Wednesday, 12 October 2011

A weekend with Rage

No, I don't mean a bad weekend with the Two Little Gamers (although there was a Leapster Explorer sharing issue), but the new video game Rage, from id Software (pronounced id not eye-dee, only just found that out). This is the first title from id since Doom 3 and the first title to use their new engine id Tech 5. The new engine promises next generation visuals at a solid 60 frames per second across all platforms. This is done with the use of their new megatexturing technology, which involves something to do with using large textures instead lots of small ones and then some hocus pocus which I don't quite understand. The result of this technology is that when its working well, its the most gorgeous game of this generation. When its not working, its the most gorgeous looking game of last generation.

I opted to pick up the 360 version of Rage, primarily to see how it handles this new technology. The game ships on 3 DVD's and the first part of the manual strongly recommends installing all 22GB held onto your 360's hard drive for the best gameplay experience. So after an hour of installation, I finally sat to enjoy id's new epic. The opening sequence sees you emerge from an underground shelter, some 100 years after an asteroid hit the earth. You emerge from your "Ark" and the sunlight hits your eyes and momentarily blinds you as the world is brought into focus, and then the textures pop in. You turn your head and the textures pop in. I do not usually notice things like this, but in Rage you can notice when you quickly turn around that the world momentarily catches up with you. Surely, as many seem to be saying on internet forums, it is a deal breaker, but its not.

The world is amazing. Not only is it beautiful to look at, it feels alive. The first few combat levels have infiltrating bandit hideouts and there is an organic quality to the whole experience. In part, this is because of the incredible sound scape the game offers the player. Id have on offer here what they have always offered in all of the titles... atmosphere by the bucket load, creeping down a corridor, lights flickering and water dripping from the ceiling, obscuring your view and all of sudden... a mutant bursts through the doorway ahead and charges right at you. Flashbacks to my traumatic Doom 3 experience (remember Mack and Mesh?) came to

mind as I crept my way through the corridors of the Dead City skyscrapers. Every item pickup or carefully placed ammo drop is an ambush waiting to happen. This is id at their best. The new tech is impressive, but the approach is still old school.

This isn't to say that this game is another linear corridor shooter from the fathers of the FPS. This is their first attempt at an open world environment. The game revolves around your character going town to town doing jobs for the inhabitants. These jobs range from "Kill all of the X in location y" to "Collect item B and bring it to me". Sounds boring, right? Wrong! These missions see you slowly exploring all of the map and introducing all of the factions involved, then promptly shooting them in the face.

Another first for an id shooter is transport. Early in the game you earn a beat up second hand dune buggy. By competing in the local racing league and hunting and destroying mobile bandits, you can earn the credits to upgrade your vehicle. These upgrades include anything from suspension and performance tyres to mini guns and mounted rocket launchers. The vehicle combat is superb and the racing makes for a good side quest in between missions.

Side quests and mini games are in abundance here. The main story line is pretty much a linear affair which doesn't tend to deviate from the shoot everything path. Once you have cleared an area, there will be an opportunity to return to that area to finish them off. This usually results in receiving a upgrade to your arsenal upon completion. There are elements of RPG here and there, but id have cleverly moved away from the levelling up system which is popular today. In Rage you level up by upgrading your weapons, using the engineering menu to craft your own ammo, medicine and tools of destruction. Tools on offer include remote detonated RC Cars, a Wingtip, which is a three bladed throwing knife, reminiscent of Krull. There are different ammo types for each of the weapons, all with their own purpose. Go into a fire fight with the wrong ammo loaded and you are going to pay the price for it.

The weapons on offer are the usual fare with little twists. Starting with only a pistol you soon earn a Monocular which turns the simple pistol into an effective long range weapon. Assault rifles can have stabilty upgrades added and radioactive rounds. The Shotgun can be turned into a makeshift grenade launcher with a simple ammo modification. The possibilities are incredible and this is what Rage does best... bloody fun gunfights.

I have spent most of the time playing this game, grinning from ear to ear like an idiot as I wander from gunfight to gunfight. It's an absolute wonder to play and experience, and Rage shows once again what the creators of the genre are capable of. They aren't trying to reinvent the wheel and there nothing wrong with that. The technology allows us to see what the next generation of gaming systems will be capable of, whilst keeping the gameplay simple and bloody good fun.

Score: 8/10

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