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Game Review: RAGE

For nearly 20 years, id Software has been one of the leaders in gaming.  Having popularized and then revolutionized the first-person shooter genre with Wolfenstein 3-D, Doom and Quake, id's game engines have often served as a gold standard for the industry.  Having been the first to offer now-standard features in their graphics such as true 3-D polygonal graphics, dynamic lighting, curved surfaces and real-time shadows, each successive generation of engines (referred to as the id Tech series) has built upon the features of the last.

In 2011, id released their first new game franchise since 1996's Quake with their offering RAGE, built on the new id Tech 5 graphics engine.  How did it go?

Not as well as it should have.  And therein lies the problem.

The plot of RAGE is a fairly conventional one, but since company co-founder John Carmack has consistently stated that "story in video games is like plot in porn; it's nice, but not really necessary," what else do you expect?  The protagonist goes into suspended animation as a monster asteroid named Apophis closes in on Earth, with his mission clearly defined as helping to resurrect society once the dust settles.  Over a hundred years later, he awakens in a post-apocalyptic landscape where everything is dented, battered and dusty, separated by large expanses of rocky desert landscape that must be navigated with a variety of vehicles.  Through the course of the game, the player encounters a variety of enemies, NPC's and environments to be dealt with, with superior firepower for the first, click-box dialogues for the second and wide-eyed wonder for the third.

Before we go any further, it must be stated for the record that id Tech 5 is the best-looking graphics you are going to encounter for a while.  When I first began exploring the landscape outside my suspended animation pod, my wife actually put her book down to stare over my shoulder.  "Jesus, that looks beautiful," she said.  "They really did a great job on that."  The previous generation, id Tech 4 (or the Doom 3 engine), was great at rendering claustrophobic spaces where monsters lurked, but not very good for large outdoor environments.  Utilizing MegaTexture technology, id Tech 5 spits out detailed landscapes at a constantly smooth frame rate.

Well, until you get up close to some of them, at any rate.  Or if you swing your field of vision around too quickly.  Let me explain: id Tech 5 does not pre-cache most of its graphics, instead streaming them in as-needed in order to save resources that can be used for the lighting and environmental effects.  It's a great piece of bait-and-switch technological coding, and one of the reasons why Carmack, id's lead programmer and resident genius, is so lionized within the industry.  By not having the necessary textures loaded until they are required, it allows for more advanced effects to be used on current generation technology.  The downside of this technique, though, is that when a new texture is needed, there is a "popping in" effect that takes place momentarily, where a low-resolution texture is seen briefly before the hgiher-end one is streamed in its place.  At first, it's a little disconcerting but after a little while, it's not really noticeable any more.

Here is a list of features that id Tech 5 provides: soft-shadow lighting, high dynamic range rendering-centric effects, bloom, crepuscular rays (volumetric lighting), radiosity, soft particles, pixel shader effects, alpha to coverage, post processing, dynamic water surfaces, procedural animation, cloth simulation, depth of field, and motion blur.  The bloom effects and gradated lighting as one environment is exchanged for another is in particular impressive; it is the most realistically rendered virtual world that has been encountered to date.  It remains to be seen wether Crytek's CryEngine 3 or Epic's Unreal Engine 4 will give a better experience, but thus far, id Tech 5 is the best.

All right, back to the game itself.  As RAGE is a first-person shooter, the storyline follows a series of missions that must be accomplished before the next objective can be worked on, with a number of side trips along the way to gain either extra money or items for your supplies.  The fact that RAGE is fairly linear has become a a sore point with some players as it is not an open-world type of environment, but I think this criticism is a little unfair.  By their very nature, first-person shooters are generally straightforward mission-based exercises.  This game is not World of Warcraft and does not try to be; if exploring a vast virtual world is what you want out of your titles, go out and get yourself a copy of Star Wars: The Old Republic or a similar MMORG.  A first-person shooter is action first and is generally scripted along mission-based storylines, so if you want to be angry, be mad at the genre itself.  You are welcome to turn down an offered mission at any point, but most of the time, it's a needed excursion to advance the main storyline.  Quite simply, it is what it is.

In addition to the shooting scenarios, RAGE offers the opportunity to upgrade and better equip the necessary vehicles along the way with a series of races and driving challenges.  On a few occasions a racing exercise is necessary to advance the storyline; most notably, a side excursion to the delightfully gory Mutant Bash TV mission takes place in order to get a sponsorship to compete for a Cuprino, the armored pickup truck that will be used for most of the driving in the game.  The current vehicle you have won't stand up to a dangerous mission, and hence the Cuprino is needed.  Simple, right?  You may also compete in a variety of events ranging from simple time trials to full-on vehicular combat around various wasteland locations, with the prizes for good finishes being racing certificates that can be used to upgrade whatever vehicle is currently being used.  As a tip from someone who has logged a lot of time with the game, saving all certificates except when absolutely necessary on lesser vehicle for use on the Cuprino is a good tactic.  Once it is acquired, you won't use any of your other vehicles, and the heavy-duty Monarch that comes later in the game is not used for many missions.

It should also be mentioned that there is a nice in-game monetary system for use in purchasing different kinds of ammo, weapons, ingredients and schematics for crafting different items (the lock grinder being very necessary, but my favorite has to be the dynamite-tipped crossbow bolts).  You get cash for completing missions, taking side trips off the "job boards" in the two main town locations, selling found or unnecessary items you acquire along the way and pillaging bodies for whatever they are carrying.

Okay, so great game.  What went wrong?

Plenty.  First off, RAGE experienced horrible graphics issues on AMD cards, which meant that about half the PC gaming rigs around couldn't play it on release day.  At all.  It was swiftly addressed in a patch that also added a lot more customization options to the in-game graphic settings, but it's a pretty awful gaffe when one of the leading software developers around makes a game that can't function for half the audience.  PC gamers, already terribly finicky by nature (and if you don't believe that, take look at the average bitchfests taking place in various gaming sites), acted like their newborn children had been offered up as a sacrifice to Carmack.  Normally this is where I would say that only a giant dope buys a PC game on its release date because of the laundry list of inevitable compatibility problems that necessitate the release of a series of patches, but since I'm such a classy guy, I won't do that.

Secondly, in earlier interviews, id had promised that the modding community would be fully supported from the get-go, because modding tools would be included in the game and easily accessible from the console.  They were not, but in all fairness, it should be pointed out that this was a decision that was made above id's pay grade.  Bethesda, the parent company, decreed that not only would would mod tools not be released, id Tech 5 would not even be available for licensing by outside developers for their games, bringing proprietary technology to a whole new awful level.  In the time since RAGE was released, only one game has hit the market using the id Tech 5 engine; RAGE.  Period.  In addition to ticking off everybody who had looked forward to doing various add-ons with the new technology (including myself), it also made it look as if id had lied to their long-time fans, since RAGE is the first id title since 1992's Wolfenstein 3-D that does not support outside enhancements and new material.

Oh, and about that new material?  Forget about it, Johnny.  Bethesda promised that RAGE would have plenty of downloadable content (DLC) and as of the date of this typing, there has been exactly zero released.  I repeat: ZERO FUCKING MATERIAL.  Thanks, Bethesda!  Beyond the initial patch to fix the terrible graphics issues and an "Anarchy Edition" giving one new mission, one new armor, a double-barreled shotgun and one new vehicle, Bethesda has done absolutely nothing to support the game.  Usually you only see cutting bait of this variety in Hollywood (John Carter, anyone?).

Bethesda has said that the upcoming Doom 4 will use id Tech 5, but there has been zero news on this since the announcement that since RAGE was done, the team would be moving over to the new game.  To be honest, it's a pretty horrendous follow-up effort on the part of Bethesda.  It was recently rumored that DLC would be appearing for RAGE and an announcement was made in Europe, but that information was quickly pulled and since then, Bethesda has said nothing.

The game?  Four and a half stars out of five.  The support?  Half a star, because I can't give zero.  Fuck you, Bethesda.  It's available now for cut-rate prioces, so if your graphics card is feeling up to it, give RAGE a whirl.  You will be happy you did, just don't expect a second dance.  Bethesda has a habit of pre-emptively stepping on your toes.