I remember really enjoying RAGE the first time I played it. That’s sort of tipping my hand a bit early, but still. I am a massive fan of the post-apocalyptic genre, but I’ve played surprisingly few games that are part of it. The Fallout games are among my favourite of any games, but other entries like Wasteland 2 have been poor at best. RAGE doesn’t even feel like a post-apocalyptic game.
This game takes a break from the usual nuclear apocalypse to have an asteroid being the cause of the end of civilisation. A load of important people are sealed in Arks – not to be confused with Fallout‘s Vaults – and you are among those who survive the thawing process. From that first moment, you’re dragged by the scruff of your neck through a linear series of quests for people you don’t know against a foe you barely see.
Y’know how in Fallout you’re given choices about how you proceed and sometimes with whom you side? Even in Wasteland 2 you get some decent reason to go out and risk your neck in suicide missions. You get neither in this. Your one quest-giver tells you to go murder thirty people and you have zero choice or motivation beyond ‘could you do us a favour? thanks’. Then the moment he’s done, he ships you off to the next quest-giver.
No one else does ANYTHING in this game. Aside from being saved at the beginning and a couple of scripted gunfights with a partner, you are on your own doing other people’s work. You’d think that’s par for the course, but when it’s their lives that hang in the balance, you’d think they’d send more than one guy who’s just woken up to go save them. But no. They see you and CHA-CHING! Here’s a clueless idiot I can go send on suicide missions that affect everyone I know and love.
I said at the beginning that this doesn’t feel like a post-apocalyptic game. It really doesn’t. There’s the ‘sealed in an ark’ thing and the occasional ruined road, but no other part of the game resembles a post-asteroid Earth. They make a big thing about a ruined city that you have to visit, but it’s revealed in dialogue that it was inhabited until recently. A recently-abandoned city doesn’t scream ‘post-apocalyptic’.
I’m reminded a lot of Borderlands, both in the heavy driving element and in the general look of the world. Every road is surrounded by steep rocky cliffs. Where on Earth looks like that that’s also heavily inhabited enough for the cities you see? Or city, I guess. You do also see a massive city reminiscent of Omashu from Avatar: The Legend of Aang, but the only bit you get to explore is one subway station; that’s the entire settlement as far as you know.
In fact the entire world is incredibly small and claustrophobic. The game cleverly uses open-looking scenery and geography to trick you into thinking it’s some great expansive world, but it’s really just a tiny map. The towns (of which there are a massive total of two) are cluttered and sprawling, but with only a handful of activities each, the driving paths are twisty and open-topped but lacking interesting scenery or…anything really, and the levels are tight, linear and lazily reused.
Most of the side missions in the game are just returning to a place you’ve already been and going through the level in reverse. That isn’t interesting. It’s not even hidden well. Add to that the dull, cluttered look of the levels and it can be confusing to navigate.
Not All Angry
Before the final few issues, I thought I’d mention the good bits. The characters are (mostly) VERY well animated. Lip syncing is damn near perfect and they gesture and emote as they talk. Apart from a few weird actions like nodding randomly while talking, the people in this world are very well realised and brought to life. Shame there are so few people.
The graphics are…well… I can see why they’re ‘technically’ good… The textures are high-res and most objects are detailed. I mean the game was plagued with pop-in issues so if I turn around all the textures reload before my eyes, but that only bothers you if you, y’know, look around at all. I eventually found a fix for it by altering the game’s files, but a problem that glaringly severe should have been patched out before release.
Also the scenic views are very impressive. Ruined buildings in the dead city, the Omashu-style city, the endless ‘wasteland’ that’s just out of reach… But nice views don’t cut it if you’re stuck in tight, boring levels.
I remember really enjoying this game when I first played it. I didn’t enjoy it this time. The story is lazy, the levels are tight and linear and, to be honest, the gunplay is annoying. It does the Borderlands thing of blurring vision and knocking your aim when you get shot, making it much harder to shoot back and/or find cover. Add to that that about half the levels are ‘sit here and fight off waves’, followed immediately by ‘move to the next room, rinse and repeat’.
Most of the enemies can soak up twenty shots to the face before showing any pain, while you can only take a few before being in the brink of death. Admittedly this was on Hard difficulty (which is the third of five difficulties available), so it might be less bizarre on easier difficulties. One good point is that on higher difficulties enemies dodge more as they charge… That’s a nice touch that adds organic difficulty.
It may be a petty shot, but I hate the style in this game. Clothing looks like a mash-up between five different cultures, vehicles are very Mad Max and the decorations on the levels make no sense. What bandit is taking the time to make huge welded sculptures for outside their base?
Overall, this game disappointed me on every aspect. Story, gameplay, design and setting. The animations are nice, but utterly failed to distract me. Play Fallout instead. Or if that’s too good for you, try Wasteland 2. Either are better than this.