id Software are quite well known in the FPS market. Quake, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom have at various points in the past 20 years amazed and enthralled massive numbers of gamers, and haven’t released anything but FPS games since Wolfenstein first showed up in 1992. So you’d have thought by now that they’d be able to make a gritty, addictive, well thought out and hugely fun FPS, right?
Well you’d be spot on. RAGE is ace.
Now let’s not get this wrong. RAGE isn’t a modern day Quake, not at all. Ignore the first things you think about when you hear the term “FPS” because this isn’t playing the same game that the CODs and Battlefields of the gaming world like to squabble over. With RAGE we’re looking at a (fairly controlled) open world, a long and reasonable storyline and most importantly weapons that blow the balls off every other FPS you’ve ever played. You’ll have also just seen the words “open world” and will now be picturing the likes of Fallout and Borderlands. Well get those ideas out of your head too – RAGE takes shooting stuff back to where it used to be, and where it should always belong. It makes everything fun again.
The references that have been made to Borderlands are, I suppose, understandable. The graphical style is similar, you drive around a wasteland between tasks (although this sometimes is the task, more on that later) and… well… that’s as much as I can see. On the surface it’s similar, but when you play it things are very different. The biggest and most important reason is the weapons. RAGE sees the best use of weaponry you’ll see for quite some time, not because of the guns themselves (these come in the fairly standard flavours of rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and the like) but the ammo you can find, create or earn as you progress through the game. In a nod towards Fallout 3, you can also buy or find plans for weapons or ammo that you can then build yourself on the fly provided you’ve got the right stuff. Put all of this together and you can turn your shotgun into a grenade launcher by making explosive rounds, and your standard little pistol can turn into a multi-firing beast. Best of all, tweak your crossbow bolts so you can fire one into an enemy, control their movements for a few seconds then blow them up, taking out anything else without a 5-foot radius. Let’s see you do something like that in Battlefield. All of this is selectable by holding down R2 and picking a weapon and ammo with the analogue sticks. Get the hang of it and you can swap between your explosive shotgun and mind-controlling crossbow in a fraction of a second.
Alongside your weapons you’ve got other gadgets. Again you’ll find your usual grenades and healing bandages, but alongside this are some gadgets that are even too cool for a Bond film. Little robots that crawl along with you and open fire on anyone who attacks you, steel-tipped boomerang-style devices that slice the head off an enemy before returning itself to you, and plenty of other cool stuff that I won’t ruin for you. Combining these with the right weapon will make you a serious killing machine, which is just as well when faced by a group of enemies who will work together, duck and dive away from your fire and use grenades to flush you out of cover.
So the weapons are amazing, you probably get the picture. Visually though RAGE is a mixed bag; while you’re moving around and blowing stuff up as much as possible everything looks great, as do the general environments while you’re out and about. Some areas such as the Dead City look incredible, and you can really see how the years have taken their toll. However, despite a lengthy install (which is compulsory on the PS3) textures still take a little time to show up in their full resolution. Generally this is only noticeable when you turn round quickly and a nearby wall or item seems surprised to see you for a second, but there are times when it seems to take a while to show up. This could be a result of how id have handled the textures, using a single massive texture for the whole world instead of tiling a single one over and over, and while this does make each location look genuinely unique it’s a bit off-putting sometimes.
Around all the shooting is a bit of driving, acting as a semi-action hub where you travel from A to B to take part in, advance further, or complete a mission. This isn’t simply a pointless stroll across the wastelands; you’ll find plenty to keep you busy while you’re travelling. As per the weapons, this takes a potential Borderlands similarity and blows it clean out of the water. Yes you have rival gangs knocking around, but getting rid of them is more than just using an on-board gun or missile launcher. Taking part in organised races earns you certificates which can be cashed in on upgrades to your vehicle of choice. Stronger bumpers, better weapons, gadgets like flying sentry bots and shockwaves, all of this can be used to customise your kit to make life easier or more fun while you’re in the wild. You can even buy designs for the buggies such as a police car (a very run down and battered police car that is) or a self-promoting id design. Out and about you’ll be dropped into sub-missions such as destroying a group of bandits in other cars, pulling off some big jumps or collecting a series of meteorites before the bad guys (who will be firing rockets and miniguns at you) reach them. It’s much more than a simple transport mechanism, and can turn into some great fun sections of the game. Lucky then, that this is the only type of competitive multiplayer mode, as you and your friends take part in several vehicle based games that leave the FPS gameplay behind in favour of some fast and furious action. And you know what? It’s really good fun. There’s other multiplayer stuff too, but only in the form of a few co-op missions. It’s not a bad addition at all, but isn’t exactly a fully fledged experience.
So how about the gameplay itself? The missions themselves are pretty good and on the whole avoid the simple “go there to get this” tasks. Even those that are as simple as that tend to have a lot more than you expect, and having to infiltrate certain areas or bases can end up with massive missions that provide you with dozens of gun fights over the course of an hour or more. Saving frequently is a must, but at least RAGE lets you hit Start and save your progress whenever you choose to. The RPG elements are thin on the ground, which is ideal if you just want to shoot stuff. There’s no limit to how much you can carry, and no XP or level upgrades to worry about. Once you’ve got a weapon it’s always there to be selected (provided you’ve got some ammo) and the bottomless backpack means you can collect everything you find in order to make your own gear when you get 2 seconds to think about it.
All things considered, where does that leave RAGE? It’s an older fashioned game, that’s for sure. There’s no full mission co-op, no “real” RPG elements and no awkward checkpoints without an any-time save mode. But that’s what’s so brilliant about RAGE, and what makes it a fantastic game. It doesn’t try to be Modern Warfare, Fallout or Borderlands. It sits in its own style, lets you play with true id-style weapons that feel like id weapons of old. Some might find the mission-based gameplay a little slow, but if that’s your biggest worry then you’ve missed the point. There’s no denying the quality of RAGE, and the very fact that you don’t need to worry about earning XP, the fact you can carry as much as you want without leaving stuff behind, the fact you can turn your silent crossbow into an explosive ninja weapon. It’s a fun FPS. Remember them? Sure it’s got issues with texture pop-in and the story isn’t going to win any Oscars, but you can ignore those points easily enough. The late Steve Jobs was always praised for giving people what they wanted before they even knew they wanted it, and that’s exactly what id have done. You might think you need co-op, or ultra realistic weapons, or a full multiplayer game with level ups and customisable weapons and all that crap.
You don’t. You need some fun. You need RAGE.
Reviewed on PS3