Released only in October last year, Rage can finally be picked up for the not too disagreeable price of £8 (or less). Having said that though, and this is a question that I have been asking myself for a number of weeks now: is Rage any good, and is it actually worthy of one’s spare change and time?
To be honest, I kind of liken playing Rage to writing this review, in that both are guilty pleasures, where a certain amount of sadistic “fun” can be had for what is now the equivalent price of a semi-decent takeaway. So if you takeaway anything from this review (see what I did there?), it’ll be that you’ll probably be better off spending your precious time and money on either playing the game, or doing something infinitely more meaningful (and grander) as a pursuit.
Rage is made by the very same studio that gave us such vaunted classics as Doom 2. And to be honest, whilst games like Quake and Doom were enjoyable in their own right, they often lacked the one crucial element which would have allowed them to be heralded as being true timeless classics (at least in my view).
Powered by John Carmack’s groundbreaking technology across the ages, iD Software’s games have always looked amazingly stunning. Doom brought with it new levels of detailed gore as one traversed through linear corridors, whilst Quake upped the ante with it’s own 3D take on a nightmarish universe as envisaged by acclaimed game designer John Romero. But whilst iD Software’s portfolio of games were always on the brink of cutting-edge technology, they often lacked the one crucial spark which would have allowed them to garner even higher praise. Make no mistake, companies like Valve (with its own heavily modified version of iD Tech 1 – later to be renamed Source Engine) did a much better job of utilising John Carmack’s iD Tech game engines than iD Software could ever hope to achieve. And one thing that people like Gabe Newell never forgot (although it could be argued that wonder-kids like John Carmack never grasped) was that story and narrative were extremely important factors in ensuring that players stuck around long after the novelty wore off from the initial wow factor which iD Software generated from their increasingly stylised theme-park rides.
It is with a heavy heart therefore that I am sad to announce that Rage is (once again) no different in terms of its design principles – one that is shared by the development studio’s previous titles in which storyline and narrative play second fiddle to game engine technology. Truth be told, I am sure that iD Tech 5 is one of the greatest game engines which the industry has to offer, with John Carmack at the helm, who once again re-asserts his position as one of the very best coders in the business. But then again, how much does it take for a business to continuously yield to one man’s rampant ego? I am not entirely sure, but one thing I do know though is that when I was first shown the game by Tim Willits at 2011 Eurogamer Expo’s Developer Sessions, I qas lead to believe that Rage was to break away from the hubris and the legacy which iD Software had created for itself. Shorn off all expectations, iD Sotware had a real chance to reinvent itself and promised a bold new direction with which it would launch a brand new IP and game engine which would once again herald a return-to-form for one of the industry’s true giants. This was increasingly apparent as marketing and PR campaigns promised gamers a title which would not only be something special, but that the game’s release would signal iD Software’s passionate determination for wanting to reclaim its throne – a campaign in which the company would leave the industry and all of its competitors reeling in dust as John Carmack et al once again sought to remind everyone as to why John Romero had so bullishly made everyone his bitch in 1997.
The game starts off 106 years after the world ends, when a huge asteroid impacted the Earth and laid waste to all of civilisation. Emerging into this new wasteland, you take the role of a VIP who stowed away on a Ark just prior to God’s divine judgement. With that being said, fate certainly does have a strange sense of humour, as only once when you emerge from your cryo-sleep do you really live to witness the nightmare that has now enveloped Earth.
Upon waking, and after seeing all the destruction, you’re set upon by a group of bandits who are otherwise known as members of the Ghost Clan. Luckily, a character by the name of Dan Hagar comes to your rescue, and since he now owns your sorry ass, he asks for payment in kind. You’ll do his bidding, or taste his and his fellow villagers wrath. So off you go on your little merry-go rounds, cracking heads and generally doing anything to ensure that the good citizens of this new Earth can live a peaceful existence – away from the danger now posed by mutants and away from this mysterious (yet sinister) controlling faction known as The Authority.
Unfortunately, whilst you evidently do come to realise that not all is well with this new form of civilisation, you also don’t really do much for the vast sum of this game. You go on these long, meandering fetch quests that ultimately bear little to no relation to the storyline, and even if they somehow do (eventually), they simply don’t solve the peoples’ woes, or help you understand as to how they found themselves under the tyrannical rule of this authority called (imaginatively enough) The Authority. It’s alright for the first few hours, when you embark on what is ultimately a revenge killing spree, when you take out the Ghost Clan’s stronghold (whose members attacked you earlier). It still makes sense then. But by the fifth mission, you really do begin to wonder as to what you have let yourself in for. Because Rage really is infuriating. It’s infuriating, because nothing ever truly makes sense. You’ve got a bunch of people who are all trained in fire-arms, and who are all more than capable of taking out whatever threat happens to pose a significant risk to their lives, and yet they still ask a complete stranger – one in all likelihood who happens to be a combat newb and one who hasn’t probably even fired a pellet gun prior to one’s waking from the Ark – to go out there and take out entire enemy strongholds with a rocket launcher. Who trained this guy, because I want more of what he’s having.
Ultimately, Rage is really a coming-of-age story about a defenseless, fear-stricken and selfish young man who emerges to become a selfless heroic warrior that not only risks limb to find himself, but also risks life to save the world in the process. It’s a conventional trope, and a conventional archetype which one is well accustomed to playing. The only problem is: there is no real motive here – there is no princess, and nobody to save who you have any real allegiance towards. The game just throws you in at the deep end, and expects you to comply with many of its idiosyncrasies. And like a roller-coaster ride, you find yourself being buffeted around, with your head spinning upside down towards the end as you go from one fetch quest to another that bears absolutely little to no relation to the story.
Talk about a digression… The game is merely two lines of plot that is padded out to make a fifteen hour game. Did I spend fifteen hours playing his game? No, I spent a third of that. Does that mean that I am unqualified to give my opinion about this game? You tell me…
To be fair, whilst Rage certainly isn’t a bad game. It’s also a game that isn’t particularly good. The graphics are amazing, but once you get over the fact that it’s probably one of the best looking console games you’ll find this gen, you’ll soon come to realise that it offers an extremely hollow experience – and one that you’ll only ever want to play through for a few hours.
As an analogy, let’s take the example where I liken the game to a really pretty girl that one happens to meet across the street one day. She’s gorgeous to look at, and is extremely eager to show off her “wares”. And truth be told, you find her to be absolutely mesmerizing. But after you’ve taken her home and done the deed and sown your wild oats, you come to realise exactly as to why the term “one night stand” was invented. You never tell her – obviously – that you never want to go back. And try as she might, she just can’t hold your attention for longer than the time that she was in your bed for the first night – no matter how beautiful she is.
Beauty fades, yet dumb is forever.
So am I still unqualified in giving my opinion on this game? Rage certainly is an extremely beautiful game to look at. But it’s an extremely dumb game to spend time with. And like the pretty girl, it won’t be long before it finds itself being disrespected and being placed on the trash-heap as another “conquest” which one will never want to return to. In other words, it’s the “village bicycle”. In years to come, it’ll be endlessly traded amongst gamers, but never kept – save for the long, lonely nights when one has no alternative and has nothing better to do. Which is a pretty sad state of affairs really…
Rage certainly had a golden opportunity to shine. The engine crafted by John Carmack is an awe-inspiring spectacle to observe, as skyscrapers loom over the distance whilst enemies burst forth from when they were behind concealment. But the engine also conceals a whole myriad of problems that are self-inflicted. John Carmack once stated that “story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important”. If only he’d paused to reflect and understand the underlying principles behind why history is fascinated with some and not others. Those who possess richness in character also happen to have an engrossing story behind them. It is this tapestry of narrative and story which is the driving force and backbone behind human civilisation, as we bond over campfires in the night and pay heed to those who have something interesting to say. Indeed, if we track our genealogy, we find that soothsayers and shamen were often highly regarded for their ability to tell stories, and if nothing else, the Bible is itself often regarded as the greatest story ever told.
It’s with a certain degree of disappointment then when one takes out Rage from the console disk tray for the last time, and realises that John Carmack still hasn’t learned anything about story and history – ironic really, given that his and John Romero’s story in ‘Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture‘ is said to be one of the most riveting historical examples of when pop culture met geek videogames culture. It is this dichotomous relationship which cemented iD Software’s reputation, and yet it is also the lack of this anachronistic relationship which ultimately proves to be Rage‘s undoing. Rage certainly has the muscle, but where is the heart? And like the porn movies which John Carmack likens videogames to, Rage is gorgeous eye-candy, but is also brainless fluff. It’s a game which is best enjoyed in small doses and in moderation, and whilst it certainly can’t be considered as being “art”, it is a game where if you tried to make it your staple entertainment diet, you’d only be left feeling frustrated and disappointed in equal measure.