The folks over at id Software (arguably the founders of the FPS genre), responsible for the culture-shifting Doom and Quake games, have released their newest effort, Rage. And it’s gorgeous; the graphics engine is an incredible piece of work, using large and highly detailed textures to really bring the world to life (with a qualification, see below). The combat is fast-paced and the enemy characters move realistically through the world, sometimes forcing you to re-think your tactics on the run.
The setting will be familiar if you’ve played Borderlands, the Fallout series or any number of other games. Set in the future, Earth prepares for a cataclysmic meteor impact by forming “Arks” that contain important people, knowledge, animals and technology to help humanity rebuild after the impact. However, the expected apocalypse doesn’t happen to the extent predicted, and so civilization continues. But it becomes more ruthless and lawless, and humanity begins changing not only in behavior but also physically: mutating from the effects of the impact in areas. Into this new world, your character awakes without any knowledge of the intervening years between when he entered the ark to survive the coming catastrophe and when he emerges into this new, brutal world.
The game on the PS3 requires an 8GB install (PC gamers will need a whopping 25GB of space, and 360 users will have the game split across three discs). This is because the PS3 only has a double-speed Blu-ray, which isn’t fast enough to stream the massive amount of data needed to play the game directly from the disc. So, if you’re on a PS3, be sure to start this procedure well before you want to actually play. And then turn down the volume and walk away. It’s a 15-minute process that involves the same 3 minutes of generic, ominous-sounding music looped, as well as the same 7 or 8 looping images while the game installs; presumably mostly the high-resolution and highly-detailed textures.
Speaking of those textures, the game has an incredible amount of “pop-in” while you look around. The PS3 version, which was sent to me, seems like it’ll load a “low-resolution” version of a texture and only load the high-resolution version (which is one of the big marketing items for the game; it’s hyper-realistic texturing) as needed. Basically, this has the effect of items in the gameworld being blurry and low-res until you look at them, then the game loads the high-resolution textures once the item is in on-screen.
For example, imagine looking at the tires on a dune buggy: When you first look, they’re blurry, with general hints of the exact tire shape and the angle of the treads. And then, suddenly, the game loads the high resolution texture. The tire snaps into shape, and the treads look so realistic you can see the gravel and sand still stuck into the crevices.
That kind of texture pop-in happens all the time — from pipes to walls to buildings to just about every item in the game world I’ve seen so far. It’s distracting, if you’re trying to appreciate the environment, to have this happening constantly. I will admit, however, that when you’re racing along on an ATV or a dune buggy, or other vehicle, that the lower-resolution textures suffice just fine because you’re moving too fast to appreciate details in the high-resolution textures. I have spoken with gamers who got to play the PC version at PAX side-by-side with the PS3 version, and they mention the pop-in on the PS3 is not evident on the PC version, so that may be something to consider.
John Goodman does an admirable job voicing the game character who rescues you from your first run-in with the ruthless and brutal denizens of this new world, shortly after stepping out of the Ark. The other voice actors are good, but nothing really stands out at me besides Steve Blum. That man is in just about every video game I’ve played recently. From his patently bad Australian accent in Dead Island, to his so-thick-you-could-cut-it (but still bad) Russian accent in Metro 2033 and Singularity to work in Bulletstorm, Motorstorm: Apocalypse and more. I love his work, but let’s give the man a vacation. Can we get some different voices in here, please … some that aren’t so IMMEDIATELY recognizable? Thanks, developers.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering, “But how does the game play?!” Fair enough question.
The game’s a solid shooter, with vehicle combat aspects. The ability to upgrade your weapons is handled well, and collecting scrap and mementos from your various missions across the fractured world will allow you to purchase ammunition and other items needed to survive. The weapons feel solid and the combat is perfectly adequate. The Wingstick, a three-armed, self-guiding razor-tipped boomerang, is a lot of fun to use (though I’m still wondering how my character keeps catching it without losing fingers in the process).
Saying this as someone who played more Quake II than was likely healthy, and even competed in tournaments (winning a few), I’ve thought for a while that id Software has always made incredible game engines, but has been hit or miss on the games themselves. It usually takes a third party developer to craft the engine around a high-quality game (I’m looking at you, Raven Software).
Rage is a solid, enjoyable shooter, with some very fun vehicle-based combat elements, set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic environment. The voice-acting is solid and performs well for the genre, but the whole game suffers because of the texture pop-in issue evident on the PS3. I don’t know if this is something that can be fixed in a future patch, but it is something that players should be aware of.