With the Bethesda 2018 E3 presentation providing a ton of details on the upcoming RAGE 2 - and one wasted Andrew W.K. performance - I went back to the original game as sentiment towards it has been indifferent since the sequel was announced.
“Grim” and “brown” were my first thoughts when booting up RAGE for the first time in 2011. Not the best first impression back then; the 7th console generation was in full swing and shooters - starring grim-looking men butchering their way across desolate, brown wastelands - were commonplace.
Thankfully, with id Software developing the game, one thing was almost certain - smooth and satisfying 60FPS shooting. Everything else was an unknown after they revealed it was no simple corridor-shooter. This mash-up of genres and gameplay mechanics - a mission system, racing and vehicular combat, a looting-selling-crafting loop, and upgrades for both your weapon and character - these would become the elements that critics would focus on.
If there's one certainty in an id Software game, it's that the guns won't disappoint. RAGE's weapons are fairly conventional but all pack a punch, especially after a few upgrades and loaded with new ammo types.
The shooting is indeed satisfying but every other gameplay mechanic in RAGE could best be described as competent: never terrible but never amazing, never overused but often underdeveloped. The early missions hammer home the RPG-like structure, offering up basic objectives, numerous tutorials, and expository dialogue. Had they asked me to go clear a basement of mutated rats, I’d not have been surprised.
You quickly realise the open-world is actually wide, interconnected corridors; the mission system offers up the illusion of choice; the driving mechanics simplistic; upgrade paths linear; side-quests, mini-games, and challenges are basic and short-lived. Worse still, RAGE plays all its cards too early, introducing the player to almost every gameplay feature within the first three hours of a 15+ hour game.
This NPC will literally block your path until you accept the mission.
You’ll complete a main mission, receive a new gun or tool, buy/craft some useful upgrades, and then unlock a side-quest that’ll sends you back through an earlier location for more loot. The game follows this pattern so rigidly that it begins to feel formulaic, even if the minute-to-minute gameplay actually gets better the longer you play.
Personally, I always took this as a positive and it made RAGE a game I can easily return to. The simplicity of these mechanics ensure the pace never wavers. Aside from brief town visits to gather missions, you’re typically back in thick of gunfights and vehicular combat in no time. Guns pack a punch, difficulty settings are balanced, and enemy AI - at least for humans - deserves special mention - they advance on you when at full strength, pull back and ambush you if you’ve thinned out their ranks, or go into retreat if only a few remain. Focusing on the gunplay makes sense but I can understand why many found the other mechanics underdeveloped in comparison.
Vehicles cling stubbornly to every surface - short of a massive impact - and turn sharply with little to no drifting. Keeping them in line takes little skill but that ensures the vehicular combat is easier to handle.
RAGE always provides a satisfying sense of forward momentum. The environment frequently changes, missions get longer, and enemy difficulty ramps up. At the same time, your arsenal expands and character/vehicle upgrades come in thick and fast; you just don't always feel like you’ve worked very hard to earn them.
Another aspect of the narrative and gameplay that was highlighted by critics, and remains an issue, is the somewhat abrupt ending. After storming an Authority base in a maxed out vehicle and finally earning an enormous mini-gun (with a secondary BFG fire!), it becomes a bland corridor shooter for 15 minutes as you fight through waves of enhanced mutants then shut down the mainframe… no spectacular boss fight and only a brief ending clip that sort-of implies you’ve triggered an uprising. It still feels like it’s begging for a concluding chapter or DLC that never arrived. Here’s hoping RAGE 2 picks up from those events.
The final mission just feels like a giant tease for more to come. Thankfully, in a post-DOOM* world, RAGE 2 looks set to fulfill my needs.
If there's one aspect of RAGE that stood out, it was the ambitious technology. The id Tech 5 engine brought with it “Megatexture” technology; a fantastic idea, even if streaming those huge textures was not something the last-gen consoles excelled at (even high-end PCs struggled). In theory, one massive texture file was created, ensuring no duplicate textures were used across the game. Unfortunately, criticism of the rampant pop-in was more common than praise for texture variation and incredible world complexity (even by today’s standards). As we would soon discover, repetitive gameplay and not repetitive textures would be the biggest issue in gaming.
Every other aspect of the presentation remains outstanding. RAGE was one of the earliest games to use dynamic-resolution scaling to keep the framerate stable (a feature almost ubiquitous in the current-gen), animations for NPCs and enemies are still impressive (especially hit detection), weapons are loud and impactful, the voice acting for the quirky cast is surprisingly good, ambient environmental sounds generate an immersive atmosphere, and the soundtrack is both excellent and dynamic, ramping up in intensity with the action on screen. Oh, and that sky-box!
From the get-go, there's no doubt RAGE is technically impressive, if nothing else. The world may be smaller than expected but each area offers incredible complexity and a ton of environmental details.
In retrospect, RAGE was ambitious in terms of gameplay and technology, but only really succeeded on the technology front. Focusing on the gunplay was the right choice for id Software but the rest of the game felt underdeveloped and you could argue many simple or underutilised mechanics only serve to dilute the experience. RAGE was also not a new DOOM, which I think many were hoping for after the enjoyable but unexpectedly different DOOM 3 left many older fans disappointed. As RAGE 2 looks to be building on the world and lore established in the first game, I’d still recommend giving this a go if you skipped over it. It’s often on sale for cheap, backwards compatible on the Xbox One, and still provides some damn fine shooting after the slow-ish start.
RAGE 2 is coming out in Autumn 2019 and you can check the rest of our Bethesda E3 conference coverage here.
* Referring to 2016's DOOM.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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