Monday, 20 January 2014

Rage (PC)

Rage title screen
Today I'm having a quick go at 2011 post apocalyptic FPS/racing hybrid Rage, aka. RAGE. I'm not entirely sure why they've used the circle-A anarchy symbol there in their logo, but I imagine it's for much the same reason that Neversoft used it for Apocalypse: because they could.

This came out on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Mac, but I'll be playing the PC version on my beat up old rig. I've actually tried the game on my system once before when it first came out but I was kind of put off by the way it was a sluggish glitchy mess. But it's been a few years now so I'm hoping that all the patches and drivers updates since then have gotten it into shape. Shouldn't take long to find out.

(Click the pictures to view them at twice the resolution. That's FOUR TIMES the pixels!)

Rage options menu screen
I am definitely liking this options menu. Okay it's a bit limited when it comes to the actual options and it looks it like got lost on its way to Quake 5, but it's so slick.

Amazingly back in 2011 the game came with even less graphics options. There was no texture detail option, no anisotropic filter option, and you couldn't even turn the v-sync off.  It's possible that the game was designed to dynamically adapt and choose the settings that work best on each system automatically, but it ran like ass on my PC so that obviously didn't work. But let's max it all out for now and see how far I get with that.

"Your PC has an insufficient number of cores."

Well I guess I won't be maxing out the texture detail then. I always thought I had plenty of cores as well. I've got as many as an Xbox 360 at least and I bet it doesn't whine when you run it on that.

The game begins with a pre-rendered cutscene showing the asteroid 99942 Apophis on a collision course with Earth, both smashing through Saturn's ring and clipping the Moon along the way. The odds of this are so incredibly minute that I can only conclude that the asteroid 99942 Apophis is a dick.

I should be careful what I say about it though as it's actually a real asteroid and it really is coming our way. Also I've heard that it may be named as much for the Stargate SG-1 villain as it is for the Egyptian god, which amuses me so much that I'm just going to go ahead and take that as an incontrovertible fact.

Oh don't worry, the real asteroid's likely going to miss us by 35 million miles.

In Rage's universe though they weren't quite so lucky. Man, look at how dead center that impact is. I'm telling you, the asteroid 99942 Apophis is a dick.

Humanity had a few decades to prepare for this however and have built a number of tunnelling Arks: vehicles designed to dig below ground and wait for the worst of it to be over. Clearly they've taken a bit of inspiration from Noah here, but while his Ark was packed full of two of every animal he could find, these Arks contain a handful of nanite-enhanced survivors in cryonic stasis.

I have to admit, I had to watch the intro several times to get all that clear in my head as you have to watch carefully to make out every aspect of the plan. Luckily for me, id have ensured that I always get a chance to take in every subtle detail of their cutscenes, as they've made them all ENTIRELY UNSKIPPABLE.


106 YEARS LATER.


Well that all seemed to work out alright. Sure the computer is sparking a bit and everyone but me has died in their cryo-sleep, but I've seemed to have thawed out just fine, my Ark has surfaced, and it even appears like there's still an outside world for me to go out into!

Oh hang on. No no, something is terribly wrong here. The computer panel... it doesn't have the awesome GUI surface tech that Doom 3 and Quake 4 used! I can't move my crosshair around like a mouse pointer and press the buttons, this is just awful.

I see now that there's nothing left for me in here, time to head outside into the bleak miserable wasteland. 

I...

Holy shit that looks pretty. Even on my ancient PC with the settings turned to 'pitiful' it still looks incredible, and not a glitch in sight! Though the textures do take a second to appear when I turn my head and it's running a little sluggish.

Uh, there's a guy in a buggy over there yelling at me to get in. I kind of assumed only the Ark survivors would be left, but it seems that civilisation is doing just fine out here without us. Maybe I overslept by a few decades while everyone else surfaced years ago and got on with rebuilding.

Hmm, I wonder what happens if I don't get in the buggy and try to make run for it instead...

Rage mission failed screen
Instantly shot by a sniper, brilliant. I love it when games make me follow the script to the letter, allowing no deviation. Still, at least it gives me a chance to get a good look at my character; who I'm going to call 'RAGEguy' from now on. Plus I didn't exactly lose much progress, seeing as I quicksaved back at the buggy.

I'm glad to see that id are still carrying on the quicksave tradition by the way, seeing as they were the ones who popularised it in the first place.

The game came out in 2011 though, so the developers had to make some concessions to modern FPS gaming; like the mandatory unskippable car journey the player has to sit through before the gameplay begins.

My rescuer (played by John Goodman apparently, though I couldn't tell) explains that these bandits are causing trouble for everyone in the wasteland and they'll after me in particular because of my Ark suit. I wasn't really listening though because I was too distracted watching his little Doomguy bobblehead wobble around as he drove.


TIME PASSES.


Oh for fuck's sake STOP TALKING. PLEASE STOP TALKING ALREADY! I'll go murder anyone you want as long as you just shut up and let me do something. Or at least let me join in with the conversation!

There's nothing wrong with the dialogue or acting, it's just that I got the point a few minutes back and now I'm eager to get on with things.

Wait, he wants me to murder the bandits? ALL the bandits? Just go up to their base and shoot the whole lot of them dead? He doesn't expect much does he? I don't even know anyone out here yet; for all I know he's a bandit and he's sending me out to kill innocent people.

Well he's given me a 12 shooter revolver, 40 bullets and a quad bike so I guess the least I can do to repay him is go back out there and see if anyone volunteers to be shot dead. Did I mention that he's given me a QUAD BIKE?

QUAD BIKE!

There ain't much wasteland for me to drive around on out here, it's not exactly Fallout 3, but they've kindly given me enough road to get this thing up to top speed at least. I'm going to hit the boost and aim for a ramp, see if I can catch some radical air.

Oh shit, I ran out of road!

Okay, Rageguy's scream when he falls off his quad bike is amazing. It was worth playing this just to hear that. Fortunately it takes more than a horrific bike accident to kill our hero, or even maim him, so I'm back on my feet and ready to raid this bandit base in seconds.

Damn, this is all just as sluggish as I remember it being last time I tried it. Though last time I didn't have the option to turn v-sync from 'smart' to 'off' , so I'll give that a shot.

Wow, that gave me an instant frame rate improvement and now the game plays like a dream. Another victory for graphics options. Right then, now I'm ready to get into a fight.

Rage inventory screen
Haven't found a good gun fight yet, but I did find some junk! Like in the recent Fallout games, I can collect all kinds of trash from around the level to sell later. Though fortunately there's a whole lot less of it in this, so I can safely indulge my compulsion to hoard empty bottles, bits of metal and tins of cat food 104 years out of date without running out of inventory space for new guns. Not that this game even stores the guns inside my inventory.

Well this is going about as well as any sane person would've expected. I only managed to shoot two or three bandits before the others caught me and tied me up. So now I have to sit through a bloody QTE sequence to avoid being stabbed.

Okay I'm ready, what do I have to press?

Seriously, what am I supposed to do, he's getting ready to disembowel me here!

And... he's just stabbed Rageguy to death. Wow, I guess it actually wasn't a QTE.

Rage debrillator screen
Fortunately I've got nanites in my system that can heal minor ailments like gaping stab wounds and even bring me back from the brink with a little defibrillator minigame! Hit the button when the two diamonds reach the center to shock your guy back to life, while shocking everyone around him to death.

You'd imagine that a system like this would take away all the challenge in the game, but there is one slight catch to it: it takes bloody forever to charge up again after it's been used, during which Rageguy is entirely killable. It should save a bit of wear and tear on the quickload key at least.

So yeah I do have regenerating health thanks to my nanites, but then I've also got collectable health kits to let me skip all that 'hiding behind a waist-high wall' business if I so choose.

It's a little early to say perhaps, but the combat seems fine. It's definitely a pure first person shooter at heart and the combat feels like a direct evolution of id's style. I can believe this is by the same people who made Doom 3, and not just because I'm only fighting two or three people in each area at a time.

Some enemies charge at me, jumping and rolling around to avoid my aim, while others get their heads down behind the furniture, but they're all easy enough to see (in motion anyway), and they actually react to having bullets put into them, which always helps. It takes a few more bullets than I'd like to put them down though, even when I sneak up behind them and shoot them right in the head, but I'm sure that's something I'll learn to come to terms with in time.


LATER, BACK AT JOHN GOODMAN'S GARAGE.


Rage Halek Hagar shop screen
I would've loved to show more screens of me shooting at two or three enemies at a time in a ruined hotel, but they all came out looking terrible, so have a screenshot of this guy instead. Isn't that the smuggest bastard you've ever seen in a video game?

This is the shop screen. Here I sell trash for money, then spend money on gear! There's no need to worry about comparing weapon stats here, as it seems that every weapon is unique and useful to me in a different way. I'm not replacing my guns, I'm building up a tool set of weapons, just like in every other id first person shooter.


EVENTUALLY.


After completing my transaction I went back over to chat with John Goodman and after a fair amount of talking he finally sent me off to a nearby settlement to pick up medical supplies... on my quad bike!

15 seconds of extreme biking later and I was stuck listening to someone else at the other settlement drone on... before I was allowed through to listen to this character drone on. I'm all for storytelling and interesting characters, but these are just long unskippable mission briefings and all they're doing is testing my patience.

I get all the info in my journal afterwards so I really could just leave my computer, go out for a walk, come back when it's finished, and miss out on nothing.

Okay my next job is to... go to a place and shoot everyone. Yeah, I'm definitely starting to see a pattern emerging here.

By the way I can't visit any of this scenery, it's all just a pretty background. The actual level I get to play through is a straightforward linear series of connected rooms, just like any other typical first person shooter.


SOON.


Rage engineering screen
Alright I've killed another twenty something enemies in several exciting 3 on 1 shoot outs and now I I've returned to get my reward from the second settlement: the medical supplies I came for. But I also received a recipe for creating health kits with items I've scavenged or bought, which is handy. The game's got a proper crafting system here.


SOME TIME LATER.


Here's an example of something I've crafted: it's a lock grinder to open up bonus rooms along the way, filled with goodies like ammo, crafting materials and junk to sell.

Oh I started another job by the way. This time I'm here to get some vehicle parts from a gang, by shooting them all dead. Every quest in this is about shooting them all dead.

This looks like a car part to me. I'll just grab this and stick it in my infinite invisible backpack then, and perhaps lean over and grab those bottles while I'm here.

Oops. I totally did not mean to do that. Though on the plus side, that bloke burning to death in agony on the right has opened up the door for me! The levels often have barriers like this to block my progress until I've killed everyone or collected the item I need to get, but at least they're creative about it.

Also not once in a level have I ever been shouted at to go somewhere, ordered to shoot someone, or punished for hanging around and exploring. Much the opposite in fact; there's plenty of stuff around to see or grab. In fact I could really use an in-game map to help me get my bearings back after I've gone wandering. I've got my radar mini-map out in the wasteland, but it disappears when I'm indoors.

For my efforts I've received my very own buggy! But I have to take it right back inside the garage again to hear what my next job is.

Well it appears that I've drawn too much attention at this mission hub so for the safety of myself and others I'll have to move on to the town of Wellspring. Maybe there I'll find what I've been looking for all this time: a storyline.

Every since Rageguy woke up and climbed out of his Ark he's been doing nothing but short sidequests for people, with no apparent goals of his own and no ongoing plot around for him to jump into. Which just makes it all the more annoying when people take forever to tell me what they want me to do.


ONE SHORT TRIP DOWN A DIRT ROAD TO THE BOTTOM RIGHT CORNER OF THE OVERWORLD LATER.


Rage Wellspring street screenshot
Whoa... I'm sorry Fallout 3, but as far as post apocalyptic junk towns go, I think Wellspring has Megaton beat.

Fallout 3 (PC)
Well in visuals anyway, I'm sure Megaton has a better quality of, I dunno... Vault Boy bobbleheads.

Rage Vault Boy bobblehead screen
Nope! Wellspring wins again.

I'd comment on how crappy everything looks from up close, but I do have the graphics set to low here. I presume the game can look much prettier than this if you've got more horsepower under the hood. Though I honestly don't care much either way, as it's rare that I have reason to shove my face right up to anything like this.

First thing I need to do while I'm here is change out of my Ark outfit so that I'm not so conspicuous. It appears a group of antagonists known as the Authority are capturing everyone who pops up from an Ark, so I need to go incognito. Different outfits get me different bonuses and fortunately none of them come with a mushroom hat, though whatever I pick will be permanent. People in the wasteland are only allowed to change clothes once in their lives it seems.

But there are other things to do in this world to keep people occupied, such as this hologram dice game! I start with a little hologram guy surrounded by four evil holograms and each turn I get to roll four dice. Every dice that comes up with a crosshair on it gets me a kill and the surviving enemies take a step forward. Obviously bad things happen if they get all the way to the middle.

I won 20 futurebucks on it then decided to walk away. I need my cash for ammo, as enemies tend to be bullet sponges in this and searching their bodies only gets me so much back.

Oh here we go again, nothing's ever simple in this game. To take supplies back to the garage I just drove here from I'm going to need guns attached to my unarmed buggy... sorry, I mean Unarmed Buggy. But I can't just buy car components with money, nope, such a transaction is unthinkable in the wasteland!

No, I need racing credits. From winning races.

Yes, I have to win an actual race, with laps and everything. Well a time trial, same thing.

The FPS to racing ratio is heavily weighted in the FPS levels' favour, but I still have to complete a number of these racing levels to progress through the string of side quests the game has in place of a storyline. Which is fine for me, I like racing games, but I can see how it might annoy people.

I mean imagine if your survival horror was suddenly interrupted with a tennis match you had to win to continue the game, it'd be a bit annoying wouldn't it?

But now that I have guns on my buggy I get to go out and engage in a little automotive violence! Sally here at the bar offers money for every group of bandits I kill, so there's another way to make some cash on the side.

Rage Frenzy card game screen
And here's a way for me to lose money on the side! Rage Frenzy: the collectable card game of the wasteland, with cards for all the major personalities out here (if you can find them).

I won't bore you with the rules; it's a card game based around attack and health scores and I always lose at it because I'm absolutely terrible at these kinds of things. But it's a little extra content you don't often find in your typical first person shooter.


SEVERAL MISSIONS LATER.


This is all falling into a routine now. I complete a couple of FPS levels for people, then I get told to go upgrade my car or get a new car, which involves another side mission somewhere (in this case finding a sponsor) and then I have to win a race as well. Well I'm not having it anymore; I like my current buggy and I'm going off to find other jobs to do.

The game may be a first person shooter at its core, but the metaphorical RPG flavoured icing on top does present me with some genuine choices every now and again; even if it's just what order I play the levels in.


FAR NORTH ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE OVERWORLD.


I decided to give the racing a miss for now and drove up to visit crazy old Doctor Kvasir in his science cave. He warns me again about this Authority that's out to get me (who I still haven't seen yet) and that I'll need a better defibrillator unit to survive past this point. Two rechargeable extra lives? Sounds awesome to me, what do I have to do?

Oh, it turns out I have to travel to a hospital right in the heart of the Dead City, now home to unspeakable mutated evil. Well thank fuck for that, I finally get to visit a city! I thought I'd be stuck out here in the wasteland for the whole game. I just hope I don't have to go through a bloody subway station to get inside it like in Fallout 3. That game really knew how to suck all of the joy out of the apocalypse sometimes.

I'm sure glad I went and bought some extra ammo for this thing last time I was in town. Everyone's coming out to play now that I'm up near the Dead City at the north end of the overworld. I don't get much cash for a kill it seems, but man it's worth it just to see the explosions. This is so much more fun than... uh, what car combat games have I played for the site? Hang on, give me a second...

It's so much more fun than Rogue Trip 2012 and 007 Racing!

Though I still keep instinctively opening up the menu to look for a map that isn't there. I'd sacrifice any number of dice and card minigames if it meant that id had the resources spare during development to implement a map screen.

Can't believe they're making me go through more bloody underground tunnels to get inside the city... have they learned nothing from history! Actually this tunnel's actually really short and completely inoffensive as sewers go, so I've got nothing to complain about.

Well, except for the loud stomping noise coming from outside, knocking dust down from the ceiling with every step. That's kind of... foreboding.

Oh hey there, you must be the bullet-sponge boss enemy that's been stomping all over my tunnels! I suppose I'd better strafe left and right while unloading all my ammo at you then, just like in every other boss fight in every other id game.

This guy is a mutant by the way and I've been fighting his smaller brothers occasionally along the way. They're a lot like regular enemies, except they dissolve into goo on death instead of leaving a body for me to loot. The inconsiderate bastards.


FURTHER INSIDE THE CITY LEVEL.


Look at that, this is what the enemies in this are like: they like to use their environment to throw off my aim. They don't just run at me, they'll perch in doorways, hang off the ceiling, duck across the floor etc.

And now I've ended up locked in a room with them jumping in through gaps until I've killed enough to get out. Like Doom 3 the game loves to catch me off guard by spawning new enemies, though it's never unfair about it; new threats generally spring out from in front of me.

Plus I picked up a secret weapon earlier...

Loosum Hagar standing with her google helmet and her windstick
The windstick! A three-bladed weapon so important to the game that they've used it as the loading icon. A stack of these things can be swapped into the item slot and then thrown during a fight to throw an enemy off balance, or straight cut their bloody head off. If I'm very lucky it'll even come back to me afterwards.

I've been using them as a finishing move, sending one over after a spray of machine gun fire to finalise the arrangements, and somehow this isn't getting old yet.


MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE CITY.


Oh very clever Rage, give me one giant boss enemy stomping around the city ruins so I think that it's the thing I heard in the tunnels, but then surprise: there's another one ten times as big out there and now he's throwing rooms at me.

Well he's covered in glowing weak points and I've just found a rocket launcher, so I let you imagine how the fight played out.

Okay the real boss is dead and I've collected my upgraded defibrillator, so now I can go get it installed and carry on looking for a storyline. What was I up to anyway? Oh right, looking for a sponsor so I could get into another car race so I can win a vehicle badass enough to travel past the gangs patrolling outside the Dead City... which I travelled past to get here.

Rage J.K. Stiles
They want this guy to be my sponsor? I don't want to be sponsored by a man with no pants on! Man, I knew this was going to end badly when I drove up to his front door and found it was inside the mouth of a giant metal clown face.

Alright, so now I have to survive a televised deathmatch against a horde of mutants to get this guy to sponsor me in a big race so that I can win a new car that's tough enough to... drive to a place I've already been to.

You want to know what's really dumb? It's only a delivery job! I have to become a television and grand prix superstar just to move some boxes a half mile up north!



MUCH MUCH MUCH LATER.


The same routine has been carrying on throughout the game. I do a few shooting missions, a race, a few more shooting missions, and then I move to another hub with a new set of jobs and some new side quests if I'm interested.

I haven't been cut off from the old areas though, the whole map is still available to me.

I promise you I didn't deliberately end up with $1234 here.

The closest I've come to the RPG-style elements having any influence on the combat are these weapon and armour upgrades I can get in the shops now. Things like a laser sight for my rifle, a shotgun magazine conversion, a recoil supressor for my AK, and lots and lots of alternate ammo types.

Maybe I want to fire rockets from my shotgun, or EMP rounds, or perhaps a mind control dart... if I've got the money or the crafting materials, I've got all kinds of options.

But anyway I could show the whole damn game off at this rate, as it appears that I'm having trouble convincing myself to turn it off, so I'll finish my screenshots with a picture of a boat. Why is there a boat in canyon? Who even knows. Can I ever go up there and walk around? Nope! Still, I think it looks amazing; like someone's taken a piece of concept art and photoshopped the HUD on top.


I think it's fitting that my post just kind of ends after dragging on too long and without much closure to anything, as that's exactly how Rage plays out. It's like a game built entirely from side quests, with the developers deciding to cap the last of them off with a CGI cutscene and call it the main plot. The tale of the Resistance fighting against the oppressive Authority starts to take the focus in the second half in the game, becoming the closest thing the game has to an ongoing storyline, but it's hard to have a satisfying resolution when they've set nothing up to resolve.

If I may indulge in a metaphor that relies on you having detailed knowledge of an old sci-fi movie from the 70s, the game is kind of like Star Wars... except without Darth Vader, Peter Cushing, Star Destroyers, the Death Star, Uncle Owen, Aunt Beru, Han Solo, or the droids, and our hero Luke Skywalker spends the first three quarters of the film doing various unconnected jobs for people so he can get a new speeder, go to Tosche Station, and pick up some power converters. Not because he wants to mind you, he's just asked to get hold of them at some point in a long one sided conversation that he's not paying attention to. Also there's pod racing in there too.

The only reason that this underwhelming story even matters though, is because the game forces you to pay attention to it. You can't skip dialogue at all, not even the bloody shopkeeper dialogue you get every time you arrive at a shop, and the only possible responses to these monologues is 'accept' or 'decline'. A good game lets players skip though all the expensive CGI and voice acting, because a good game is written by people confident that if they've done their jobs right players won't WANT to.

But anyway, enough about the story already, what about the gameplay? Well for the most part it's a straightforward first person shooter descended from Quake II and Doom 3, with an old school approach to how many weapons you can carry at once (ie. all of them) and a new school approach to regenerating health. The guns are fun to shoot and the enemies are fun to shoot with them, plus there's other stuff to throw at them while you're doing it! Once I got my head around the fact that I would have to put several rounds into an enemy to put them down I found myself embracing all the ways I could do that and enjoying the hell out of the game for what it is.

    


Hey look I gave another high grade to a first person shooter, you think I might be a little biased towards the genre there perhaps? You can discuss this controversy, the game, my site and many other interesting and relevant things in the comments below!

4 comments:

  1. The real rage comes out when you beat the game as I heard from my brother that is was disappointing. Or maybe the word abrupt ending fits best.-DDay

    ReplyDelete
  2. The last word! FIX IT!
    Please?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, I can do that. But only because you asked nicely.

      Delete
  3. Great review, screenshots and many aspects of this game (like the giant mutant,etc) remind me a lot of Fallout 3 and New Vegas (also this game was published by Bethesda!)

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