Rage isn’t an RPG, it isn’t an open world shooter, it isn’t Fallout or Borderlands, but it certainly gives the impression that it is. If you take each component of Rage on its own (the shooting, the driving, and the questing) it’s great, but together it feels incomplete. There are so many different elements to the game that could have been used to create a truly unique experience, however in the end we are left with a gorgeous fun first person shooter that lacks direction.
id Software might not be known for their excellent story telling, but they had a great opportunity to tell an engaging story with Rage. The universe is ripe with unique characters and environments, yet they aren’t used very well at all. The story starts with an asteroid hitting the earth in the near future. This causes massive damage to the human population with only a few pockets of survivors left. This post apocalyptic world is full of mutants (who emerged due to the asteroid), bandits, the “normal” civilization, and the Authority (who are the most hostile and powerful faction). You play as an Ark survivor, someone who was buried underground as part of the Eden Project. The project was created to select specific individuals to be buried underground in cryogenic sleep, so they can awaken after the asteroid strike to repopulate the earth. The Ark People have special traits that make them more powerful than the current civilization.
In a cliché manner something has gone wrong with your Ark and you emerge as the only survivor, 100 years after the strike. Your first encounter is with a civilian who saves you from mutants. From here on you’ll perform specific tasks for every new person you meet as you move from one colony to the next. The story is only told through these quests and any small interactions you have with others in the various towns you visit. Therein lies the problem, the areas you visit are populated with interesting characters that you want to get to know but can’t. The quests do a poor job of building the characters and more importantly of shedding light on the entire story arc.
The ending of the game pretty much sums up the entire lack of direction within the story. There is somewhat of an explanation at end, but the game ends abruptly and with a incredibly short cinematic that leaves many unanswered questions. It does however leave space for a sequel and hopefully a more engaging story.
Story issues aside, the main draw to the game is going to be the FPS action. In this sense Rage succeeds. The controls are tight and you are given plenty of weaponry/gadgets to keep each fire fight fresh. You have your normal: pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle combination at your disposal, but you also get special ammo for each weapon. This is where some of the RPG aspects come into play. The shotgun can have explosive shells to take out fast moving mutants, you can use armor piercing bullets for enemies who are heavily armored, special pistol ammo fires five bullets at once, and there’s even a mind control arrow that allows you to control the enemy and detonate him on command. All of these bullets can be purchased or created using schematics. You can make your own health packs, ammo packs and a few other items using things you find around the Wasteland or looted from bodies. This engineering aspect is very much welcomed and fits well in this post-apocalyptic setting.
As you progress through the game you’ll unlock more weaponry or engineering items such as the wingstick, sentry turrets and sentry bots. The sentry bots are very useful, these mechanical spiders act almost like your “tank” as they attract enemy fire and they do a great job at taking out the enemy as well. The wingsticks are incredibly powerful. This boomerang type of weapons can take off a mutants head in one throw and most of the time you’ll get the wingstick back. It some instances these deadly boomerangs are more powerful than your bullets.
With so much fire power at your disposal, it’s a shame that you can’t explore this gorgeous environment. The game really boils down to a series of “dungeon crawls.” Almost every quest has you going to a certain area to kill or collect something. Each of these areas are really well designed and look great, but are very linear. To be fair the fights that ensue are good enough that you can ignore the linearity. We see linear levels in many shooters, but when you can’t explore the world after you exit these levels (like you can in Borderlands) it makes each linear level stand out even more. To make matters worse you will revisit areas you’ve already played, but you might start from the exit instead of the entrance.
In an attempt to mix things up id introduced vehicles into the game, much like the story, this aspect isn’t fully developed. They don’t add to the story arc and are just there to give players something else to do. The races aren’t particularly difficult and you are forced to compete in a few races to progress through the story. Your vehicle is mostly used just to get to quests in the Wasteland, where you will come across bandit vehicles trying to kill you. Again we come back to the bigger problem here, and that’s the lack of exploration. The environment is begging for exploration, but the game just isn’t designed for that.