You’ll soon notice it.
Keep on moving and it won’t even register, but stand still or cock your head and there it will be: the textures popping in as if a team of tiny set dressers are hurriedly unpacking the environment as you saunter through, desperately trying to keep pace. In a second objects will turn from a muddied smudges to something crisp and wonderful as the post-apocalyptic wasteland that you find yourself stuck in is brought into sharp relief.
Rage sets about elevating the dour and grey standard of worlds torn asunder. Fallout may have had a grandeur about the scope of its depiction but the level of fidelity that id have injected into their future Earth rarely fails to impress. From the decaying and mutant filled city to the tribal clans in their canyons that infest the wasteland, freedom is repeatedly granted to the art team to cut loose and pack the background with as much variety as a Blu-ray can hold.
Surfaces are covered with posters, graffiti, wear and abuse. Clan iconography and idols tower above pathways, and, rather than being there simply to ferry you between choke points, every room has a purpose. Nothing is left flat and unloved with every texture pop is worth it for the life that’s injected into this barren world. There’s no cut-and-paste here, every aspect feels unique and lived in.
Furthermore, walk through any of the hideouts or communities and whilst your route is found to be a comparatively linear corridor shooter, no expense is spared in giving the illusion that you are investigating a veritable warren. Beyond pipework, halls and walkways can be glimpsed; a minor rock fall may be an unfortunate obstacle from allowing you access to a curious path; and always there are alcoves and short passage ways spanning off from the main path inviting you to see what titbits they hide.
In the wasted future, however, stand staring at the beauty of a particularly lovely rusted pipe tied with exquisitely rendered rags for too long and it’s common knowledge that a deranged bandit is more than likely going to try to kill you, for no other reason than that is what happens in the wasted future. Upholding that tradition, Rage barely even tries to disguise this pretence and scraps together a hackneyed plot to place a gun in your hand and a bandit in your ironsights.
The forced nature and speed at which you transition from awakening from a pre-Apocalypse stasis pod to being sent out on your first bandit hunt is extremely jarring. The unquestioning nature in which your mute protagonist picks up arms is quite at odds with the grander story that unfolds. Dubious origins firmly ignored, you move from settlement to settlement building up a reputation as a saviour, solving each one’s problems (i.e. bandits), before setting your sights on the oppressive ruling regime, The Authority.
Though the progression is similar in structure to that found in GTA, each movement allows for a welcome variety to be injected through a change of colourful characters, bandit clans and new upgrades to your various weapons. All add extra incentive to advance but the meat of your experience is when you’ve left town and start shooting.
id’s pedigree is unquestionable and although I had initial doubts about whether their classical shooter style would fit in landscape, they have without doubt moved with the trends and evolved. The strength of the first-person experience is impressive, and made so by a range of aspects working together in harmony. Solid level design and shrewd AI combine with a multitude of satisfying weaponry, ammunition and gadgets to produce an experience fitting of the impressive graphical sheen.
The guns, your main companion, are made up of pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper and crossbow, and although unspectacular to name each plays their own role. So much so, in fact, that even very late in the campaign I would ensure each was suitably stocked ammo before proceeding. In the case of the sniper and shotgun this was for necessity of play-style, whilst the alternate ammunition for the others proved invaluable in certain tricky situations. Be it mind-controlling darts, explosive shells or armour piercing rounds, the spread of abilities meant a constant rotation of firearms.
Need for such variety of munitions is due to both the enemies and battlegrounds encountered. From your trainee bandit to an armoured and mini-gun-toting Authority commando, with a dash of mutant somewhere in the middle, each had their own slant on how best they thought to kill you. On-rushing mutant waves give way to the Authority’s high-tech dropships deploying reinforcements just when you think you’ve broken the back of their assault, each faction present their own set of tactical challenges in the midst of battle.
Enemies hug cover with a vengeance, never allowing you too much of a clean shot until they take a chance to have a pop in your direction. Don’t expect flanking or ingenious counter assaults; these AI provide a service whereby they don’t do anything stupid but similarly don’t show flashes of Deep Blue. They’re there to be shot and whilst run-and-gun is a definite but risky option to negate their cover, those who prefer a more cautious approach have more than just bullets at your disposal.
A wealth of gadgetry is available to those willing to invest in the schematics on sale from vendors. High explosive grenades, bombs lashed to RC cars and sentry bots resembling Clone War rejects are at your disposal if you’ve collected enough of the tat lying about the land. Drop down a couple of turrets and cobble together a robot and you’ve created yourself a mini-fortress, capable of fending off the strongest of attacks. Alternatively, why not use the local flora to mix up a brew capable of doubling damage and increasing your resistance to damage?
Greatest of all gadgets however is your resuscitator, capable – via a quick mini-game of rapidly pushing thumbsticks – of kick starting your heart and granting you a second chance. In a game where auto-saves are few and far between, this extra level of leniency is a well thought through addition.
Although all this paints a bleak picture, the life of a wastelander isn’t all about fighting for survival. There are plenty of side quests and distractions to tempt you off of the main campaign, most of which are happy to reward you with vehicle upgrades, schematics or just good old fashioned cold hard cash. Many will send you into the lairs of bandits and mutants alike, recycling the highly detailed environments to make sure they pay for their lavish construction. The reuse is never an issue, as it would have been a crime to step foot but once in some levels.
There’s a healthy racing component hidden within most settlements, too. Jump into a buggy and you’ll endulge in time trials and checkpoint races, more often than not armed with rockets to add spice to proceedings. The races prove a useful testing ground for when you take your ride out into the wasteland, which itself is teeming with rogue vehicles and marked jumps to distract you further. At times these external vehicular sections can feel a little flat, merely servicing a link between gunfights, but the races can prove engaging.
Side quests aside, the campaign clocks in at a sturdy dozen hours, with the option extras adding many, many more atop of that. Throughout that time the tale keeps moving you at a pace that means no one bandit clan or settlement will grow tiring, the only shame is that some characters are left behind. The enthusiastic and spirited animation that embody many of the townsfolk allows them to spring forth from the screen, full of character, but not so much as to feel cartoony. It’s a far cry from the dead eye stare of the past that NPCs would so often greet you with, with the facial motion alone worthy of note. Even in combat the character movement is not toned down, with the wounded throwing themselves down and around with more vim and vigour than anything since the original Goldeneye.
The innate care running throughout every aspect of Rage is what brings the package together. Not one area could be considered a let-down. From the sharpness and detail imbued in the world through to the quality of the core shooter experience, it’s hard to pick holes in id’s next-gen coming of age. Their ability to at one point create a high-tension, dark forage through a mutating city and then transport you to a high octane gameshow where you’re fighting for your life and still maintain such a high quality bar is testament to their years of experience in the field.