One of the most baffling things about the first-person shooter genre is that the most fundamental aspect – whether or not the gunplay is actually fun – is frequently seen as being less important than things like dialogue, plot and visual fidelity. Some absolutely wonderful FPS games quickly became an irritating grind for precisely this reason, but if anything embodies the cocksure “boys are back in town” vibe of id Software’s Rage, it’s that it is a joyous experience from the second you first get your hands on it. We named Rage our ‘Game of E3’ against some pretty tasty competition back in June, and this was because it was the only game that we took the time to sample more than once.
Leaving those impossibly swift and slick controls to one side for a moment, Rage is also one of the best looking console games ever made. Although it appears to have begun its life as a PC title, the care and attention that have been applied to the Xbox 360 port will stand as an abject lesson in how to do it properly, and presumably for quite some time. Even the controls feel about as disarmingly close as you could possibly get to an emulation of a mouse and keyboard set-up, and aside from a few (very occasional) moments in which we saw some textures pop into view a split-second late, technically the game is nothing less than an absolute marvel on Microsoft’s console.
So the mechanics of play are just so much fun, and consequently it’s very difficult not to wish that more of the perfunctory plot had been excised. To put it very mildly indeed this is not an especially captivating story, and it’s delivered to you via rigid NPC’s and lifeless dialogue, and features a climax that’s bafflingly abrupt. There are a few interesting bits and pieces – the revolting, sadistic JK Styles is a great character, for example – but Rage is all about the shooting, and the plot interludes serve only as (an occasionally welcome) recess from the intravenous excitement of the rest of the experience.
Its vision of a post apocalyptic Earth is a bit more interesting, but this world isn’t open. A smattering of RPG staples form a big part of the game’s appeal (and the weapon crafting is particularly compelling) but the ‘Wasteland’ – which is the label that’s given to the majority of Rage’s un-viewable map – is very aptly named. Looting does play a part too, but this is a perpetual journey between A and B that somehow never loses its coercive lustre. The endlessly re-spawning Wasteland enemies call Far Cry 2 to mind – no bad thing – and the vehicles are an absolute blast to manoeuvre, with id Software having previously offered up Burnout and Motorstorm as examples to give people an idea of what to expect.
And if the somewhat antiquated attitude towards story is a surprise, so too is the frankly medieval save system. Rage auto-saves whenever you enter or exit a new area, but as some of the missions (especially later on) take up to an hour to complete, you’re advised to get your head around manually saving early. Borderlands and Fallout 3 have obviously inspired this game’s creators, but those salutations are exclusively style-based. The very enjoyable (if brief) co-op missions are a polite nod towards the former title, and on inspection, the seemingly throwaway competitive multiplayer component is much more entertaining than it first appears to be. It’s bizarre that a developer with such pedigree in the field would decide to leave a TDM option off the menu, but in a release window that features the likes of Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, this was probably a rather shrewd move.
Rage isn’t going to alter any aspect the gaming landscape, although other developers who are tasked with porting their own games to consoles from the PC are heartily encouraged to study it in minute detail. Revolution was clearly never the game’s intention anyway; instead it feels like a wise band of haggard old sea dogs returning to the fray in order to prove to themselves that they can still cut the mustard. This is a corridor shooter at heart with some vastly compelling RPG asides skilfully woven into it, and whilst hardly original, its gameplay is outrageously confident in its ability to captivate, and with very, very good reason. Outstanding entertainment.
Rage is out now on PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the Rage launch trailer below: