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Rage (Xbox 360) artwork

Rage (Xbox 360) review

"When RAGE is in its comfort zone we're treated to a masterclass in brutal combat - a graduate from the Doom and Quake academy. Outside it we see a genuine attempt to step out of the shadow of those very classics, but without any meaningful success."


That’s the message authoritatively stamped across the top of the RAGE box. A significant and purposeful boast, and one that fully justifies id Software’s eminent status. It’s a studio synonymous with giving lifeblood to an entire genre and for changing the face of the games industry.

One glance across the shelves these days quickly reminds us of id’s influence: bullets, blood and a steroid-injected dose of male bravado. Big men with very big guns. The casual observer might argue that nothing’s changed. That since one hellspawn-slaughtering space marine stomped into public consciousness all those years ago, the genre has simply strafed round in circles. Of course, this is not the case. Although the DNA of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake still lives and thrives in contemporary shooters, the FPS is now a very different beast. Military blockbusters command the battlefield. Cinematic, Hollywood inspired set-pieces explode onto our screens with regularity. Right stick melees, left stick sprints. Snap down your iron sights and massacre everything in your field of vision.

So where does this leave RAGE, a fledgling IP with a four year plus development cycle? Numerous delays imply spiralling costs, and with the market already ruled by a couple of mammoth franchises making any meaningful impact could prove challenging. But if it’s beyond all possibility to chink the armour of the CODs and the Battlefields, the next best thing Doom and Quake’s creators can provide is a credible alternative.

But RAGE is a frustrating game. Not in the traditional sense of being obnoxiously hard or unnecessarily obtuse, rather that its clear potential is never fully realised. Imagine a post apocalyptic wasteland full of bandits and mutants, watched over by a tyrannical government. A dusty expanse littered with towns, outposts, dank sewer systems and crumbling cities. Throw in RPG flavoured quests, intense gunfights and tight vehicular combat, all underpinned by an intriguing conspiracy story. This is RAGE on paper: an ambitious open world FPS that marches from the shadows and carves its own niche. Out of the corridor and into the sandbox.

It’s a vision that never really comes to fruition. The storyline initially shows some promise, but all interest quickly becomes buried under a heap of shell casings and spent ammunition. The wasteland itself is a pseudo-sandbox and the few sparsely populated settlements and towns are more or less superfluous. They merely serve as a base camp; somewhere to accept an elementary quest and arm up before heading off into more linear territory - the corridors of bandit hideouts, sewer tunnels and close quarters urban streets. RAGE may masquerade as something big and bold, but at its heart its as close to Doom or Quake as anything since, well, Doom 3.

Gunplay is what id do. It’s their bread and butter. It doesn't do driving, although RAGE wants you to race around on quadbikes and dune buggies to get from A to B. It doesn't do RPGs, but RAGE sanctions the bloodshed through ‘character building’ and fetch quests. And it doesn't do story but RAGE asks you to become invested in a plot barely worth thinking about after the first hour. It does shooting, lots of shooting, and it does it bloody well. While RAGE’s other composite parts - those that if pulled off with aplomb could strengthen the game immeasurably - range from mildly entertaining to sub-par, its combat excels.

Your initial weapons have that cobbled togetherness that sits nicely with the wasteland aesthetic. Taped up handles and rusty, scratched metal lend to a worn but reliable feel. As you progress you’ll get your hands on equipment hatched from emergent technologies, usually found in the clasp of the nefarious Authority. Each gun feels unique, assured and packs a hefty, satisfying punch. Laying your hands on a fresh piece of firepower is like unboxing an eagerly anticipated gift. This is where RAGE’s only genuine moments of player/character affinity arise. Your voiceless protagonist gleefully surveys the latest addition to his arsenal; turning dials, adjusting scopes and examining barrels. He sees the potential in your acquisition and so do you, eyes lighting up, eager to test out your new toy.

A nice and accessible engineering mechanic allows you to fashion various items and weapons from wasteland clutter such as lethal sentry turrets, RC cars or bandages for the medically inclined. Varying ammo types also means that you won’t be reeling off round after round of the same generic slug. This gives birth to a degree of combat options. Bandits standing in a pool of water? Whip out the electric crossbow bolts and watch them fry. Normal pistol ammo too puny for the job? Load up the Fatboys instead and pierce through armour, skin and bone to your heart’s content.

Heads explode in unsettlingly joyous fashion. Frag grenades turn mutants to crimson mush and the boomerang inspired Wingsticks slice necks clean from shoulders. The BFG also makes an appearance in one form or another towards the game’s conclusion. If that wasn't a blatant enough nod to RAGE’s heritage then the gratification you’ll get from mowing down legions of enemies with steadily improving firepower is pure, unadulterated Doom. It’s when you’re caught up in this killfrenzy, with Doom and Quake seeping out of RAGE’s every pore that you forget about what could have been. For that period of time all misgivings are forgotten in a haze of adrenaline fueled combat. But venture out from of one of its beautifully detailed hideouts, sewers or crumbling city streets when the dust has settled and that nagging question returns. What if?

What if that vast potential was fulfilled? If the RAGE on paper became the RAGE in reality? If they fleshed out the dull quest structures, employed meaningful characterization, a more adventurous story and immersive world? Could we be talking about RAGE in the same way we talk about Bioshock, Fallout 3 or Borderlands? Questions, questions, but weren't gamers taught to shoot first and ask questions later?

It’s ironic really that whilst trying to broaden its scope beyond linear corridor shooting, RAGE’s very strength lies in just that. That’s id’s heritage, its comfort zone. When inside that comfort zone we're treated to a masterclass in brutal combat - a graduate from the Doom and Quake academy. Outside it we see a genuine attempt to step out from the shadow of those very classics (which is to be commended), but without great success. This is what makes RAGE a rather confused, and confusing game. One which sticks to its guns (literally) but simultaneously tries to branch out. A bullet-fuelled pleasure to play in bursts, but a frustrating exercise in missed opportunities in others. So What next for id? All roads lead towards Doom 4. Full circle, and back to more familiar, if no less daunting territory.


Ally_Doig's avatar
Community review by Ally_Doig (September 03, 2012)

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Masters posted September 10, 2012:

Out of the corridor and into the sandbox. Very nice.

This is a wonderful (first?) review. Kudos.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 10, 2012:

Seriously, great stuff here! Hope to see more from you in the future.
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zippdementia posted September 10, 2012:

Thirded. Really good review. And I appreciate that you like the game while warning me away from it. My dollars stay in my wallet, where I desperately need them to stay.
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Ally_Doig posted September 12, 2012:

Thanks for the positive feedback guys, it's much appreciated. I've been writing on and off for a little while now but I'm only just really starting to take it more seriously. I'm hoping to post quite a few more reviews up here in the near future (Sleeping Dogs and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories among others on a long list) so please keep a look out! Positive feedback and constructive criticism is always welcome.
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zippdementia posted September 12, 2012:

Ah, Shattered Memories! I reviewed that here a couple years ago. It will be interesting to hear another take on it.
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Ally_Doig posted September 13, 2012:

@Zippdementia. Really enjoyed your review of Shattered Memories. I've been meaning to pick it up for a while and I've heard mixed things about it, from middling scores such as yours up the 9/10 end of the scale. Games which divide opinion usually have the most talking points so I'm hoping it will be an interesting one. Also gives me a chance to dust of the Wii one last time...

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