Do you realize it has been since 2004 since id Software has released a game? Doom 3 was handled by the folks at id, but Quake IV and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars was handled by Raven and Splash Damage, respectively. Doom 3 was very well received by the press and public alike. The reviews (including our own) cited fantastic graphic fidelity, but the overabundance of “monster closets” (where monsters appear behind you in areas that you’ve cleared) and a little bit of a lacking story. Doom 3 was built on the 4th iteration of the in-house created engines from id Software. Fast forward to May of 2007 and we get our first sneak peek at idTech 5 running a game that they eventually decided to call “Rage”. Like every id-powered game before it, John Carmack and crew have once again raised the bar for what it means when companies claim to have ‘developed their own engine’.
Rage kicks off with a reminder of a real-life event from 2004 when the asteroid 99942 Apophis passed dangerously close to the Earth, giving scientists a scare and spawning several asteroid-extinction movies that year. In 2024, the scientific community assign Apophis a rating of 7 (and eventually 10), meaning that there is a large chance that it’ll impact the Earth within a year causing an extinction level event. In that year, top scientists from all around the world work to create “Ark” silos that contain capsules with the best hopes for humanity. These Arks hold everything necessary to repopulate the world, ensuring its survival, meant to burrow back to the surface after a period of time. Those encased in the capsules were injected with Nanotrites – a new flavor of Nanites capable of bringing a human back from their deep freeze state. In the year 2029 the worst predicted disaster in history comes to pass as Apophis strikes the moon, skipping off the surface and then slamming it directly into the Earth. The planet is devastated as entire continents are cracked; their inhabitants killed instantly. Those who survived then had to contend with the equivalent of Nuclear Winter as the Earth plunges into a dust-filled darkness that kills off over 80% of all life. Life as we know it has ended.
Our player wakes up in an Ark somewhere around the year 2035. What remains of civilization has begun to reestablish life, but the other inhabitants of your Ark have long since died in their pods. Stumbling into the world, the player is immediately thrust into a world less civilized than the one they left. Pockets of humans have established clans, restarting the world as it was when it formed. Unfortunately, rebuilding the world won’t be as simple as they might think – the wastelands of Earth are filled with mutants and worse. Welcome to the world of Rage.
As usual, the inhabitants of the Wasteland are your greatest enemy. There are 8 primary factions of scumbag roaming the world, and they all have something in common – they hate Ark survivors. Since you represent the ‘old world’ and they are trying to establish a new world through violence and fear, they will be gunning for you at every turn. At its heart, Rage is a first person shooter – not a huge stretch for the id Software, one of the pioneers of the modern shooter genre. What is a change is that there is also a heavy racing component involved as well. Just like other dystopian movies and books like Mad Max and Alas, Babylon, the world has fallen into a fairly destroyed state after an extinction-level event. Without highway infrastructure, the world is filled with bandits riding makeshift dune buggies. It is only a matter of time for you to join them in the dust-filled mountains, fight, race, and in many cases, destroy them. If you’ve played racers like the MotorStorm series and the DiRT series, you’ll know what to expect in terms of experience, but there is so much more going on with Rage than that.
The game starts off with a brief run on foot before you earn your first vehicle – an ATV. Before too long you’ll have your own beater to fix up and race, but it is when you can start putting weapons on hardpoints that things start to heat up. Races are split into four categories – solo time trials, races with no weapons, weapons that require guns, and guns that require rockets. A first place victory nets you 15 points that you can turn in for parts like armor, upgraded nitro boosters, spiked tires, performance suspensions, a push-bumper, new paintjobs, and far more. Second place gets you 10 points and third place gets you 5, but third place is shameful and second place is just another way of saying first loser. First Person Shooter purists take note – the racing section is all but optional (there are a few story-based required racing missions), but you will be using your vehicle to get to and from your objectives.
The races themselves are a big highlight of Rage. It’s like a post-apocalyptic Mario Kart, featuring powerups like shields, mines, armor restore, boost restore, homing rockets, jumps, hairpin turns, and more. The beautiful part is that the AI does not seem to cheat in any way. If you are absolutely crushing them in speed and track lines, then they will just lose by a larger margin – there is no EA slingshot catch-up logic going on here. This ensures that the race outcomes are determined by player skill, not AI cheating. The upgrades you earn from racing are carried with you as you venture out into the wasteland, but racing isn’t the only way you can earn upgrade points. An early mission gives you a perpetual quest to rid the area of bandits, and each kill nets you a small number of points.
Episode I: Knee-Deep in the Dead – The first level of the first Doom game.
Obviously id pioneered the first person shooter genre, but there have been a lot of companies like Bungie, Gearbox, Bethesda, Raven, Epic, and others that have perfected it. It has been 7 years since the last release from id, and the shooter genre has moved on. Alt fires, dual wielding, slow motion, and cover-based mechanics are all fairly standard in shooters now, and nobody has really brought anything new to the table in quite some time. Rage is trying to differentiate itself in the shooter genre is two big ways – ammunition and crafting. Adding a small dash of RPG elements, you’ll collect all sorts of items in the wasteland, and many of them can be used as crafting components. Vendors and NPCs can provide you with schematics that turns otherwise useless junk into bandages, lockgrinders, RC Car Bombs, Sentry Bots, Sentry Turrets, and my new favorite weapon – the Wingstick.
The Wingstick is a throwback to the 80’s, looking like a triple-bladed Krull weapon. It unleashes bladed death on your enemies, taking off limbs, impaling them in the chest or head, or removing their heads outright. In many shooters you’ll find yourself discarding the early weapons except in the most dire of situations. In Rage, you’ll get the Wingstick within the first few moments of the game, and you’ll use it (with a smile!) for the rest of the game.
Ammunition is a big key in Rage. You’ll get the usual host of weapons – pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, crossbows, and more exotic items, but it what you put in them that makes the difference. Taking the pistol as an example, you can sling a large amount of lead, but packing Fatboys or Fat Mammas will take down even the heartiest of enemies. Shotguns can move from shells to Pop Rockets (mini hand grenades inside!), the crossbow can fire mind control bolts, the assault rifle can sport some electrified rounds to take down armored enemies. Each weapon has up to four ammunition types that can be switched on the fly. You’ll also pick up modifications for your weapons including lasers, optics, auto-loaders, and more to give you an edge.
Death is pretty common in shooters, and most of the time (and moreso on console games) you’ll simply pop back to the latest checkpoint. Rage uses a checkpoint system, but you’ll be responsible for the ‘save once, safe often’ mantra. Like PC titles, you’ll save when you enter towns or other locations, but otherwise, saving is entirely up to you. If you die, you’ll get to see another shooter change id is bringing to the table – the self-defibrillator. While you contemplate how you could have approached the situation differently you’ll be presented with the resurrection interface. In this little minigame you’ll have to select two directions with the thumbsticks simultaneously, then again and again until you have a full charge. You’ll have to again use your timing to hit your triggers when the pulses land in the right spot, determining just how much health you’ll have when you stand up. Your defibrillator has some reach, electrifying anyone in the immediate vicinity. The unit has a long recharge time, and even if you get the upgrade that gives you multiple charges, you are never exactly ‘safe’. Once again – save once, save often.
“Doom only cost id Software about $700k to produce in 1993.” – John Romero
There is a reason why it has taken 7 years for Rage to surface (and I’m guessing just a little bit more than 700k) – it is one of the most beautiful looking games I’ve seen on a home console. Maintaining a healthy balance between good art direction and hyper-realism, the id Tech 5 engine is raising the bar. The environments are very well done, with very high resolution textures, an absolutely rock-solid framerate, and incredible detail. There are a few items where you can see the id folks making cuts to fit it onto the console (low-resolution fire cans, fire looks rather flat up close, etc.) but to be truthful I’m really struggling sitting here trying to find something to nitpick graphically. While I know that the folks at id are thinking about releasing an ultra-high resolution upgrade patch for the PC version (the rumor I’ve heard is 125GB of art work!), this Xbox 360 version takes up three DVDs already (a 22GB recommended install), the game is absolutely gorgeous as is.
The devil is in the details, and Rage has plenty. From the opening moments you’ll spot a Space Marine bobblehead on the dash, you’ll pick up some Quayola Quayons (64 shades of brown, and complete with Quake sound when you pick it up), Pinkies (Twinkie knock-offs), a Vault Boy bobblehead, and much, much more scattered throughout.
In the wasteland, the almighty dollar still rules, and there are several ways to earn cash. There is a job board where you can pick up jobs like sniper support for caravans, fetch quests, and the like. Talking to various NPCs around towns will uncover other errands, and you can always do deliveries for Stanley Express for cash. The Stanley Express runs are multi-checkpoint races that will test your driving skills, but the cash spends well.
There is another way to make money – televised violence. Mutant Bash TV is a show that you can participate in that pits you against an ever-increasing horde of mutants for cash prizes. If this sounds like a first person shooter version of Smash TV, you’ll be exactly right. Big Money, Big Prizes…I LIKE IT!
If there is anything that’ll survive the apocalypse, it’ll be cockroaches and gambling. There are a handful of options for the latter, including a dice rolling game (shoot four mutants by rolling targets instead of skulls and kill them all in four rolls), a knife-dexterity game (stab in between your fingers, not into them!), and a card game that reminds me very much of Magic the Gathering. The skull game is 100% luck so I skipped it for the most part. The knife game is 100% broken, or so counterintuitive in execution that I stabbed my fingers 100% of the time in the 15 or so attempts I made, so that’s a no go. It’s the card game that snared me.
As you trek through the wasteland you’ll find individual cards to use for gambling. The gameplay is similar in layout for almost any popular card battle games including Magic: The Gathering, Bakugan, etc. In Rage, cards have have health values, an attack value. and special properties like +2 damage against mutants. Certain cards can only attack the card above them, while others can attack any card on the field. Items like grenades damage all enemy cards, while vehicle cards protect your cards. There are three difficulty levels (with corresponding cash amounts at risk), letting players go from easy to hard as their skills (and decks) improve. You’ll get a brief tutorial before you play, but by the second or third round you’ll have the hang of it. I wish more games would invest in such a macro-reaching game mechanic. It’s fun hunting for the cards, and it is even more fun to use them.
There is one area that kind surprises me – there is no doubt that this is a AAA title, and there was certainly enough time and money to get a variety of voices in the game, but there is a shocking amount of repetition among the enemy bandit voice work. John Goodman joins the cast as the first character you’ll meet in the game, and there are a smattering of other voice actors that you’ll immediately recognize from other games and movies, but I won’t spoil that for you. Somehow the enemies in the game just didn’t get the same love. Perhaps it is a space limitation, perhaps that level of audio fidelity wasn’t a priority, but it is something you’ll immediately notice. There are 8 clans plus the Authority, and 8 distinct voices as well as the augmented Authority voices. Granted, they are all very well done voices, but they do tend to repeat.
“Please don’t leave, there’s more demons to toast!” – Doom quit message
There are two multiplayer modes shipping with Rage, and shockingly neither of them is traditional deathmatch, capture the flag, or any variant therein. The two modes are Road RAGE and Legends of the Wasteland. Road RAGE is a four player arena race that allows players to scrap against one another. Each kill nets you points from your opponent’s pool, and each death hands over your points – the last person standing wins. Winning also nets you experience points that apply towards new cards, weapons, chassis, and other goodies to change things up in the arena. The modes are split into four types – Chain Rally, Triad Rally, Meteor Rally, and Carnage. In Chain Rally, players race to hit checkpoints, chaining them together to build bonus points. Triad Rally has players trying to capture three consecutive points to score – think of it like track with buggies. Meteor Rally continues the sports analogy trend – it’s essentially football with buggies. Collecting meteors and then taking them to the rally point nets you points. Carnage is absolutely mayhem as it is a free-for-all deathmatch in vehicles.
Legends of the Wasteland is a more fleshed out cooperative initiative. As you play in the wasteland you’ll run across stories and legends listening to the locals. Completely separate from the single player game, these games give you a chance to see what was happening offscreen while you were off on your mission, or live out some of those legends for yourself. These can be played with other couch-Commandos split-screen or over Xbox Live.
There was a moment that made me tilt my head fairly quickly in the campaign mode – DLC. Just before you reach your first main objective you’ll spot a sewer tunnel that is capped with a steward warning you of the horrors within. I’d tell you what’s in there but upon clicking on it I get a “buy the DLC” message. It was a little odd to see before I got to the first objective – I suspected that they’d hide it or unlock an area, but it is just hanging out there taunting me. The good news is that the game is very expansive, taking more than 15 hours to complete – you’ll get your money’s worth and then some.
“It’s done when it’s done.” – John Carmack
After plenty of years in development, Carmack and crew have finally released Rage. You’ll see other reviews that will compare this to Borderlands, but take that as a compliment. While Borderlands managed to beat Rage to the punch, Rage delivers on all fronts. Graphically there is nothing on the console that compares, and in terms of the complete package, it delivers in every way. I’ve always joked “id is releasing a new game? I can’t wait to see what Raven will do with it…” but Rage has me completely hooked. Carmack once said “It’s nice to have a game that sells a million copies.” – he should get ready to sell far more than a million; Rage is just that damned good.