Review: Rage

id Software returns with a new shooter
By BY MITCH KRPATA  |  October 18, 2011
3.5 3.5 Stars

AIM AND SHOOT Thanks to Rage’s tight play control, When you’re picking off enemy snipers across a courtyard, your crosshair isn’t wobbling like a drunk after last call.

It took id Software 18 months to make Doom, not the first first-person shooter ever made, but certainly the most important. They spent over four years on their latest, Rage, a game that is mostly noteworthy for how revolutionary it isn't.

Rage is a strange beast, almost like two games stitched together. On one hand, it's a botched open-world experiment; on the other, it's a focused and relentless corridor shooter that shows id are still the masters of the genre they invented.

Because Rage's development started so many years ago, it's hard to tell if it shares so many bad habits with modern games by coincidence. Sure, it's set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland beset equally by mutants and an oppressive quasi-government authority called, uh, "The Authority," but if you're going to slam games for lazy sci-fi storytelling, then you may as well slam them for running on electricity. The problem is more structural: Rage puts players in the boots of a protagonist who stands silently as rubbery-faced characters order him to go pick up their laundry. As our hero is sent on one fetch quest after another, the sense of a grand narrative — of significant dramatic stakes — never emerges.

The wasteland itself is an impressive sight. From red rock formations to ruined cities to desaturated, lunar-like areas, the environment is more varied and pretty than it first appears. But, as the name implies, there's not so much to do out there. Players traverse the map in armored buggies that, thanks to their speed, only serve to make the game world feel compressed. You can get anywhere you need to go in a minute or so, which is helpful in alleviating tedium, but also heightens the feeling that you've ducked out to run an errand. Spontaneous vehicular battles are an annoyance, not a feature, and are best avoided altogether.

So far, Rage sounds like a mess. For the first few hours, it feels like one. But the mission structure and the on-wheels portions are brief, and they stitch together the main attraction: extended shooting sequences that play like a dream. This isn't one of those games where you have to choose your weapons loadout carefully, or conserve ammo, or skulk around in the shadows. This is a game where you have to decide which of your eight massive weapons is appropriate for the job, and whether you want to use the exploding bullets or the electrified ones.

The action is swift and the play control responsive, which means that when you're swarmed by a dozen mutants in a subway tunnel, you're not wheeling around trying to figure out where they are. When you're picking off enemy snipers across a courtyard, your crosshair isn't wobbling like a drunk after last call. You simply aim and shoot. After all these years, id understands, at a root level, how to design a combat scenario that opens a conduit to your lizard brain.

True, Rage is ambitious in all the wrong ways. Nothing is inherently wrong with the vehicular portions; they just feel unnecessary. A better narrative would be nice, but we've always graded videogame storytelling on a curve. Had Rage been nothing more than a linear FPS, it might have come out years ago and been a better game for it. But where it counts, Rage has the goods.

Related: Review: Duke Nukem Forever, Shooting, looting, and doing the Humpty Dance: 10 games you’ll be addicted to this fall, O'Brother | Garden Window, More more >
  Topics: Videogames , Doom, rage, rage
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