I have a healthy level of respect for John Carmack and the fine wizards at id Software. Pioneering and popularising an entire game genre, paving the way for online deathmatch gameplay, and being a source of inspiration for several of the blockbusters we take for granted today are all feats that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It was with some surprise, then, that I started reading the negative feedback regarding the performance of this game. Muddy textures that pop in and out of existence whenever they are brought into view. Lack of graphics options. Config files. On top of all this, the game itself was supposedly less than stellar.
Well, I thought, my order is already on its way, and I love a good shooter, so I guess I’ll reserve judgement until I’m actually in the thick of it.
By the time my copy of RAGE finally arrived from my retailer, a patch had been released with an additional graphics configuration menu, allowing for tweaks to things such as anti-aliasing, v-sync, and GPU transcoding. The change was welcome, but it still required a bit of fiddling on my part to get everything looking at a certain level.
This level is not necessarily a great one – it’s simply a point where I can play the game without having to stop out of frustration. Without the new patch’s features enabled, the game’s textures tended to pop in and out rather badly in certain scenes, and sometimes they would fail to render at all, as if the cache hadn’t been cleared successfully so the engine decided to paint an outcrop of rocks as a blurry brown and grey smudge, a series of Photoshop filters applied on top of one another. After the patches and tweaks, the game was still not at a level I would consider befitting a game of its stature, but at least there was some visual fidelity in the environments and I could focus on the gameplay instead of the graphics. It’s still disheartening to have to go through this process so long after the initial launch.
The gameplay takes time to grow on you. It’s a mish-mash combination of racing, fetch quests, mini games, arena gunfighting, and car deathmatch. Many of the weapons lack any kind of weight or meatiness to them: the assault rifle, for instance, sounds like a ratchety pop gun, and the Settler’s Pistol sounds like a revolver from a 60s movie. However, the shooting is fairly enjoyable, as is to be expected of an id game; the enemies put in a concerted effort to throw off your aim, and they all react accordingly to your damage in a fairly pleasing way. The wingstick is particularly good, and the support items (turrets, sentry bots and RC controlled cars with C4 strapped on) are all great fun to use.
The game starts coming to its own in the latter half – the game’s enemies are tougher and hit harder, and there’s actually a reason to use all that fancy ammunition you’ve been hoarding. The familiar FPS ballet danced in fairer times soon comes back, warm and comfortable like a favourite coat.
Environments lack the expanse and scope of other apocalyptic games. Those other post-apocalyptic games presented settings that encouraged exploration, but RAGE’s roads feel more like a series of corridors connecting some underground levels, peppered with distractions along the way in the form of guard towers, stunt jumps, and enemy buggies. The backdrops are impressive, with high quality photos stretching across the skybox and detailed canyons yawning in the distance, but they are inaccessible, and you are frustratingly stuck behind invisible walls and insurmountable railings.
The characters are excellent and well animated, and it looks like priority has definitely been given to them when it comes to detail. It can be a bit jarring to see a beautifully rendered NPC against a murky, mid-res backdrop. The art direction is also quite good, with plenty of TLC given to the settings and locales. When the engine decides to render them properly, they actually look rather nice.
It doesn’t help that similar games have been released to a much louder fanfare and higher acclaim, but RAGE is competent based on its own merits, despite being ultimately unambitious. It’s unfortunate that the launch issues are hamstringing an otherwise relatively enjoyable title. My initial review copy was written in a much harsher tone, and it only turned around thanks to a number of fixes I found online.
If you do decide to get this on PC, wait until the release is in a competent state. I wouldn’t be surprised if either a “RAGE: Berserker Edition” or “RAGE v2.0” shows up in a few months with all the good stuff tacked on.