(Xbox 360 Review) Rage

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: First-Person Shooter / Racing
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 8 = Excellent

The Arks were man’s best hope for a future. With the Apophis asteroid set to make impact in 2029, the world’s governments initiated the Eden Project. All around the globe, the leading soldiers, scientists, and thinkers were placed into Arks, life-supporting underground shelters housing tubes to safekeep the cryogenically frozen selectees. After enough time had passed, the survivors were to reawaken and begin the task of re-inhabiting the planet and rebuilding civilization. Roughly a century after being put under, you awake as the sole survivor of your Ark. And from your slumber, you discover a ravaged world dotted by settlements filled with the remnants of humanity who have eked out a living in Apophis’ aftermath.

While two major towns have emerged during your century-plus in hibernation, Wellspring and Subway Town, there’s also another, more ominous city set in a barred-off section in the north. The segregated area is run by the Authority, a high-tech, militaristic faction that seeks out all Ark survivors. Not only are Ark survivors keepers of forgotten knowledge, but they are also enhanced in many ways, one being a life-saving internal defibrillator, which makes them valuable commodities. Despite the initial threats and words of warning from townsfolk, most of the people living in the cities and surrounded settlements are quite welcoming to your character. This is primarily because the Authority and their curb-stomping ways have turned everyone against them, leaving you to wander about and explore this new world without fear of being handed over.

Not everyone is friendly, though. Just as decent folk have banded together to help one another and rekindle the spark of civilization, the waste’s outlaws have also joined together to form roving gangs. Instead of pillaging the nearby towns, they harass and ambush travelers from their carved-out territories, waylaying those making their way from one settlement to the next. Also awaiting out in the wilds are half-crazed cannibals and frenzied mutants. Fortunately, you’re pretty handy with firearms.

Unlike Rage‘s post-apocalyptic contemporaries Fallout 3 and Borderlands, id’s pseudo-open-world offering is more of an adventure than a role-playing game. There are no levels to gain, points to allocate, factions to ping-pong between, or classes to choose from. There are, however, role-playing trappings that are used to augment the survival aspects of living in such dangerous times. Engineering takes the place of crafting, so recipes become schematics and ingredients become parts; as such, there are items to build and objects to scavenge. There is also a loose take on the class structure, which is now based around the type of armor worn. As there are no classes proper, every class can engineer items, attain additional armor, and use all of the weapons. It’s the perks that vary, with the Fabricator providing a boost to created items and weapons, the Roughneck offering additional protection, and the Wastelander receiving a five percent discount on goods. The Anarchy Edition, which consists of the game’s initial publishing run, also includes the Crimson Elite, a special all-in-one outfit that takes a bit of the best from the other three. It’s a one-time-only choice, and while it doesn’t affect the game too greatly, it does offer a nice boost to the opening; myself, I went with the Fabricator (can’t beat those weapon upgrades!)

As stated, any weapon can be used regardless of the outfit chosen. The world’s productive capabilities being what they are, which are surprisingly decent given the circumstances, most weapons are the traditional sort: assault rifle, combat shotgun, pistol, crossbow, grenades, and wingsticks. Wingsticks are similar to the boomerang from Mad Max but with a third prong and a targeting sensor. The Authority has some advanced weapons—a machine gun, EMP grenades, and a pulse cannon—that become available later in the game. Then there are the more exotic, schematic-based weapons that need to be created, which include an advanced wingstick, mind-control bolts for the crossbow, turrets, a spider-like sentry bot, and a remote-control car strapped with explosives. Needless to say, you’ll want to get some schematics as soon as possible, because taking out hordes of enemies with a turret covering the flank while you make their struggling comrade stumble amongst them before exploding is really when the game shines.

Some of the weapons do lack a kick against certain enemies, though, which can be somewhat disappointing. However, my enjoyment increased exponentially when I realized that the acrobatic mutants—whose tendency to flip and run alongside walls make them difficult to hit, and can be surprisingly unnerving—are best handled with a wingstick to the face and shotgun blast to the gut. But the encounters don’t always play out in the same way—and not in the way that you might be thinking. Sometimes, enemies will spin around as their body gets rattled, and then limp or crawl out of the way while holding the wounded area. Other times, they will simply run into and through the hail of gunfire as if they were being hit by styrofoam pellets. And these aren’t enemies of drastically different strengths or with significantly more protection, though those enemies who are armored do take quite a beating. It seems as though some enemies can simply soak up bullets, with only splatters of blood serving as proof that they are being drilled with dozens of rounds of rifle fire. The wingsticks, though, always deliver; whether it’s the never-endingly satisfying ‘thud’ they make when impacting a skull, the second kill during a return flight, or the trick shot that ricochets behind a crate and takes out a hiding enemy, they should never be underestimated.

Fighting isn’t always done on foot. To get between settlements and cities, you must take to the wastes in one of several vehicles. New vehicle types become unlocked during the story, but any can be kitted out and taken into the wild. A quick-key feature, also used for the standard weapons, allows for vehicle weapons and items to be assigned to the face buttons so that mines can be dropped, armor repaired, missiles launched, and shields raised without issue. A few hovering beacons also offer rewards in the form of gear parts for those who can gain enough speed to destroy them in mid-air, while raining meteors initiate a timed race to gain as many as possible for later use. The rides are armed by purchasing ammo and deployable items with money, but they are augmented through the use of racing certificates. And to get racing certificates, you have to fight and you have to race—and sometimes both.

While the local suppliers will always reward dispatching roadway bandits with cash and certificates through the local barkeep, most of the certificates will be gained by winning at the races. There’s not much to do when people are confined to small areas, so to keep themselves occupied, they play games, watch Mutant Bash TV, and enjoy a day at the tracks. There are a variety of races: standard (non-combat), rocket combat (points based on kills), and rally (points on being the first to race over spawned beacons). Most of these have set vehicles, but the way the races are structured, along with the bandit rewards, it’s easy to upgrade the rides fast enough to keep up with and survive against the competition. I wasn’t fond of the racing at first, but I really enjoyed it by the end. The controls take some getting used to, but after some practice, a few upgrades, and the realization that the qualifier was absolutely necessary due to the unorthodox track design, it all clicked and become a welcome diversion. The rally type was my least favorite of the events, and unfortunately, it dominates the second of the two circuits. Fortunately, they are largely optional, especially the latter races, so skipping them wasn’t a problem.

A few races will unlock new rides, though, and those will be needed to make traveling to the quests as hassle free as possible. Throughout the inhabited areas, citizens will have tasks for you to fulfill of either a personal nature or to advance the cause of the Authority’s arch rivals, the Resistance, that will require traveling about. In a cool twist, some of the characters who aren’t marked with the interact icon will actually offer small jobs if clicked on, offering an incentive to hear what the locals have to say. But most of the larger quests involve zipping around the wastes, toppling a gang terrorizing a vital trade route, stealing tech from a hospital located in a downtown dead zone, and scavenging what’s left from remaining Arks. There has been some confusion as to the openness of the game, with quest screens offering a description and the choice to accept or decline the mission. While the recent trend of offering factions to favor and large optional quests make these seem to be entirely optional, most of them are not. What the quest template allows for is to decline the task for the moment, allowing you to go through a few rounds of Mutant Bash TV’s arenas for some cash or score some more certifications on the local circuit. While there aren’t many optional quests, those available tend to offer some cool loot, such as an upgrade to the explosive remote-control car, which makes them worth checking out. In a few instances, some also offer up otherwise unexplored locales.

In many ways, the locations and the character designs are often more interesting than the characters themselves. Despite featuring some of the most impressive facial and body animations I’ve ever seen, there is a robotic characteristic about the people you encounter. Oddly enough, they don’t start out that way. When first encountered, the people say a few words and await you to interact with them. The voice acting is solid all around, and seeing the characters move about and talk in their post-apocalyptic steampunk-esque garb is initially engaging. The problem comes with subsequent encounters when they say the exact same thing as before, over and over. Even if you take just two steps away from a vendor, going back to buy an item involves listening to the same sales pitch that was heard the very first time you encountered them and again a minute before. Having to listen to a pre-quest spiel before clicking on them to get quest details, which differ only slightly, adds a superfluous step to the entire process. The game actually builds up expectations for more meaningful engagement by having such lively designs and animations; the characters just need something interesting to say.

It’s not just fighting the Authority and hitting the tracks, though; there are other games popular among the locales. One of the simpler games features a hologram cowboy and mutants battling each other on a gameboard. You place a bet, roll the dice, and watch as the cowboy either shoots or passes as the mutants get one step closer. If all the mutants are shot before they reach the cowboy, you win; no, it’s not terribly involved, but it looks cool and was a nice way to blow a few bucks. The other distractions include a Simon Says-style  game where a guitar player bets that you can’t play the same tune back (tapping the face buttons in the proper order), and five-finger fillet, in which a dot moves along a curved line and you have to stab the knife down while the dot is in-between your fingers.

Lastly, there’s a popular collectible card game. A starter pack is purchased to build a deck, and then various special cards can be found tucked away throughout the world. When it comes time to challenge the local champion, the collected cards are used to create a point-based deck with which to battle them. Cards can be standard attackers with an attack rating and a health rating, a vehicle (must be attacked by its opposite card), an explosive (destroys itself by attacking all of the other in-play cards at once), and a buffer object (increased health, etc.), all of which are based on the world’s various characters and factions. The cards are pulled at random and there’s no real skill involved, other than keeping a close eye out for cards and trying to optimize the best possible outcome given the point limitation. Again, it’s a nice side extra that adds some to the game’s lore and provides a decent respite from the wastes.

When the Authority has been checked and all is well within the wastes, save for the remaining mutants and vengeful gangs milling about, Rage isn’t quite done with you just yet. The third disc of the three-disc set is all multiplayer. The game supports local split-screen and online co-op and versus play through Wasteland Legends and Road Rage. Wasteland Legends involves a series of co-op missions that represent the local’s tall tales, with a narrator describing something so-and-so’s friend did or swear they saw with their own eyes. These involve both replaying certain quests or entirely new ones, but now with the help of a friend and the pressure of a countdown. Some of the events involve going through the pilot episode of Mutant Bash TV, defusing bombs planted around Wellspring, and rampaging through the Gearhead gang’s hideout.

Road Rage is a series of four basic four-player car-combat events: Carnage, Chain Rally, Meteor Rally, and Triad Rally. The one event that is conspicuously missing is a simple race. The town circuits have combat and non-combat standard races, which I really enjoyed, but that’s a no-go for multiplayer. Carnage is a free-for-all, with the driver who kills the most coming in first; Chain Rally involves taking rally points in succession for an increased score modifier; Meteor Rally is a pick-up-and-drop event with meteor pieces collected and brought to capture zones; and Triad Rally is another rally point event, with victory going to the driver who can make it over three consecutive points. While the included events are nice, I still would’ve preferred a solid head-to-head around a course.

There is a bit of a trade off at play here. While I found Road Rage to be more stable in terms of latency, it also wears out its welcome faster. Despite there being a leveling system, with new vehicles being unlocked at certain levels and custom loadouts being available for each, the events are very similar and the tracks, while decent, are few. Wasteland Legends, on the other hand, while a lot of fun, was more prone to lag. I also ran into an invisible wall during one of the scenarios which kept me from progressing to the next area. The other player was understanding about my sudden paralysis, but the end result was us having to back out and lose our progress.

The invisible wall bug wasn’t common, but it is indicative of a game that is slightly rough around the edges. For as good as it looks, there are times when the textures give the world and the various objects within a muddy appearance. Viewing smaller objects up close tends to reveal a smear of pixels for magazine covers, and when turning or strafing quickly, details slowly form out of a mesh of earth tones. These aren’t serious problems, mind you, but they are surprising given that id’s releases tend to be rock solid.

Rage is an enjoyable adventure that features decent gunplay, surprisingly good driving mechanics, and an entertaining if underutilized world. The story leaves something to be desired, not to speak of the weak end area and finale, but for all the stiffness of the characters there is a great variety to the gameplay. Whether it’s playing five-finger fillet, going a few rounds at the circuit, battling through booby-trapped areas filled with mutants, picking a special plant for a man’s sick wife, or living out the land’s tall tales with a friend, there’s a good time to be had on the wastes of future Earth.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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