Imagine you’re id Software, fresh off the success of the Quake trilogy. You’re responsible in large part for the rise of first-person shooters, and with several foundational franchises under your belt, you’re surveying the gaming landscape and deciding what to do next. You could chase after the current zeitgeist of the market, corridor shooters on one end and open-world shooters on the other. Or, you could stick to what you know and iterate on your house style that served you so well. I feel like RAGE tried to thread the needle between all their potential options, integrating bits of each without really playing to any of their strengths. And unfortunately that’s what RAGE ended up being, a hodge-podge of styles and systems that would work well enough for your average release, but feels like a low point in the id saga.
I hate to break it to you but the world’s ended yet again, this time by the asteroid from Armageddon except they couldn’t get Bruce Willis to drill it to death. You were one of the lucky few squirreled away in a high-tech Ark to ride out the apocalypse, but when you finally came round you were the only pod person who made it. Outside the world is a blasted but bustling wasteland, full of burgeoning settlements, would-be warlords, and nests of unspeakable horrors. A kindly soul with steady aim and John Goodman’s voice helps you find your footing in this brave new world, and sets you on the path to making a difference in the lives of the wastelanders.
Bet that all sounds familiar, doesn’t it? As far as setting goes you’re getting an edgier, non-radiated Fallout all the way from your not-Vault to the psychopathic raiders to the zombie-ish ruins denizens to the high-tech authoritarians. I wouldn’t call it a rip-off, though, in light of the feel being more polished and futuristic and the tone being more punchy than somber. I also wouldn’t put much emphasis on the story, either, because despite hinting at some cool world-building none of the creative stuff gets fleshed out. For the most part you’re going to be stuck with a typical silent protagonist’s heroic journey, broken up by fetch quests and racing and topped off with a bit of a non-ending.
That’s right, fetch quests and racing. RAGE is a first-person shooter at heart but a lot of extra organs got stuffed into the ribcage around that heart, ostensibly to flesh out the open-world aspects. Right from the start you’re introduced to driving, your ticket to making the long treks between levels as short as possible. Later in the game you can do some racing and upgrade your car to better deal with the obnoxious enemies that prowl the open wastes but it’s a pale shadow of what you get in actual racing games and even some other cross-genre shooters. Plot progression is also quest-based but to give you more incentive to return to past levels and explore a little, you’ll get plenty of menial collection and delivery tasks to keep you distracted from your destiny.
Aside from a few car-based objectives the majority of your interaction with the world will be with bullets, and here at least you can see some of that id magic at work. They clearly set out to make a more grounded, tactical shooter than their previous frenetic murder-fests and it’s a mixed bag saved by some very solid shooting. Levels are twisting, linear halls of dusty ruins and craggy ravines, full of scrap metal and lean-tos to duck behind when the bullets fly. There’s no exploration save for some conspicuous dead-ends full of loot to hoover up, but that does keep you on track to ventilate some dudes. Your weapons all have the heft and richness you’d expect from industry veterans, including a shotgun that pounds like an angry ex at the door and some vicious explosives. Foes can take a fair number of shots but they stagger in agony and get knocked on their asses by the heavy hits you dish out.
You’ll have plenty of cavorting around the wasteland to do, enough to fill a dozen hours and then some. But outside of the shooting, you may find your memories of RAGE blurring with those of Borderlands, or Fallout, or Bulletstorm, or any one of the other techpocalypse shooters. And that’s perhaps its greatest failing, not the funky megatexture engine that’s always popping in blurry objects or the long, tedious drives that take the place of a level select menu, but the fact that none of it really stands out all that much. Like I said, RAGE would have been fine as another filler title in the late-aughts glut of cover shooters, not as the latest entry in id’s storied library. It tries to do too much and fails to do any of it particularly well, but it still skates by on the strength of its shooting and the support of all those ancillary bits.