Wednesday, October 26

Rage Review (X360): A wasteland in more ways than one

There's no denying that id Software popularised the First Person Shooter. The genre existed before the likes of Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, but none proved to be as compelling, enduring or as fluid as Carmack and Romero's masterpieces. After seven years in development, Rage marks id's return to the market. A vastly different monster to when the developer reigned supreme, with consoles having more clout than their native platform. Does the leap in technology and multi-platform commitment allow for another classic from the fathers of frag?

The Good
Ride of the Valkyries - Apart from tedious voicework, the sound design in Rage is exemplary. When opting for the stealthy approach, ominous strings have tension lurking behind every corner. Upon discovery, a score of rousing themes captures the frantic energy of your fight against every mutant and bandit that occupies the wasteland. The sound effects are also reason to turn up the volume, with guns - like the Authority MG - that create a cacophony of intimidating noise. You can almost hear the armour being ripped off of your enemies by each item in your thunderous arsenal.   
This gun gets louder than Jennifer Lopez.

Corridor dancing - While the character interaction, inventory management and car combat don't smack of the polish you'd expect from an id shooter, you'd best believe that the developers got the FPS fundamentals right in Rage. Enemies of melee and ranged persuasions suffocate you in the game's various arrangements of corridors and open areas. You'll be more than able to defend yourself, however, with a range of guns and offensive items that put the fun in circle-strafun'.

Animated - They may not have much of value to say, but the characters in Rage are all rendered and animated with a level of detail not seen in your average console shooter. Enemies also move in a fashion that is either believable when referring to bandits and the Authority, or just plain frightening when the various mutants come to mind.

Wingstick, don't fail me now!

The Bad 
Hardly worth the drive - For an open world game, Rage takes place in a relatively-small space. A fast travel system similar to that in Fallout 3 or Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion would have been far more effective than the painfully-short car rides to each mission. Worse still, there's five leagues worth of frustrating races and car combat to work through as well. I'd have preferred to have spent more time throwing Wingsticks at mutants than driving some ugly cars through the innocuous wasteland.

It's dangerous to go alone! Take this - With regenerating health, consumable healing items, and a defibrillator that allows for multiple resurrections, the single player campaign offers no sense of challenge on Normal difficulty. Even when faced with hulking foes or overwhelming numbers, players are afforded too many effective tools to have any trouble with safely traversing the wasteland. 

Cultural melting pot - Each of the bandit factions has a distinct look, with members that speak in their own accent or language; but the reasons for this aren't apparent. Why do the Gearheads speak in Russian? Why do the Wasted speak with pommy accents and have a predilection for the Union Jack? None of this is immediately obvious, and it's not explored in any level of detail. Not only is this disappointing, but it gives the impression that your enemies look different just for the sake of it: they all come in the ranged and melee flavours, and attack in a similar way.  

The Ugly
Kleenex - After completing the single player campaign, I felt as though I'd been used. I hadn't developed a meaningful rapport with any of the mission-givers that I'd come across in my fifteen hours of play. When I left for the final mission, I had no connection to the places or people that I'd saved. Rage's empty story, tired dialogue and forgettable characters left me with nothing to fight for.

So, what's with the moustache? 
Stay with me? - The multiplayer suite in Rage is nothing short of laughable, with competitive car combat that suffers from the worst connection issues I've seen in this generation of hardware. Even when I'd figured out the objective of each match type, enemy vehicles were skipping across each track and bringing me a great many deaths. The Wasteland Legends co-op mode is a promising concept that is undone by the inability to continue play if a partner drops out. This problem is further exacerbated by the fickle player community, which runs at the first sign of failure. For 360 players, the third disc is a throw-away.

The Verdict
Rage may look fantastic, and feature id's signature brand of hectic gunplay, but its got no soul. A near non-existent story, poorly-developed characters, and more hours than I would care to spend in a car, make for a disappointing adventure with little replay value. The woeful competitive multiplayer and restrictive co-op mode don't help things either. If you actually find yourself enjoying the vehicular portions of the game, you become quite fond of this inconsistent beauty. If not, it's a long, unrewarding journey that I was happy to see the back of.

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