Sunday, October 9, 2011

RAGE starts off great, but ends weak


Developed by: iD Software
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Available: NOW
Available on: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Rating: M (for Mature)
Price: $59.99

RAGE and I have some history. I was impressed with the 3 hours I spent on the polished build at QuakeCon. The visuals were dazzling, the gameplay impressive. From what I saw, I was convinced the game would be a strong contender for GOTY. However, after getting the retail version, playing it, my impression of the build vs. the retail version fell a few notches.

Developed by iD Software and published by Bethesda Softworks, RAGE is a futuristic shooter that puts gamers into the boots of an Ark survivor. You know the story – an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. World leaders have decided to save the best and brightest via arcs – small devices that will keep the select few on ice for several years, underground, until Earth is livable again. The dramatic intro sequence is revealing – you are injected with nanotrites – small digital programs mixed with your blood to give you supernatural healing abilities. They will help keep you in stasis while the world above you goes to hell. However, something goes horribly wrong – and you wake up in your arc as the sole survivor. You emerge from the Ark to witness a wasteland reminiscent of the Mad Max movies. Immediately, you’ll think one of three things – 1. This reminds me of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. 2. This reminds me of Borderlands. 3. This reminds me of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. All of those thoughts would be correct.

The visuals won’t disappoint you. The sky is photo realistic, complete with birds flying off in the distance. The environments will cause your mouth to drop.

As you journey outside of your arc, you are immediately attacked by bandits. You have no weapons and will be killed for sure. However, a local, Dan Hagar, is there to save the day. With a couple well-place shots from his sniper rifle, the bandits have shiny new airways in their skulls.

The rest of the game is a mix of ‘fetch-this-if-you-want-my-help-fool,’ or ‘There are mutants in the wells’ or ‘You have to drive this to _______ (fill in the blank) but need to race, snag certificates and upgrade your car first’ missions. The repetition of the missions can really make you pull your hair out at times. As fun as the 3 hours I played, I didn’t expect that the rest of the game would shift from ‘I just own3d those bandits and the town loves me’ to ‘The Authority is looking for you, so you need to leave town.’ What the heezy? Am I now Bruce Banner now or a member of the A-Team? So, after coming to a new town, winning the Hearts and Minds of the people, I am booted like a jilted lover when I am told “It’s 6 a.m. Get out.” It’s the classic ‘I love you until you are of no use to me’ syndrome. You have some freedom to complete missions at your own pace. Heck, you can even finish missions out of order – but even as you are getting praised by officials in town, and promised by leaders that no one is going to run you off, you finish missions and start seeing Authority personnel in your happy space. You soon realize you are just a pawn after all. You aren’t a hero – you are just a tool.

The game starts off smartly. You are convinced this is not just another shooter – it’s iD for Pete’s sake! The same iD, known for DOOM and Quake and has been quiet for the past six years, is back with a vengeance. The game mixes shooting, lite RPG elements and driving in one big package (It’s 3 DVDs on the Xbox 360, 1 Blu Ray on the PS3). Install on the 360? 22gb.

You won’t get bored from the amount of action you face during your missions. However, the enemies can become predictable at times. The buggy bandits will attack you when you reach a certain point at your missions. The Molotov-hurling bandits will duck but return to the same spot. On the lower difficulties, the enemies run. If you opt for the harder levels, it’s an entirely different ballgame.

You'll do a lot of driving.
You'll do a lot of driving.

The gameplay is good, though at times, the constant framerate of 60fps was overwhelmed and advancing mutants slowed to a stuttering crawl on a few occasions. There is no leveling up – you earn schematics to build weapons and upgraded weapons from completing missions. You can build turrets, these spiderlike turrets that walk with you – and even advance – and take on enemies. These puppies work great against mutants. You can also build special ammo – like a Poprocket , this shotgun shell that doubles as a mini explosive that can really get the party started. There’s even this wicked R/C car that packs C-4 and a powerful punch from afar. You can even pick it back up when you are done with it, in case you didn’t detonate it.

The turrets are described “like having an extra man on the field!” Wait – did I read that right? Didn’t I hear someone yell that before in a video game? Oh yeah … in Borderlands. And that’s not the only jack I noticed. As cool as RAGE is, it has boosted so parts of other games, I am shocked they haven’t been hit with infringement lawsuits.

The audio is good. The dialogue is legit – the score is amazing. The game thrives off of the music score. When you hear the music change, you already know what to expect. You’ll soon see an enemy coming, so get ready to blast that clown.

Multiplayer is meh. There is a limited MP mode where you do vehicle combat racing, as well as this “Legends of Wasteland” co-op mode. It’s nine side missions in addition to the SP campaign. If you are looking for a true multiplayer deathmatch kinda stuff, keep looking.

The lack of a true multiplayer is really a major disappointment. Yes, the single player is good, though the end really left me hanging. According to other reviews, I am not alone. As soon as the end happened, my mouth dropped. No final boss, so many unanswered questions. I was lead to believe that the arks were sabotaged. What happened to the mutants? Bandits? The Authority? The people who you helped? It would have been nice to go back and finish a few side missions. However, the end came so suddenly and quickly, I didn’t realize it was over until I saw the credits rolling. I just shook my head. I smell a sequel.

As much as I enjoyed the game, I walked away feeling the game wasn’t really over. I walked away feeling it was incomplete, a game that had so much promised, but left a weird taste in my mouth. I guess the 3 hours I spent with the game, spent discussing it with an environmental designer led me to believe the game was going to finish as strong as it started.

The verdict: 8 (out of 10) As much as I wanted to give this game an 8.5 or even 9, I really feel like iD held back on RAGE. It’s like buying a Ferrari and driving it through school zones all the time. You don’t buy a Ferrari to drive 25 mph! You buy a Ferrari to drive 3x the speed limit! The levels are massive – the visuals are stunning, and the gameplay – stutters aside – are solid. But the lack of a true multiplayer – a bad move for any kind of shooter – and the abrupt ending – really soured the high expectations I had for the game. Sure, I probably expected more than was delivered, but at its core, it’s still a good shooter. However, most will want a multiplayer experience that won’t deliver the goods. Instead of buying this game and become filled with RAGE, ask yourself if you can live without multiplayer and a co-op mode that’s cool, but not as awesome as a full-fledged multiplayer mode.

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