Rage: Beautiful Decay
Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 2:40PM
Ernie in RAGE, bethesda softworks, id software, pc, ps3, reviews, steam, xbox360

is fucking gorgeous. I haven't seen many games look this good on console (I played on 360). Though the first half of the game takes place in a literal wasteland, the world is deliciously depicted through the id Tech 5 engine. Towns - even the drab desert city of Wellspring - are teeming with personality, in everything from their denizens to the bills posted on the job board. Once you move on to the city of Subway Town later in the game, prepare for an amicable assault in the most visual sense. Fucking gorgeous. The main drawback here is the frustration inducing texture pop-in that afflicts most every area of the game. Look, I don't know much about the development process, hardware limitations, or 3D modeling. But a game as pretty as Rage shouldn't be affected by such a dumb design drawback as pop-in. It's annoying to be completely entranced by this artificial world only to be taken back to reality when you notice the textures around you take a split second or slightly longer to load in. Sure, it may not sound like much, but it's noticeable, and it sucks. Though pop-in aside, Rage is best looking game I've played all year.

Outside of pure visual bliss, a few hours into the game I started to realize the atmosphere is incredible. Atmosphere is one of those things that can't be captured in a screenshot, and doesn't feel the same in video cap. Sitting 3 or so feet away from my 27" screen, surround headset fastened over my ears, Hell, id Software made me damn well feel I was programmed right into the game. When I entered the 'dungeon' instances, which are a load screen removed from the wasteland, I immediately felt an air of hostility and the presence of danger. This is attained in part by the awesome and enveloping art design; blood splattered walls, messages of impending death carved on my path, enemies seen running in the background as if to regroup for their coming test of mettle. Audio too, is a huge part of the ambiance that is continuously being weaved. The technology of the world working all around you; pipes clanking, steam leaking, water running. The chatter of aggressive unrest amongst enemies as you creep up for a stealth kill. Your ears will process a good deal of information, and this will keep your on the edge of your seat for the duration of your stay in any hostile area. You just never know when a mutant is going to pounce at you, and man, are they good at that.

Melee enemies are not only incredibly quick, but also react well to your attempts at putting them down. As they barrel toward you at full speed, waving their murderous object of choice, they slide, wall run, flip, cling to ceiling fixtures, all in the name of staying alive long enough to take the hero down a notch. They're very good at avoiding incoming fire, but once close, the widespread kick of buckshot tends to be enough to keep them permanently still. When you're not dealing with the stress of trying to hit melee enemies, you'll be trying to make sure ranged enemies stay down. Most gun toting antagonists have a generous chunk of health, which sometimes can't even be cut down by a single headshot. Though after the first sniper round pops off their armored helmet, the second will usually pop off everything from the neck up. I appreciate having to work for the kills. There are a few battles against massive bosses which approach pant soiling territory when they're revealed. Sadly, there is an anticlimactic lack of large-scale enemies to overcome toward the end of the game, for whatever reason.

There is a decent selection of nicely designed weapons to choose from, different types of assault rifles, high-powered sniper rifle, stealthy crossbow, steampunk revolver, and so on. The use of these weapons are extended through different ammo types for different situations. Armor piercing bullets, EMP shells, explosive shells, electrified bolts, explosive bolts, BFG rounds - id plugs older games very frequently - the selection is dizzying. My favorite are the mind control bolts for the crossbow, which allow you to control a clearly struggling enemy on a successful hit. Direct your assailant into a group of his comrades and hit the kill switch. Detonation, problem solved. In addition to guns, there are plenty of other ways to dispose of your attackers. By collecting schematics and scrap around the wasteland, you can engineer items right in your inventory menu to help you on your quest. Bandages for quick heals, EMP grenades, Quad Damage enhancements, and permanent health booths are amongst the non-lethal crafting options. For those in seek of instant gratification, craft an arachnid inspired sentry bot to siege enemies that have taken cover, and a stationary sentry turret for any overzealous muties that have managed to pass your bot. Be sure to craft some bladed boomerang wingsticks to handle any other threat, using these successfully is very pleasing.

While combat is smooth and intense, it's hard to use everything you have at your disposal due to the console control scheme. On 360, holding RB pulls up the weapon selection wheel, which limits you to 4 tools mapped to the right stick, and ammo selection mapped to the left stick. To choose anything other than those 4 weapons on your wheel, you have to navigate the menus. It's a pain, but it ain't too bad. Getting used to switching to the proper weapons and ammo in the midst of combat has a bit of a curve, but once you've mastered the wheel, adapting quickly to each situation on the fly is very satisfying. The D-pad is assigned to quick use items, such as those which have been engineered. Again, a maximum of four can be assigned, so you'll most likely be heading to the menus if you plan on using everything in your inventory. As the battles of Rage are very well paced, it would seem sinful to slow this down with frequent pauses. To this end, it feels better to equip your character with your weapons of choice and stick with those throughout. It ain't ideal, but what can you do?

In post apocalyptic form that would flatter Mad Max, cars are a big part of Rage. I was worried that trying to shoehorn driving into a first person shooter would end in a massive fail, but id has done a surprisingly admirable job making it work. Though the game is built linearly, you can drive around the faux open world of the wasteland at your whim. The time I spent cruising was mostly getting from destination to destination, and wasting bandits who would pursue in their inferior vehicles. I didn't find many extras or side missions in my limited four-wheeled expeditions. But, the driving is tightly designed in arcade style: drive at max speed all the time and glance off walls as opposed to slowing for a turn. There are plenty of different weapons, items, and upgrades available for your whip, which can be furthered by winning race events and tuned accordingly. Dare I say, the driving segments are enjoyable, which bodes well for multiplayer.

There is no FPS multiplayer deathmatch, which just plain sucks. I would have loved to test my sentry bot and wingsticks against other human players. The multiplayer options are Legends of the Wasteland, an assortment of co-op FPS missions which help establish the stories of the wasteland and several racing modes. The racing game types are a mash of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, and are a lot more pleasant than I thought they would be. Meteor Rally has you collecting items and dropping them off at moving checkpoints before you're blown up and your items are stolen. In Chain Rally, you hit markers with your score increasing as you chain more checkpoints together ahead of your opponents. In Triad Rally, you rack up big points for every 3 markers you capture in succession, and finally Carnage mode is just that, straight up death-on-wheels. As you play multiplayer you level up, unlocking new weapons, items, and body types to help you dominate the competition online. Surprisingly fun, though the upgrade options are fairly limited, which means the online multiplayer could become empty after a while.

Rage is fucking gorgeous, the gunplay is heavy and intense, and the atmosphere is a cut above much of the rest. However, the experience is adversely affected by a completely empty story, empty characters, and a bit of a forced paced toward the end of the game, which left much to be desired. There is a lot to do in campaign, if you deviate from the main story arc there are a decent amount of side missions and mini-games to keep you held over for 15-18 hours of play. Just expect to do much of a the same over and over. If you're looking for some of the sexiest graphics around coupled with solid battle segments, look no further. Though if you want something with inventive gameplay, a little more depth, and a strong narrative, this may not be the title for you.

The Score: 8 outta 10 Blasters!

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