Some thoughts on Rage

Well, I finished Rage last night. I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit, mostly because, at heart, it's a very solid shooter. A number of missions in the very middle of the game, especially those starting from Wellspring, offer an excellent mix of varied environments, interesting enemies, and near-ideal shooter mechanics. Those really pulled me in. I was less thrilled by the game's beginning and ending, especially since the very ending felt rushed, like too many games, where they'd run out of time and budget to make the final battle as epic as those in the middle of the game. Since I had a lot of fun with Rage, and since it's nearly a genre convention these days for a game to end weakly, I can forgive that sin, although the sense of wasted potential is a little saddening.

As I told a friend the other night, I have two thoughts on wingsticks. First, they're a barrel of fun, with a very tangible sense of the ostensible physics involved and excellent animations to go along with them. Winging one of these puppies at a bad guy and watching him take damage is ridiculously satisfying—an instant FPS classic. Second, wingsticks are an obvious concession to the lack of precise control on console gamepads. They're too easy to aim and too powerful in terms of damage dealt, especially since they're so easily interspersed with weapons fire. Wingsticks thus drain much of the drama and challenge out of Rage. Never would have happened if this were a PC-first title. Took me a while to come around to that second line of thinking, but once I did, I couldn't shake that impression.

I said on the last podcast that I had to get over the fact Rage is not Borderlands, and I mostly was able to do so. Rage is smaller, more linear, and more of a pure shooter than Borderlands. Although it has a more limited number of weapons, there are actually much more varied options for creative killin' in Rage thanks to different ammo types and devious devices like the RC bomb cars and sentry bots. I've never gotten into the crazy alt-weapons options in games like BioShock because they just didn't suit me—seemed too contrived, slow, and clumsy compared to, you know, a gun. In Rage, I took special glee in dispatching bad guys with dynamite bolts and other such contrivances, even when they weren't the fastest, because the hilarious carnage was reward enough.

Still, the player limitations built into this game are sometimes frustrating just because they don't seem necessary. You can rarely go off of the intended path, even if doing so would only require stepping over a small brick. You might as well be trying to jump over a skyscraper, for all the good trying will do you. Then, in the final level, I came to what seemed like the obvious and only place to move forward in a small hallway, and it was blocked by a fairly large metal crate (imagine that). Immediately, I backtracked and searched every prior inch of the level looking for another way through. When I found nothing, I went back and considered blowing up the crate or finding some other option. Eventually, to my utter and bewildered shock, I was able to jump over this crate, something the entire rest of the game leading up to that point had meticulously taught me was impossible. Really strange.

Also, the wasteland is too prickly, dangerous, and barren to make freelance exploration rewarding. This game should have been a true open-world affair that encourages improvisation and discovery. The bones are there, but the flesh is not. I know it's not Borderlands, and I swear I'm OK with that, but I still wish Rage was the game it promised to be, the game it cries out to be. Here's hoping for more freedom in Rage 2.

Most of this talk sounds negative, but really, I'm mostly just wishing for more quality time spent in the world of Rage—and, heh, perhaps less spent on silly minigames like the knife thing. The silky-smooth id Software shooter mechanics are as good as ever, and there is a potent mix at work here. The game engine allows for unique textures to be painted on every object in the world, and the game's creative types have taken that ball and run with it, creating levels that are more detailed, varied, interesting, and realistic than anything we've seen before, in a way. Meanwhile, the visuals and action unfold at a constant march of 16 milliseconds per frame (60 FPS if you average it out, but the smoothness is immediate and consistent). Other games may run at high frame rates, but few look this good and move this smoothly all of the time. The fact that this is one of the handful of contemporary games to get multisampled edge antialiasing right, on almost every edge in every scene, also helps immensely. Taken together, these things add up to a full-motion animated experience that's more immersive than most games—and that is perfect for an action game like this one.

Screenshots don't capture the experience, and what they do capture is Rage's one great visual weakness: a frequent lack of texture detail once you get too close to most objects. That weakness is unfortunate, and I understand a patch is coming with a "detail texture" addition that should at least partially alleviate the problem. Even without a fix, though, the in-motion visuals this game slings out can rival or surpass anything else on the PC, with the likely exception of BF3's single-player campaign. Some of the scenes in the game are incredible. Even though they're static, I did grab a few screenshots in places as I played through Rage, and I've put them into the gallery below. Be sure to click the "View full size" button if you'd like to see a scene in its full 2560x1600 8X MSAA glory.

Tip: You can use the A/Z keys to walk threads.
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