It’s no exaggeration to say that legendary Dallas-based developer id Software was instrumental in the evolution of the modern day videogame. Pioneering the first person shooter genre with such landmark PC titles as Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake back in the 1990s, id paved the way for the current multi-billion pound mainstream industry. No Doom: no Modern Warfare.
In recent years it has been living on past glories, occasionally knocking out tepid sequels to its milestone titles. So the announcement of an all-new franchise - its first in 15 years - featuring vehicles and roleplaying elements was greeted with similar trepidation to hearing that The Rolling Stones are back in the studio, and that they’ve always had a dance element to their music.
The world of gaming has moved on apace since monsters ran straight at you, you shot them in the face, picked up a health pack, found the key card, and moved on to the next level. In technical terms, id has certainly kept up however. Not only did it make brilliant games, it also made the cutting edge graphics engines that powered them. That continues to this day, with the Tech 5 engine creating an exceptionally crisp, believable, colourful world full of incredibly intricate detail.
Warriors Of The Wasteland
But we’re not here to swoon over a tech demo; fortunately there is a game involved as well. That game begins with you waking up in some kind of survival pod, which hasn’t really done its job given that all of your colleagues are dead. So far, so Planet Of The Apes, with the key difference that this particular wasteland is occupied by mutants, marauders and extras from Mad Max. The whole post-apocalyptic thing has been done to death recently by the likes of Fallout 3 and Borderlands, but the lengthy nature of game development is such that similar titles can be obliviously created concurrently.
Rage’s vision of a decimated future sees bands of survivors holed up in various settlements, including a pair of hub towns that form the basis of your adventures. It’s here that the RPG element comes in, with settlers abusing your good nature by sending you into the wilderness to perform jobs in return for money, rewards, or crucially, vehicles. These can then be customised with weapons, and used to traverse the badlands between jobs.
In accepting these quests - they’re not referred to as quests, don't worry - you never know what you’re going to get. A seemingly innocuous task can involve a two-hour battle through a ruined city, including the obligatory find-the-rocket-launcher-shoot-the-boss-in-his-vulnerable-area bit. It eventually dawns that the talkie sections are simply a way of disguising a largely linear FPS. That’s what id does best though, and the combat is tight, challenging, and intense, with emphasis placed on ammo selection as much as it is weaponry. There are also cunning side-weapons, including the talismanic wingstick, a deft flick of which will behead an enemy before returning to your palm, boomerang-style.
As well as buying things from shops, or finding stuff lying around on the floor, items can also be crafted from their composite ingredients. At the lower end of the spectrum you can knock together a bandage out of some old rags and a bit of antiseptic, or going more hi-tech you can fashion lock grinders or even a remote controlled bomb car.
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As for the full-sized vehicles, transport aside, they can be raced competitively in either combat or non-combat mode. In fact, the entire competitive multiplayer consists of online car combat, something of a surprise from the studio that invented Deathmatch.
Rage is a game of surprises all round, from the peculiar characters that occupy the wasteland, to the fact that a game from the people who made Doom involves collecting plants to make medicine. Some archaic concepts have been retained however, the most annoying of which is the need to constantly manually save, presumably a hangover from the PC days where you could tap Quicksave mid-battle. Admittedly there are people in the world with real problems, but having to continually go into the menu does detract from the immersion somewhat. A further PC trait is the insistence that the entire 22Gb be installed to the Xbox hard drive for optimum performance. We didn’t bother (life is too short, as is space) and had to suffer lengthy loading times as well as textures that took a while to pop in.
The fact that we are essentially complaining about admin suggests that there is little fundamentally wrong with the game, and this largely proves to be the case. That said, while the world looks glorious, it’s not exactly destructible, and a shotgun fired at point blank range fails to remove a plank of wood nailed across a doorway. It is of course down to game design, and experience tells us that they know what they’re doing. You'll sometimes have to use your mind to work out what to do next, as unlike modern (warfare) games there is no white dot telling you exactly where to go.
A sprawling epic (on three discs), Rage is something of a return to form for veterans id Software, combining classic gameplay in new and interesting ways. The gunplay is tight, the on-wheel sections are on a par with bespoke driving games, and the RPG elements give you at least an illusion of choice and exploration. Rage may not change the world like Doom did, but while it lasts it will ably rock your world.