STAFF REVIEW of Rage (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011.
by Ken Laffrenier

Rage Box art It seems to me that different entertainment genres go out of their way to recognize the revolutionaries of the media. Let us for a moment consider the following statements; ?Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll?, ?Michael Jackson is the King of Pop?, ?Bill Gates is credited with revolutionizing personal computers?, ?Andy Warhol was the founder of pop culture? and 'James Brown is the Godfather of Soul?. With these monikers in play it surprises me that we have yet to offer the same kind of recognition to the legends of gaming.

So with this in mind I present to you (certainly I'm not the first) the founding fathers of the FPS: Id software. With more than 20 years of gaming behind them, they refuse to revel in past triumphs and instead continually look to enhance the genre they've made so popular. It all started with the PC hit series Commander Keen, although a side scrolling shareware title, it offered the team it's first glimpse into creating a unique gaming engine. From this they started developing new titles, modifying, twisting and fine tuning their efforts to create the classics: Wolfenstien, Doom, and Quake. Any gamer worthy of achievement points recognizes the heritage and any gamer over the age of 35 has spent far too many hours deep within the catacombs of the respective titles.

As stated before Id Software is not a group willing to roll with the tide. Eager to make new waves the team began development of a new engine: the Id Tech 5 (previous engines have since been retroactively titled back to Id Tech 1 with the original Doom engine). Now with more than 4 years of development and the support of publishing juggernaut Bethesda, we are finally able to give into Id's Rage (little play on words for the psychology majors).

The story is a familiar twist on an old favorite. The world is coming to an end, after the global event you emerge into a devastated landscape populated with various miscreants. With this incarnation we see the earth being threatened by an event sized asteroid that looks to wipe out modern civilization. By the year 2025, a group of special capsules are being created, underground, designed to rise up years after the asteroids impact. These capsules, referred to as arks, will house an international cross section of the absolute best and brightest, with the human inhabitants injected with specially designed 'Nanotrites' to create a deep sleep hibernation, with the goal to recreate a fresh utopia from the ashes of devastation. 2029 bears witness to the asteroids impact, of course, the arks are well buried and its cargo is deep in peaceful slumber but the rest of the world prepares for last days. As the earth burns, water turns to vapor and life, seemingly, is all but erased from the planet in a flash of destruction.

Gameplay begins as you awaken from your pod; awake and aware you stumble forward but you can't seem to remember what to do next. The situation is exasperated by the fact that your fellow passengers seem to have succumbed to any number of catastrophic accidents...essentially they're all dead and your equipment is all but destroyed.

Lucky for you, the earth and it's inhabitants weren't completely wiped out. However, you will now have to work out how to progress forward and who to trust, all while dodging nightmarish mutants, lawless bandits and even the established 'Authority'.

Helping you traverse the post apocalyptic landscape are a series of very useful vehicles. The world, while less inhabited, is vast, the landscape is harsh and not everyone you encounter is friendly; without a speedy mode of transportation travelers would fall victim to any number of untimely ends. What the developer has done is built the vehicular transport into the game itself allowing you to use the vehicles in various races within the individual friendly clans. The vehicles, therefore, are more than just wheels and an engine; completing the ?Mad Max? imagery with spiked tires, guns, mines, rockets, an almost endless number of upgrades and yes, even shields but don't forget that your vehicle itself is a great way to bring pain to your enemies (and your race opponents).

As you are directed across the landscape you will encounter friendly clans; these groups of individuals are doing whatever it takes to a garage, build an outpost, build a bar, you know all the makings of civilized society. Of course any of these groups face their own hardships and you seem to have a lot to offer. You will be sent out on any number of errands, from delivering products to finding lost residents, to laying waste to a group of ner' do wells hellbent on eating mankind.

Obviously the game has a number of RPG elements to it. You will encounter a lot of people and many of them have tasks that you can choose to assist with. As you travel around the world some tasks will be necessary to get from one place to another whereas other tasks will be necessary simply to survive. But the gameplay is extended through many of the different branches the tasks offer and with the numerous mini-games found in the clans. These mini-games range from simple five finger filet, to a holographic twist on a game of craps to a futuristic styled, in game, trading card game which allows you to use found cards (showcasing friends and enemies you encounter) along with a 'starter' deck.

At its core however, Rage is a FPS, and there is no doubt it is a FPS from Id software. Once again, with a stroke of luck, the survivors are near geniuses when it comes to creating weapons. There is the traditional pistol and shotgun and even the popular sniper rifle. However each of these throwbacks will have some unique ammunition for you to utilize. On top of old faithfuls (all covered with...) come the over the top weapons, like the striker crossbow using 'mind control bolts or electro bolt, you know, when a traditional arrow just won't do. Or the sentry turrets or sentry bot or the very popular wingsticks, which are essentially 3 blades set together in near boomerang configuration with the sole purpose of decapitating your enemies and then returning to the thrower. Apparently your gloves can withstand the hit but no one has thought to make a turtleneck out of the glove material.

Visually the game has its ups and downs. First and foremost the games visual atmosphere is terrific, with beams of light playing off different materials and you can't help but think 'now this is how I'd lay out a small town, should the world ever be destroyed by an asteroid and I'm left to rebuild'. But it's the array of characters that really showcase the visuals. Many titles will give you a few different character models to shoot at and sometimes they vary the outfit they're wearing but Rage features unique characters for each clan. Within these clans there are different character models and each of these models, even if they look the same will attack, dodge and even die in any number of ways. So even though you're shooting your 50th Shrouded Clan member, his destruction will not be at all predictable. Add to this the fact that even though you may hit him in the same area his reaction and level of 'carnage' will be varied; it may seem like a minor detail but it's a welcome visual addition.

There are a couple of issues with the visuals that are a bit off putting; while the developer has done a terrific job in creating a landscape truly worthy of being named post apocalyptic, the Id Tech 5 engine seems to rely heavily on 'painted' backgrounds. The backgrounds are very detailed and suit the look and feel well but seeing skulls hanging on a string simply scream 'shoot me' and having these same skulls stand motionless as I lay 10 rounds into them immediately takes you out of the game, suspending the enjoyment. As well many of the articles that you scrounge for are found because they are sort of flashing/glowing objects, I understand this is necessary to keep you focused on your task but it seems strange that you have to pick up one small bottle while a vase next to it is completely immobile. Finally it seems strange to me that a game with so much development time and with such attention to development still has so many visual 'pop ins'. Detail in the distance should be muted but having it 'pop in' abruptly just creates confusion.

Rage is easily an 18 hour plus title through the single player campaign stretching out to 20 and more with the many side missions, races and tasks. Interestingly the game is spread out over 3 disks and while the game does suggest you load it onto your hard drive, the load screens only come up as you enter major areas. While the load screens can take some time to establish I was only put out a couple of times, otherwise they offered minor breaks from the onscreen mayhem.

As of this review I have not had the opportunity to really enjoy the multiplayer, that will come next week with the official release. However I will say this, the multiplayer offering seems to cover all of the bases, split-screen and network multiplayer, races and co-op based multiplayer, vehicle customization, leaderboards, private and open matches. It looks like there may be a whole other title, in terms of game play time, just in the multiplayer.

In the end, Rage plays similar to what may be a cross between Red Dead Redemption, Red Faction and a (not red) racing title, but it does so in traditional Id Software style: unique gameplay, tonnes of re-playability, over the top weapons, vehicles and destruction all wrapped up with a story second to none (believe me, there are some twists but the advancement of the story becomes just as intriguing as the gameplay itself).

So that Italian plumber may be a legend unto himself and there may be a raider of tombs that one day acknowledges its foundation but when it comes to the heart and soul of First Person Shooters, it is my opinion that Id Software laid the ground work, established the rules and is continuing to advance the outstanding quality of entertainment for us gamers.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.9 / 10
Sound: 8.9 / 10


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