Rage – Final Review

Rage opens with a brief explanatory cutscene, detailing a world fallen and collapsed, the Earth turning into a desolate wasteland. The player character, an unnamed male, awakes from a state of stasis, seemingly frozen in time for hundreds of years. What was the point of his slumber? What precisely happened to Earth? These things aren’t made totally clear from the first, so there is some intrigue present. Getting his bearings, the Ark survivor, as he is called, promptly leaves his vessel, to survey the land outside. Actually seeing this destroyed Earth for the first time is quite arresting. It is mostly sandy stretches, with a few mountains here and there, not exactly pioneering creatively. But technically, it remains remarkable; the lighting on offer here is spectacular, while the skyboxes – surprisingly blue and quaint – establish this sense of atmosphere. Despite all of this destruction, not all beauty has been drained from Earth, resulting in an inviting game world. Quickly, though, this potential tranquility is shattered. Having just enough time to adjust his eyes to the light of the blazing sun, deprived of him for seeming centuries, he falls prey to an attack; the idyllic landscape is contrasted by its dangerously hostile inhabitants. Unarmed and totally vulnerable, it seems as though he will fall into a permanent slumber. At the last minute, as he is being seized upon, he is rescued, then escorted to relative safety. This initial settlement – his refuge – is indeed rather small, but it is a quaint little place, where the gameplay mechanics are steadily introduced.

This settlement, situated in the barren wastes just a short distance away from the Ark, is run by a man named Dan Hagar. Seeing the potential within this Ark survivor, he quickly equips him with a pistol, gifting him, too some bandages, very efficient healing items. He is tasked with raiding some bandit stronghold – these early missions are indeed rather bland, but they exist as a tutorial of sorts, though the game is already very intuitive and would be familiar to any shooter fan. But rather than existing solely as a linear, corridor shooter, there is seemingly openness, the sprawling wastes freely explorable, connecting the hub worlds and mission zones together. This openness is a façade. While there is a substantial deal of explorable territory, most of the missions take place in linear, self-contained areas. That initial bandit raid, for instance, actually takes place in a very cramped, claustrophobic interior environment. Walls and structures have been deliberately positioned, so as to funnel the player down one set pathway; there are a few branching paths, these diversions often affording useless collectables or salable objects, but beyond these, it is hyper-linear. This linearity is not necessarily a bad thing, but is disappointing when considering the sense of scope suggested by that first venture from the Ark. There is all of that promise connected to the sprawling wastes, which is ultimately squandered, the game becoming like any other in terms of level design – it is formulaic.

This first explorable environment is admittedly atmospheric, bright sunlight filtering through a gap left by a destroyed wall, thick dust hanging in the air. Anticipating a traditional, dogged gun fight, I was instead met with near-feral creatures, unarmored, and with seemingly no regard for their live, blindly rushing the player, closing the distance until they arrive in striking range, attacking with brutal, deadly melee attacks. Their animation is incredible, as they run along walls or deftly leap over obstacles in the environment. The voice acting is excellent, they sounding more like creatures than men. But when that initial awe wore off, frustration set in. The whole combat – at this very early stage – becomes chaotic and frantic, and not in a good way. I would fumble around, landing some shots on the enemy, missing more. Eventually, I prevailed, satisfying whatever arbitrary task Hagar presented me with, then left the structure, very unimpressed and disappointed by the gunplay, partially because my arsenal was limited to a puny pistol. It seems an odd decision they would equip the player with a weapon that is so incompatible and ineffective in dealing with these mutants. Riding victoriously the fragile ATV back to the settlement, I received as reward some dollars, and was encouraged to discourse with a local trader who resides there, exchanging money for ammunition, while getting a taste of the future in looking on at the various upgrades which were at that point far out of my reach, possessive of so little funds. There was a lot there, and after completing a string of missions for Hagar, I had gathered up enough coin to purchase some of these things, firstly setting upon an assault rifle. From an audio perspective, it is lackluster, but as a weapon, it was far more effective than the pistol. In the course of completing these missions, the arsenal expanded greatly. A sniper rifle is obtained, then a shotgun, then a crossbow – at a very rapid rate, further options in combat are made available. The game opens up somewhat, and the shooting – which occupies a large majority of the overall game – becomes somewhat better. The shotgun is impactful and very effective, while the sniper rifle permits easier headshots. In just a short span of time, things improved greatly.

Also around this time, the crafting systems are introduced. Surprisingly elaborate, there are many craftable objects, though initially all but a few are barred. Recipes and schematics can be found scattered around the landscape, while more still are purchaseable from the various vendors. While no doubt useful, none of these items ever become truly essential to success. A sentry turret is a useful ally, but proficiency with a shotgun will always trump their usefulness. In consequence of having all of these steadily expanding crafting options, the inventory quickly becomes bogged down with materials, complicating things unnecessarily. There are many objects to be found in the various environments, each with their own unique function, but stumbling across these items never really became exciting for me. I have no desire to construct a turret, so why would I want to pick up the ingredients needed for its crafting? Luckily, all of these parts can be sold to vendors for cash, which in turn can be sent on items of greater consequence. The trusty shotgun can be fitted with a reloadable magazine, rather than needing but one shell to be inserted at a time. A monocle for the pistol can be purchased, providing it with a zoom function, while a later weapon, a machinegun, can install a mounted laser, increasing accuracy when firing from the hip. These are tangible, satisfying upgrades, though unfortunately, they are lacking numerically. Beyond these few mentioned, really the other only noticeable upgrade revolves around the sniper rifle. Initially relying on a bolt action, it can become semi-automatic, greatly increasing fire-rate. So rather than crafting these elaborate objects, more often than not, I employed traditional bullets to resolve conflict. And, furthering the complexity here, each weapon has alternate ammunition types. A traditional shotgun shell can be replaced with a grenade, while a crossbow bolt can be charged with electricity.

After satisfying Hagar’s various requests, acclimating to the various controls and gameplay mechanics, the Ark survivor arrives in Wellspring, a sprawling hub world with eccentric characters and a plurality of objectives. These smaller missions, many of them activatable from a prominently positioned bounty board, are quite lackluster. Among the earliest available, one mission sees the Ark survivor serving as lookout, protecting settlers below, armed solely with a sniper rifle. It’s fun enough, but is not involved in the slightest. There are many smaller activities such as this, all of them usually having as reward cash, to be spent on ammunition or for the rather sparce player and weapon upgrades. Beyond these mostly meaningless diversions, there is the main quest thread. Established in Wellspring, the Ark survivor primarily does the bidding of the two leading men in the town: the mayor, and the sheriff. While creatively designed, one a dapper the other gruff, they really have no noticeable character, nothing really to endear them to the player. They dole out a string of missions, seeing further traversal around the barren wasteland, attacking bandit lairs, slaughtering hostile mutants, and doing other trivial such things. There seems no real compelling narrative progress here, with the overwhelming impression that really, the Ark survivor is some kind of glorified messenger boy. Luckily, the satisfying gunplay holds its own, so even the nature of the objectives themselves are unremarkable, there is still great fun to be found, particularly as combat flexibility and complexity increase in accordance with story progress. While this gunplay does occupy a significant portion of the game’s length, exploration also maintains a strong presence. The world, again, is almost totally lifeless, save for a few roaming bandits, piloting a buggy armed with devastating weaponry. Inevitably, engagement with such foes happens. With regards to vehicle combat, there is a similarly satisfying progression system.

Beyond working for the mayor and the sheriff, the biggest draw in Wellspring is the racetrack. There is a bevy of different races on offer, some time trials with no direct opponents, others featuring fierce fights against other racers. Success in these events rewards racing certificates, which can be spent at a local mechanic’s shop, offering increased armor, handling and maneuverability, or an increase in the critical boost feature, which sees the vehicle bursting forth at a rapid speed. What’s here is compelling, and upgraded vehicles become an absolute necessity as the plot progresses. Vehicles fought in the late game can withstand an absurd amount of weapon fire, whilst their damage output is similarly impressive. Basically, you are indirectly forced to participate in these races if you are to arrive at your objective safely and securely. The vehicles handle incredibly well, while the weapons are very intuitive to use – intuitive if basic, as they automatically lock on to a nearby enemy. Beyond these marginal upgrades, there are completely different vehicle chassis obtainable as the plot progresses. A basic buggy is employed for some time, this being superseded by a quicker, more resilient Cuprino, which in the late game is replaced by the tank-like Monarch. These progression systems are quite satisfying, and even with sturdier vehicles and effective weaponry, vehicle engagements can prove a challenge throughout. Unlike, say, Borderlands, vehicles do not automatically repair themselves, while similarly, ammunition is not infinite supply. These things taken together, there is maintained an air of tension whenever piloting a vehicle.

Many of the main missions kind of run together; they are forgettable. There are a few secondary characters introduced, like an endearing, eccentric doctor and inventor, who serves as another mission giver. His voice acting is excellent, while it is enjoyable to see him pivoting around on his electronic chair, while his mechanical arms compete with one another, twitching this way and that. There is a great deal of charm present within this man, a charm which extends to much of the game. It is in no ways humorous, abounding in pretty dark themes, with some excessive violence on offer, but the characters and the world-building go a long ways towards establishing the game’s identity. This creativity and sense of charm is immediately noticeable in the second hub area, Subway Town. Decidedly different aesthetically and thematically from areas explored previously, it is quite arresting. Rather than being dark and dingy, it is bright and vibrant, bustling with a great many people. But despite this visible difference, it plays nearly the same role as did Wellspring. There is a vendor stocked with ammunition, crafting materials and other baubles, while the job board has a similar presence. Similarly, there is the equivalent to the Major and the Sheriff, who serves as primary quest giver. Far unlike the eccentric, endearing scientist, there is nothing likable about this man’s character. He is rude and dismissive, openly insulting the Ark survivor whilst simultaneously employing his assistance. But the formula is the same: travel here, shoot that, return for a reward, and then begin the process anew. By the time I had reached this secondary hub world, I was totally burnt out.

Perhaps trying to diversify the gameplay, a third type of enemy is introduced: bandits and mutants are threatening, sure, but this third faction bests them both: The Authority, who manipulate the mutants for their own end, fashioning them with armor and increasing their combat prowess. Given their heavy armor and weaponry, The Authority members pose a significant challenge in combat, able to withstand a ridiculous amount of gunfire before finally dropping; an entire assault rifle magazine can be emptied before success is achieved. Beyond having more resilience, numerically they seem to be greater. Once they have been introduced, then, the game sees a sharp, unfair difficulty spike. Granted, I was playing on hard, but this change is easily observable. While they become the primary foe in the late game, the other two hostile factions do retain somewhat of a presence, maintaining in consequence some combat diversity. Fighting heavily-armored, shielded enemies and turrets, susceptible to EMP grenades and other tactics, then promptly engaging again with the reckless, rushing mutants – it is wonderful, the diversity of tactics, and even while all of these encounters involve shooting, overwhelming staleness does not set in.  

Things quickly come to a head. The Ark survivor’s backstory has steadily been built upon as the plot progresses, and it is revealed he is the destined savior of the wastes, supported on all sides by a resistance movement, small in size but determined in effort. Operating in a hidden alcove beneath Subway Town proper, the resistance is constituted of three or so other people, each with their own unique designs and functions; collectively, they want to cleanse the world of the damning influences of The Authority. Eventually, the final mission begins, involving a direct assault and sortie on the Authority stronghold. Before departing, one final gift is given: a minigun of sorts, with a ridiculously large magazine size, and an alternate ammunition type which is especially devastating. Admittedly, this assault is impressive, with an innumerable amount of Authority grunts as opposition, paired alongside their armored mutant prototypes. These things triumphed over, a device is activated, and then the game abruptly ends. Supposedly, the Wasteland has been saved, all because of this concerted assault on Capital Prime. The cutscene which accompanies this success is unfortunately very short, and there is no satisfying resolution. While narratively the game was never great or compelling, I was still immensely disappointed with this vague outcome.

 It may seem a bizarre complaint, but my greatest gripe with the game is related to its length; it was a lot longer than I was expecting and given the occasionally repetitive nature of the gameplay and environments, I felt quite frustrated and burnt out while nearing the unsatisfying conclusion. In consequence, in desiring simply to complete the title and move on, I admittedly skipped a lot of secondary content in the game’s second hub world. But given my experiences with the simple, boring missions in other areas of the game, I don’t think I am missing much. There certainly were bright spots in the game, but at its heart, the game is merely competent, totally unremarkable. The gunplay can be satisfying, the vehicles exhilarating and tense to control, and the world and character designs abounding in charm, bolstered by an arresting graphics engine. But beyond these things, Rage shows itself to be a fun if lackluster title.  

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