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I couldn't finish RAGE. I had high hopes for it even when it was a mere sparkle in John Carmack's eye. It was one of my first must-get titles of the autumn gaming season. I eagerly preloaded starting at midnight on its Tuesday debut (a good thing, too, since 7 hours later, it was only 52% installed...) I jumped in with gusto and relished the lack of drastic graphical problems that so plagued ATI users (I use nVidia). Everything was there that was promised - guns, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, quests, dune buggy drivin', crafting, more guns, mutants, and more.

And yet...

I'm going to do a lot of judging in the following paragraphs, so I think it's important to establish how I'm judging RAGE. RAGE isn't a shooter RPG, an action RPG, an adventuRPG, or any of the above. RAGE is a shooter that features RPG elements. It's difficult to find a proper term for the genre that RAGE wants to be a part of. Tycho of Penny Arcade wrote well on the idea of RPG elements emerging as standards in mainstream shooter gameplay, and the existence of games like Fallout, Borderlands, Mass Effect, and Deus Ex (you'd think I get paid for each time I plug that series) make it clear that RPGs and shooters have moved past the "cautious experimentation" phase, nor even are they mired in the "public hand-holding" phase. RPGs and shooters want to get married - they're just waiting for someone to take the bold first step to really do it. RAGE is not that first step. It skirts the edges of the "shooteRPG" world. It makes no pretensions or promises of skill trees, experience and levels, dialogue trees, choice or morality, or - perhaps most definitively - player evolution. It's not fair to point at RAGE and say "RAGE doesn't have these things, and so it is a poor game." If Metacritic is any indication, the world at large has not done that, and I'm not here to do that either.

So. Taking RAGE at face value, what is there to see?

Welcome to the world of tomorrow! Turn out your pockets!

RAGE takes place in the distant future, when Earth has been turned in a desolate wasteland by a meteor impact. Humanity has persevered, thanks to Vaults Arks, buried underground and housing cryo-stasis entombed humans who, at a pre-programmed date, would be released into the world to begin society anew. Needless to say, shit went down, and things didn't turn out as planned. You pop out of an Ark only to find that you're alone in the wastes, a stranger in a strange land, beseiged by bandits and mutants until (not 30 seconds after starting the game) John Goodman rolls up and saves your ass because I guess he's just that kind of a guy. He's willing to help a dude down on his luck. Thus begins a series of quests and missions throughout RAGE which feature you (never named, always silent) running from place to place. You deliver items, you invade strongholds, you kill people, and you get upgrades for your personal inventory - all at the behest of the people of the wasteland.

Here we hit upon my first major dilemma with RAGE - the incoherence of the presentation of the world around me. I can deal with the fact that I'm more like a Terminator than a silent protagonist. There is no player dialogue, or choice within dialogue trees, or even any trace of a personality beyond what the game tells you. And the game tells you a LOT. For a world that seems to state over and over again that "People won't like you because they don't know you" or "The wasteland is a dangerous place," the citizens of the future seem to be some of the friendliest dystopian people I've ever encountered in a game. Everyone in a settlement has something to say to you, and they're always helpful or accommodating, or looking for a favor from a "tough guy" like you, who can "handle himself in a fight." I put these in quotes because I only know this information about my character because people say it over and over and over again. Everyone is desperate to reinforce my image as a hardy survivor from the past (which, again, everyone seems to already know about) who is somehow tough enough to battle through the wasteland despite having been asleep for a hundred fucking years.

You look like you frequent dockside bars - I've got a job that's right up your alley!

I'm okay with the idea that people tell me to do something and then I go do it. But this - like so many other things - is a situation that comes up frequently in RAGE, where I'm told one piece of information, but the reality is something quite different.

Here's another example. RAGE, as I've said, is a shooter. As a game from id software, the one thing that it should really nail is the shooting segments of the game. And there's a lot done to make the experience a terrific one. The levels look incredible. The dungeons are well-designed, with lots of cover and vertical elements. There's traps and the occasional puzzle to break up the action. Enemies move and attack intelligently, with breathtakingly good animation and reactions. The voice over is spot-on, reacting to the player's actions in real time.

The shooting itself is garbage. Guns feel drastically low-power, requiring multiple bursts to take down even unarmored enemies. Headshots count for nothing, even on the easier difficulties, unless you're using a sniper rifle. The player's range of motion is narrowly limited, with lots of areas that look like you should be able to navigate past them or jump over them - only to find your dreaded nemesis, the invisible wall of collision. Enemies, meanwhile, can clamber over and around literally everything in the environment. They pose a menacing threat until you realize that a cheat has been unexpectedly left in the game past the development phase - wingsticks.

Here's a wingstick, love. Sell all the ammo you pick up and just use these.

Wingsticks are an invention of post apocalyptica - a three-bladed boomerang that you can get access to before you even venture out to your first dungeon. They are instant kills on nearly every single enemy in the entire game. They home in on their targets - even if you overshoot the target, or bounce it off of a wall through sheer clumsiness. They will return to the thrower if they don't hit a target - and sometimes, they'll return if you hit them with a killing blow anyway. You can hold 99 of these fuckers. They have infinite range - you can toss these things at enemy snipers and splatter grey matter across the wall. Did I mention they home in on their targets? They're inexpensive as hell, and you can buy them at any town. Did you somehow run out? Don't worry - you can craft more on the go, pausing the combat around you while you do it! The only things that put up any kind of resistance to wingsticks are boss monsters, and the occasional enemy who's smart enough to wear a damn helmet. (Mind you, if an enemy is wearing a helmet, that only means that you have to throw - gasp - MORE THAN ONE wingstick at him. Even this setback is far more efficient than using a gun, which is my chief concern.)

Wingsticks are a fun tool. What kills me - what absolutely slays me - is that you get them within 10 minutes of watching the opening cinematic, and they're the best weapon in the entire game. To make sure that I wasn't fooling myself, I played an entire dungeon on Nightmare difficulty (the hardest available to me on a fresh playthrough.) If you read my posts with any regularity, you should know that I don't consider myself to have leet skillz of any kind. I'm not a great gamer. But my wingsticks saw me through nearly the entire dungeon. The only times that I had to make any change to my strategy in any way was when miniboss or boss monsters made appearances.


Like I mentioned before, the game clearly had some thought given to variety and how to keep dungeons from all feeling the same, despite all having similar flotsam-of-the-future construction. I think that was achieved well. I especially liked how each of the bandit gangs had a unique feel to them. Some felt like Isaac Clarke miner-suit mad scientists in a flaming oil refinery. Others were hazmat-suit toy tinkerers. Still others with British ultraviolence mechanics. While I appreciate the dedication to the aesthetics of what's going on around me, the tragic truth is that the same level of care and consideration was given to the core mechanics of the title.

The driving is enjoyable, except for the part where a single race features the most non-sensical Blue Shell type power up you've ever seen.

The list of small things that RAGE does outstandingly well goes on and on. Facial animations on NPCs look great. There's some top-notch voice actors at work here. There's a lot of side quests that the player can do - and the game will often intelligently warp you straight to the mission site so that you can skip the bullshit travel sequence en route to some easy quest rewards. There's minigames (a great collectible card game, especially!) and pleasant world ambiance. And driving! You can drive around the small box canyons, or race in the stops in the towns for fun and prizes! While not ground-breaking, I found the driving to be fun and responsive - but like so much else, it feels like a feature on the side, an RPG element that's tacked on for the sake of feeling different. And while all of these RPG elements are well and good, the lack of the big core RPG pillars - a solid story, an engaging connection to the player avatar, and legitimate growth and development - means that the unengaging combat falls really far flat. If they weren't planning on making a solid RPG, then they should've made a good shooter. But RAGE feels like a shooter developed in a vacuum - bereft of any of the advancements made in shooting gameplay for the past 10 years.

An unfun game can be saved by an uplifting narrative. RAGE has neither a story that's worth anyone's time, nor gameplay that's anything to write home about. Fantastic visuals and charming peripheral mechanics try their utmost to distract from the game's flawed core precepts, but ultimately, they couldn't keep me engaged enough to muster the energy to complete the last two missions of the game. I simply didn't care about the world of the future, or the people who lived in it, and I didn't find the experience entertaining enough on its own to soldier forth to fight on their behalf. I look forward to the shooter RPGs of the future, but I can't truthfully say that RAGE feels like a step forward.

Not a good RPG; not a good shooter.

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John Carmack on :

*Wow, harsh dude... harsh...
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