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Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Once upon a time, id brought fire to the masses. With the advent of the first person shooter (popularized by their two fisted salvo of Wolfenstein and Doom), id tapped deep into the collective gamer mindset and dreamed up a compelling new genre that gave life to our most visceral impulses. By putting the BFG into our hands and letting us loose on the demonic hordes, they revolutionized the marketplace. They provided a compelling product that underscored the evolutionary shift transpiring. These games weren’t necessarily just for kids anymore, and with the spark ignited, developers weaned on Doom and Quake began adding to the mosaic by taking a fairly simple archetype born from that primal urge to blast stuff and turning it into the box-office busting behemoths we battle through each holiday season. id may have burst onto a barren wasteland way back when, but in the decades since, the landscape has grown fertile. With the release of their long-gestating new IP, we watch to see if id’s Rage can cut through the boisterous noise of their crowded competition.
Although a tried and true first person shooter, Rage opens with eerie parallels to Fallout 3. Following a catastrophic asteroid collision, the Earth is decimated. Small pockets of survivors make their way into a brave new world forming tight factions hoping to rebuild some sense of order among the chaos. Although the world’s governments had collaborated on a series of Arks aimed at preserving the best of our species, the project fails and only one participant survives. Reawakened in the year 2139 (a full 100 years after the event), the Ark Survivor steps out into the world, observing a vast wasteland where shining cities once stood and begins working to piece together his memories while aiding the small townships that have sprung up on the frontier. Sound familiar?
Unlike Fallout 3, Rage’s emphasis is squarely on the action. While visits to towns and interacting with the colorful people that populate the map will result in quests and side jobs, the game is not a true role playing game. Once the bullets start firing, this is a fast run-and-gun shooter, drawing upon the core strengths inherent to the developer. There is a narrative that runs through the story, but it takes a little while to get going. The early sections of the game focused on teaching mechanics and letting you soak in the world. NPCs offer up simple fetch quests that often send you into long, twisting labyrinths or enemy encampments to clear out mutant factions or procure the supplies necessary to augment your gear.
There is a palpable sense of déjà vu that affects Rage from the very beginning. That opening sequence that sets the Ark Survivor loose upon the Wasteland closely resembles the early hours in Fallout 3. The desolate expanse of desert that confronts you also calls to mind Borderlands; and it’s that title (with its Mad Max refugees decked out in biker bondage ware), that fills in the rest of Rage’s DNA. This is an industry that survives and thrives on homage, with developers grabbing whole chunks of past innovation and adding their own elements to compose something new. That being said, all of these allusions to recent hits should not be a knock on id’s vision. It just took them a little longer than the others to get their product to market.
What those 4 years have produced is a stunning new graphics engine. Over the years I have seen a never-ending parade of games built off the Unreal Engine 3, and they have started to look like cookie cutter variations of each other. Rage is built on id’s new idTech5, and it’s a stunner (especially when it comes to rendering landscapes). With every other shooter seemingly sending me into dusty, desolate canyons, it takes something special to draw my eyes to the dunes. I never got tired of seeing the vibrant, colorful, realistic textures that idTech5 paints.
The gameplay is also lightning quick, with no screen tearing or artifacts present while running it on my Xbox 360. It’s locked in at 60 FPS and it really shows. This is a showcase on the 360, setting the benchmark for visual fidelity on a home console. It should be noted that the 360 version comes on 3 discs and the developer recommends that players install the discs to their hard drives to minimize load times and increase performance. That’s a 22 GB install which might prove a bear for some (although you can install one disc at a time, if necessary), so you can also simply run the game off the disc and sacrifice some of the performance. On the PS3, gamers are looking at one Blu-Ray disc with a smaller install (8 GB).
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