same way, either.
Mutants are highly-trained and disciplined military soldiers.  As such, you can expect them to charge in wildly and shrug off bullets in their insatiable quest to beat the crap out of you.  But while they are doing that, their buddies are emerging from the walls, floors and ceilings and there might even be a humongous tentacled freak with a grenade launcher getting ready to plow through that nice cozy wall behind you and wreak havoc on your best laid plans.

Authority troopers, with their unparalleled technological advantages and knowledge of squad-based warfare, will move to the most advantageous positions from which to attack you.  If one of their comrades has a shield, they will line up behind him and take pot shots and throw frags from over his shoulder.  This can be challenging and it requires pinpoint precision and/or the raw force of a well-placed explosive round.  They’ll also rally and charge forward with more heavily armed and armored allies at their side.  Conversely, they will not think twice about turning tail and running back to the safety of numbers when you eliminate soldiers in the forward positions.

I could go on about their advanced tactics and the differences between their behavior and that of the unmentioned factions, but it’s best to leave something for you to discover on your own.  The point is that you will be faced with continually shifting styles of confrontation, and victory will sometimes seem a tall order.

Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo
Nick Santangelo

MASH Veteran

Nick has been a gamer since the 8-bit days and a member of the MTB editorial team since January of 2011. He is not to be interrupted while questing his way through an RPG or desperately clinging to hope against all reason that his Philly sports teams will win any given game he may be watching. Seriously folks, reading this acknowledges that you relieve MTB of any and all legal liability for his actions.

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