Every PC gamer who’s been around the block at least once or twice knows and respects id Software. From Wolfenstein to Doom to even Quake, this once tiny Texas-based developer has produced some of the most influential, ground breaking first person shooter franchises the PC platform has ever seen. For some, however, that all came crashing down in late 2004 when id Software released Doom 3. Despite its graphical prowess, the highly anticipated sequel to one of PC gaming’s most coveted franchises disappointed thousands of fans with its tedious, predictable gameplay and pitch black environments. It almost seemed as though id Software just no longer had that “magic” ability to produce one smash hit after another. Now, in 2011, id Software is making a comeback and taking a huge gamble by releasing their first in-house multiplatform retail game in seven years. And to beat it all, it’s based on a brand new IP. In comes Rage.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world following our planet’s demise, Rage harkens back to the settings found in modern hits like Fallout and even Borderlands. As a survivor of the asteroid impact that shattered the Earth, you emerge from an underground shelter called an “Ark” and begin re-discovering a world you once knew. This process doesn’t last long, though, because from out of nowhere you’re ambushed by a mutant wanting to eat your face. That is until Dan Hagar, a survivor from a settlement located just down the road, blows its brains out and spares your life. Even in the beginning, Rage is quick to remind you that in the Wasteland nobody is entirely safe and consequently, you should explore at your own risk.
When you’re taken back to Hagar’s settlement, things start unfolding and Rage’s questing mechanics are put into motion. Here at this settlement you’ll discover a shop that sells all kinds of goodies, a garage that repairs damaged vehicles, and even a friendly female companion who offers to give you your very first lessons in the usage of “Wingsticks,” deadly boomerang-like hand thrown weapons that can take the heads off enemies, then soar right back into your hands for more action. Your first task is to raid a nearby bandit hideout and kill everything that moves. id Software is known for its violent games that feature powerful weaponry and emphasize killing – lots of it – and this is no different. Throughout the 20+ hour singleplayer campaign, you’ll be fighting mutants, crazed clan members, and even those of the “Authority,” a corrupt, high tech government entity hellbent on controlling the entire Wasteland and its inhabitants.
Inititally, things progress slowly and the gunplay feels simplistic and limited, as if there just isn’t much more to the game than pointing, clicking, and – you guessed it – killing. When you start obtaining engineering schematics, though, and stumbling upon new forms of ammunition for old weaponry, the on-foot combat really opens up. By the time I’d finished the campaign, I felt as though I could approach rooms full of enemies in many different ways. You can, for example, rush in guns blazing with explosive rocket shells in your shotgun, deploy an RC bomb car to scout ahead and explode near unsuspecting enemies, toss down a sentry to cover your back, and even construct an automated spider robot that walks alongside you like a little companion, ruthlessly gunning down enemies from afar and pouncing on those who dare close the distance, ripping out their throats and making you a proud Papa. These are the moments when the game really shines and you realize that you could enter the same areas several times and still employ new strategies and emerge knee deep in the dead.
Killing isn’t all there is to do in Rage, though. Even amidst its main quest and dozens of side missions, you can participate in race events, play a game of cards, and even take to the Wasteland itself to destroy bandit cars for extra cash and perform huge jumps off ramps and cliffs to attempt to smash mid-air Authority drones with your car to earn bonuses and achievements. Driving is a huge part of the game and considering this is id Software’s first ever venture into the world of racing, they’ve done a tremendous job. Not only do the vehicles handle well, but they’re also rather complex, customizable components in and of themselves. You can repair them if they’re damaged, upgrade multiple parts to improve performance, and even apply themes to give them new looks. There is even a nice mixture of offensive and defensive vehicular weapons at your disposal for both racing and surviving bandit encounters. Miniguns and homing missiles are the bread and butter of combat, but you also have bombs, shields, and other forms of weaponry and abilities to work with.
Visually, Rage is a stunning game. Although indoor environments sometimes present blurry textures and low poly objects, the lighting is among the best I’ve seen in a shooter, environments are exquisitely detailed, character models and animations are excellent, and the colors are vibrant and even dynamically shift as you move from one type of area to the next. Unfortunately, the game’s audio presentation is less impressive. Most weapons sound weak and lack “Oomph,” the soundtrack is mostly forgettable, and NPC voices sometimes sound muffled and are drowned out by ambience. The voice acting itself was great all across the board, though, and John Goodman even makes a surprising appearance as the voice actor of Dan Hagar in the game’s first settlement.
Unfortunately, as fun as Rage can be, its release was bug-ridden and it continues to perform inconsistently across the board. Since the game’s launch, ATI and Nvidia have released new video drivers to help improve performance and id Software released a patch that squashed multiple bugs and placed advanced graphics settings on the main menu for experienced PC users to tinker with. As an ATI user myself, I experienced more crashes than I could count while playing, especially when entering and loading new areas of the map. Thankfully, though, after updating my video drivers, those crashes were absent and I was able to enjoy the game to its fullest extent.
Despite a rocky release and problems that some continue to experience to this day, id Software’s Rage is one of the best PC first person shooters I’ve played in years and really makes up for the staggering disappointment that was Doom 3. The gunplay is full of variety, vehicles are fun to drive, race, and battle with, there’s a fairly large world to explore and tons of things to do in it, and the visuals are often something to behold. With many hours of gameplay, you won’t be able to quickly breeze through it in a single day, either; and there are multiplayer and cooperative modes to keep you coming back even after you’ve finally tackled that last mission. If you’re looking for a large, pretty game filled to the brim with variety and with lots of killing and vehicular mayhem, you just can’t go wrong with Rage. It’s unquestionably id Software’s best game since before Doom 3 and my current top candidate for 2011’s single player first person shooter of the year.