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Rage

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Shooter/ Free-Roaming/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

With id Software's newest IP comes its newest engine. Yes, Rage features the debut of id Tech 5, and it's a complete stunner. This is one of the very best-looking games you'll play all year, which is quite a statement, considering that 2011 is rife with graphical powerhouses. Everything about this game looks amazing. I wouldn't call Rage a realistic-looking game, per se, but given the art style and subject matter, it doesn't really look like they were trying to go for stark realism. It would be too easy to compare Rage to Borderlands, another game heavily inspired by Mad Max. However, the main two towns in Rage are more populated and better developed than any Pandoran locale. id takes one of the most interesting approaches to post-apocalypse I've seen in quite some time: the world has been pretty much destroyed, but technology still flourishes. Survival may be a day-to-day affair, but that doesn't mean people can't get together to play a holographic game of chance. Everything looks and animates beautifully, from the way the wind beats on cloth to the way an enemy's hands grasp for the void where his head was two seconds ago. Cars burst apart and explode into gorgeous, spidery infernos. Grenades rend flesh into crimson gossamer. And all of this at a liquid silver 60 frames per second.

Rage's sound design ably keeps up with the stellar graphics, and it leaves a wonderful first impression. Near the beginning of the game, you are attacked by the Ghost Clan, one of several bandit groups who terrorize the Wasteland. You are rescued by a tough but kindly settler named Dan Hagar, who is voiced by none other than John Goodman. His character may not be as off the wall as any of his numerous Coen brothers film roles, but he treats his performance in Rage with just as much respect and effort. Amazingly, the rest of the cast follows suit with equally great voicework. Topping it all off is a soundtrack that is consistently as intense as the game's relentless, anarchic energy demands it to be.


Gameplay:

Rage's introductory cutscene shows us Apophis, the craggy, unsightly harbinger of destruction, hurtling gracefully across the cosmos on a collision course with Earth. Most people know that most life, and possibly all civilization, will end in a single moment. However, humanity is prepared enough to ensure less than total extinction. Enter the Eden Project. A number of Arks are programmed to burrow deep enough into the earth's crust to ensure survival for a privileged few. You are one of those privileged few. However, "privileged" doesn't seem the most apt of terms once you awaken as the only survivor of your malfunctioning Ark, a century after Apophis' impact.

Rage has all the cards lined up perfectly for a memorable story, but sadly fails to follow through on its promise. There's a villainous military dictatorship called The Authority that is given more depth in the short-lived comic series, but all you're given in the game is that they are bad and the Resistance fighters who recruit you into their ranks are good. Rage falls flat on its face at the very end of Disc Two (of three). One mission seems to be not only the prep work for a wide-scale operation, but the beginning of a war and a turning point for the story. Long story short, it turns out to be the last mission in the game. It's a cop-out, a cliffhanger, and an anti-climax. And it just plain sucks. To Rage's credit, however, the campaign is longer than most first-person shooters, and by a good five hours at that.

Some have called Rage an open-world shooter. Others have called it "Borderlands without the role-playing elements." They are right, but only to an extent. Rage is what it is: a guided but open first-person experience that features on-foot and vehicular gameplay. Most of your time with the game will be spent completing missions for your contacts (like in most open world games), which usually involve plumbing the depths of a bandit hideout or a once-thought-abandoned facility for some knick-knack. Yes, there are several fetch quests, but the shooting action is so polished, the level design is so clever, and the pacing is so spot-on that none of it ever grows tedious.

Legends of the Wasteland is a fun cooperative mode that lets you and a friend tear through instances together. Some parts of the single player experience, such as looting and engineering, are unfortunately culled out, but I get the sense that this mode is intended to play as a sort of meta-game.

Rage's sparse competitive multiplayer suite feels like a missed opportunity, especially considering the developer. If you're looking for on-foot shooting action, too bad. Road Rage is all you've got to work with. The three rally types are fun on their own, but they are never more than diversions. Carnage is a bit more fun, if only because it's closer to Rage's violent core. By limiting itself to the merely decent vehicular gameplay, Rage is never able to fully spread its wings online.


Difficulty:

Rage's difficulty curve is variable, but you're guaranteed a challenge from the default level and higher. Enemies in Rage don't act like enemies in other shooters. They serpentine out of your line of fire, climb on ceilings and walls with unnerving agility, and attack in numbers with ferocity.

Being an Ark Survivor, your body plays host to a system of Nanotrites. Not only is this Rage's explanation for regenerating health, but it gives you an opportunity to get back into the fight if you go down. By participating in a quick time event, you can defibrillate yourself, bringing your body springing to life with a surge of electrical energy. If you do well enough, the aforementioned surge will project itself (often lethally) into the bodies of any bandits, mutants, or Authority soldiers in your vicinity.


Game Mechanics:

Not much of what Rage brings to the table is new or innovative, but id makes up for that by ensuring that all the action is polished and extremely exciting. The shooting is intense, sometimes overwhelmingly so, and the sense of place is often intoxicating. Trekking across the Wasteland on-foot or behind the wheel is an invigorating and gleefully violent experience, and you'll be eager to explore every nook and cranny.

Rage's interface is smooth and accessible, and the weapon selection system works well. Holding down a button causes eight slots to appear; four on the left and four on the right. The Right Analog Stick allows you to choose between four weapons assigned to each direction, while the Left Analog Stick allows you to choose from different types of ammo, provided you have it in your inventory.

Rage is post-apocalyptic, so of course you'll need to do your share of looting as your journey progresses. Money and ammunition are essentials, of course, but sometimes you'll find something valuable (like a Vault-Tec bobblehead). Even loose odds and ends often come in handy. Survival is key in Rage, and the engineering mechanic drives that point home. If you own the proper schematic, you can transform an otherwise junk pile into an explosive remote-controlled car or a wingstick (a special boomerang programmed to hone in on an enemy's head -- and promptly relieve him of it). Lock grinders, adrenaline boosters, different ammo types, and even crossbow darts that allow you to effectively possess enemies can be engineered if you have the right items in stock.

If you're a shooter fan who's sick of the recent trend in single player campaign brevity, Rage is the game you've been waiting for. If you're more multiplayer-focused, you would do well to rent it first. Regardless, consider id's latest a must-play at the very least and a must-buy otherwise. Rage may not be the finest slice of post-apocalyptica you'll consume, but boy is it a good one.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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