A Rage In The Wasteland
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So I've finally finished playing all the DLCs for Fallout: New Vegas, and was happy with the storyline presented there. But now my need for a post-apocalyptic game comes to the forefront. So it was with surprise that Rage, another title published by Bethesda, landed on my desk.
Rage isn't very much like New Vegas, which isn't surprising given that the developer is id software, which created masterpieces like Doom and Quake. Rage is more like Borderlands, which makes sense given that id Software is a lot closer to Gearbox Software in terms of style. But if I had to line up Borderlands and Rage together, I would have to say that Rage does what it does a bit better.
There are really two main components to Rage, a shooter interface that is fast and action packed, and a combat racing engine. Of the two, the shooter part is better. The racing part isn't bad, especially when you are on a set track that is designed to be a race. But when you get out into the wasteland, there are problems with your vehicle hanging up on little rocks and hitting seemingly invisible walls at times. You can get used to it, but it doesn't seem quite natural to be in an off-road vehicle and not being able to climb up onto a rock that is maybe six inches off the ground.
Surprisingly, there is a pretty deep story to the game, at least for a shooter. I never really felt pulled along by any plot points in Borderlands, but in Rage you have many mysteries to solve, with the majority of them existing as side quests outside the main path.
The plot of the game is that a meteor was about to hit Earth a long time ago, and could not be stopped. So the government took its best and brightest people and put them into arks, which were like bunkers with stasis chambers that burrowed deep underground. The idea was that after so much time had passed, the arks would dig their way back up and the people inside would revive and rebuild the world.
When you open your eyes however from your long sleep, you can tell that something has gone horribly wrong. Your other ark-mates are all dead, and their skeletal frames suggest that they have been that way for a long time. Once you step outside you are attacked by mutants, and then rescued by a settler voiced by John Goodman, who does an excellent job here. You are told that you, as an ark survivor, will also be hunted by the new world order, a group known as The Authority that seems universally hated and feared in the settler towns you visit. In a lot of ways it reminded me of the Firefly TV show, where you had these western-style towns with an eclectic mix of technology and older stuff, and a governing body that was not very popular outside of the main hubs. You'll learn more about The Authority as you adventure.
The art style is really unique, with cartoon-like graphics that are also very realistic. Unlike most games with this type of style, every character and NPC is unique. There are no "repeats" in the people you meet, and most of them have voice support.
The voice acting in Rage is amazing, both in and out of combat. When you are walking around a town you've just set foot inside, a lot of people are indifferent to you, or warn you to keep your head down and not to cause trouble. Those same people warm up to you slowly as you undertake missions that help out the settlement. They will even compliment you on very recent events, such as when you win a race or have a good run on Mutant Bash TV, the equivalent of a reality show in the wasteland.
I didn't find any actor who spoke out of character, and this includes all the minor characters as well. Several voices could be placed as also appearing in Doom 3, which was a bit of a treat. And my favorite actress, Claudia Black, shows up in the second major town you visit. She does a great job, as always, of sounding both sexy and confident at the same time. And I love it when her character winks at me.
Inside combat, the various bad guys yell at each other, and this gives you clues as to how well you're doing. They will even panic at times and yell stuff like "We're losing this!" or "He killed the whole squad!" And they will panic and retreat away from you sometimes, which makes you feel really powerful, especially if you are running down one of the cowards taking pot shots with your shotgun.
The shooter interface is full of action. There is a good mix of enemies that come after you and keep you on your toes. Some enemies will charge straight in with melee weapons while others will take cover and try to keep you pinned down. They'll toss grenades to dislodge you from a good spot, though they rarely follow-up a toss with a close assault, which would really help them press their advantage. Most of the mutant enemies will simply swarm you in great numbers, trying to overload your defenses. And when they are swarming in, it's not all that easy to keep them back, even with an upgraded combat shotgun.
Each weapon you can find has different upgrades and different ammo types. Using the best weapon against the correct enemies is a key to victory. You want to make sure you use armor piercing rounds against heavy troops, and ammo with an EMP kick against those with a lot of technology on their side. Switching weapons on the fly isn't overly difficult, but you will need to practice it before you get it down pat.
You also have a host of peripheral weapons that can be employed like grenades, automatic turrets and even RC cars loaded with explosives which can be driven into combat. One of the best are wingsticks, which are little three-bladed Frisbees that can take the head off of most bad guys. They even return to you sometimes so that they are reusable. If you upgrade them, they get implanted with a smart technology that allows them to kill three enemies before trying to return to you. The wingsticks, like all secondary weapons, can be constructed using parts found out in the wasteland, or with parts bought from vendors. You just need the recipe. Likewise, most of them can be upgraded to more powerful versions using a different recipe.
I was generally very happy with the shooter interface, though there was one aspect that I didn't think was quite up to par with everything else: stealth. The game encourages you to crouch down to avoid being seen by enemies, but even if you use silent weapons, you won't go undetected for very long. I love playing stealth characters, so I know how to do it, but Rage is just not really set up for it. You might get one or two stealth kills on any given level, but after that the alarm is going to be raised and you will have to fight traditionally. It's almost not worth sneaking around.
Within the shooter interface you will also do most of the role-playing found in the game, interacting with other characters in town, learning things about the world and sometimes accepting side quests. There are also many mini-games to play in the wasteland, from a holographic dice game that simulates combat, to a Magic: The Gathering type card game, to poking holes in a table with a knife and trying not to lose a finger to playing a guitar. There are plenty of ways to spend and earn money. The mini-games are enjoyable and I especially liked the strategy involved in the card game, because you can collect new cards for your deck out in the wasteland.
The other thing you will be doing is combat racing. Now, I'm not the biggest race game fan, so I was kind of hesitant about this, but you are forced into it as part of the main quest because you need to earn a series of cars suitable for wasteland travel. I will say that I was surprisingly good at the racing when set to normal difficulty, and did have fun with it. You will be shooting missiles, dropping mines and ramming your opponents in a variety of events for the amusement of the crowds that live in towns you visit. Out in the wasteland, the bandit gangs will try to kill you, and you will lose your life if you go down out there, not just a race. Thankfully you cars can be equipped with a variety of shields, armor restoration powers and also special weapons like a hover-turret that zooms along and provides cover for you. And everything on your car from boosters to armor to tires can be upgraded for increased performance. You just need to win races to earn certificates to do it.
The driving interface didn't quite feel as smooth as it could have. I already mentioned how I would get stuck on rocks and small objects from time to time. This is not a real problem because if your car actually gets stuck, you can call for a tow and get everything reset. Still, I thought the driving interface in Borderlands was a touch more fluid, though not nearly as exciting.
A final little flaw I found might only manifest itself on the PS3. When you turn really quickly in the shooter interface, sometimes the textures of the world are a little blurry before the machine can catch up and render them. This might be because the shooter side of the game plays so darn fast that it's slightly overloading the PS3. Again, this was annoying at times, but in a very minor way, and didn't seem to happen when driving or when inside buildings, just when walking out in the vast wasteland.
The bottom line is that I spent many days and nights playing Rage, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Coming from the almost tactical combat of New Vegas, it was nice to see I still had the chops for run-and-gun action. Rage many not be a truly open world; it's more of an open world that you can explore in bits and pieces. And it's not really an RPG, but more of a shooter and combat driver with RPG elements. But really, they got the mix almost perfect. Rage will get your adrenaline pumping, and is more than worth the price of admission.
Rage earns 4.5 GiN Gems and my recommendation for fans of shooters and action titles.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.