'Rage' plays it safe despite id Software's talents

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If you're one of the many FPS fans out there and you don't know who id Software is, then I highly suggest opening up Wikipedia and giving yourself a quick history lesson. Won't take long...

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... You back? Good. So, id Software set the standard for FPS back in the early '90s with some huge hits like Wolfenstein and Doom. Their last foray, however, was way back in 2004 with Doom 3, just before Valve changed the game with Half-Life 2. In the years since, there's been a lot of progress made by other studios and id was still quiet on what they had planned. When Rage was first shown at E3 in 2009, much of the older gaming community started salivating at the thought of the ol' FPS champs coming back to the genre they made famous and showing the rest of the industry how it's done. What kinds of innovation did they have in store for us? New control scheme? Dynamic story-telling and plot development? Revamped AI or new combat mechanics? None of these, actually. As it turns out, Rage is a very polished, very tight, very status-quo shooter that entertains without innovating. Now I don't want to convey the wrong feeling here — I thoroughly enjoyed Rage. There is no doubt in my mind that id still knows how to make one solid FPS game. Unfortunately, Rage feels more like a shooter that's playing catch-up with the new changes and never quite meets the expectations considering the programming pedigree id Software is known for. Perhaps this is a mistake on my part for setting my own expectations too high, or I am being too critical of a title that only means to entertain; nevertheless, I left Rage wanting just a little more. Rage puts you in the boots of yet another silent protagonist emerging from a vault used to protect mankind from an asteroid that struck the planet in 2029. Life, however, didn't stop on the surface but the primary inhabitants now are bandits, dismembered mutants, and other nasty horrors roaming the desert. You're quickly thrown into the fray as many of the characters you come across conveniently use you as their new errand boy or contract killer. The story is one of the lackluster elements of Rage since it never feels important or compelling enough to drive the player forward. If anything, the promise of new weapons, equipment, and general loot is definitely more palpable than where the plot leads to. Over the 12 or 13 hours it takes to complete, it is only in the last few hours that the story stumbles upon its more intriguing parts.
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Rage isn't without it's high points though. The visuals are nothing short of perfection; despite miles and miles of desert, canyons and valleys, tiny variations and nuances keep any environment from looking recycled. Incredible amounts of detail have been put into each character, weapon and vehicle that really serve to make some moments pop out. Even more impressive is how the entire game runs at a solid 60 frames per second. At no point during any skirmish or fire fight did the intensity ever slow down even for a moment, and that is no easy task to accomplish over such a large world environment.
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Speaking on environment, the desert is filled with just about every ill-tempered baddie you'd expect to find in an irradiated wasteland. Rage's center point in combat is the variety of enemies you'll encounter, each of them adding one more level of depth to your strategy. Much like your arsenal, which is comprised of long- and short-range weapons, each new enemy will seek to end you in some new format. Most mutants will sprint toward you in a hale of screams and thrashing, and some of the stronger units will hold back and rain carnage down from a distance. The designers at id went to great lengths to crank up the satisfaction of blasting a mutant and watching them crumble in some new way. In some cases, a well-placed shot will leave a mangled torso still attached to a set of legs still trying to crawl their way to you. Much like the slow-motion camera in the V.A.T.S. system from Fallout 3, the animations never get old to watch. One underused facet of Rage is a vehicle used to traverse some of the game's longer treks through the wasteland. Though the vehicle is mounted with rocket launchers and can obliterate bandits trying to run you down, there isn't much else to use it for. There are points at which you can challenge others to racing matches, but they don't serve the main story and don't provide enough incentive to validate doing them. In short, the more entertaining parts of using a vehicle are, at best, just a distraction from both the plot and the more rewarding side quests. Rage is not a bad game by any stretch of imagination. Quite the opposite, Rage is both expertly designed and incredibly entertaining when it wants to be. People looking for a shooter that forgoes the standard Call of Duty format will find this game absolutely thrilling and a refreshing change of pace. It's only disappointment is that it could have been more — more compelling, more adventurous, more difficult than what we get. While it's sometimes tremendously difficult to live up to the expectations of the masses, I feel that id Software has the talent and the experience to live up to its name, and Rage could have been their return to the throne. But, perhaps for reasons personal to the studio, Rage is built more on what they know, and that's not a bad thing either. See you in the next level, Gray

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