Good game, but where’s the rest of it?
id Software is renowned for creating amazing shooters, packed with intense firefights, cool monsters, and impressive arrays of weaponry. Bethesda is a world-class creator of games with epic stories, phenomenal graphics, and believable fantasy worlds.
On the other hand, id’s greatest weaknesses are minimal worlds and laughably simplistic stories (go ahead, I dare you, try to describe the storyline of DOOM in more than a hundred words), while Bethesda, for all that they do right, invariably features extraordinarily dull combat in their games, with enemies that all basically do the same things, and weapons that seldom have the satisfying feel matching anything id ever offered.
Rage, from id, is clearly influenced by Bethesda, and I have to admit I was very excited, since these two companies’ strengths seemed to perfectly offset their weaknesses. Alas, the weaknesses mostly overcome the strengths, but let’s look at things in detail.
What I looked for the most in Rage was intense combat; I’ve missed the hordes of monsters and amazing battles from Quake and Doom. Alas, the high quality visuals limit the number of enemies you’ll meet at any one time to a handful at best. Granted, they look gorgeous and hop, scuttle, jump, scramble, and duck very convincingly, and you’ll meet many dozens of enemies over the course of a battle…they just politely come at you a few at a time, like in a martial arts movie. The emphasis on agile movement also means that almost all your enemies are humanoid, although there is just enough variety that it isn’t bad, and a few boss monsters shake things up occasionally. The fights are definitely more intense than anything I’ve seen in a Bethesda game, but still below classic id shooters.
Equipment has also been Bethesda-matized. You have the basic weaponry familiar to id games (i.e., pistol, shotgun, a few types of machineguns, and, yes, a BFG), but these weapons are modifiable, especially with varieties of ammunition. The guns all have the right feel, and additionally you can craft your own special equipment (a la Fallout 3). Unfortunately, these feel just a little stitched on. Other than gear grinders to get through locked doors, and a mission where you’re obligated to build and use remote control car bombs, none of the other stuff (and there’s lots of it) is really necessary or worth the effort. I did most everything in the game with the trusty shotgun and built only a handful of things as needed, the other stuff safely ignored.
The storyline is your basic post-apocalypse, this time due to a meteor, and Bethesda’s influence is strong. Your character has been in an ark, so expect all the conventions of Fallout 3 here. You’re instantly pitted against The Authority as soon as you awake, but it’s tough to understand why: they’re bad because they’re bad, even though other ark survivors have joined them, or so you’re told. You don’t encounter these other survivors, or really interact with the Authority other than killing them indiscriminately, so I’m hard pressed to really care about the story – id’s inability to make a decent story seems to have pulled Bethesda down rather than the opposite.
"…the technology for the broom and dustpan has long been lost…"
The game world also has Bethesda slathered all over it, and fans of Fallout will again feel right at home. Much as in that game, the technology for the broom and dustpan has long been lost, and the world has a very familiar feel to it. The quests have that timeless issue common to Bethesda games (you’ll constantly get “do this RIGHT NOW” quests that you really have all the time in the world to do), and each town has plenty of little side quests and mini-games to play…or ignore. There is also a lot of driving combat and racing; these extended mini-games are fun, but like most everything else, feel just a bit stitched in, as driving very rarely integrates with the rest of the game (most every quest has you drive to an instance where you play it out on foot, and what you do while driving is irrelevant to the rest of the quest).
Because there’s no character development, there’s no experience point reward for playing the mini-games or side quests, although the money and other bonuses can come in handy. There’s also treasure of sorts lying around… but this doesn’t mesh right with a good shooter, and I really miss the power-ups of id games, which came on brief timers, motivating me to run around and shoot things faster. Doesn’t that sound more fun than finding “used dress shoes” that you can sell for $5 back in town?
Even factoring in the (token) multiplayer, Rage is a brief game in a small world, with two small towns and not much else. Despite my criticisms, the fact that I really want more says that ultimately this is a pretty good game, just with much unrealized potential. Perhaps if the game were larger, Bethesda’s ability to make a compelling story would kick in, and there’d be enough time to really investigate the crafting options. Perhaps given more time, they would have come up with ways to make the battles become more epic. As it is, Bethesda should definitely take some lessons here on how to make fights more exciting, while id would probably be better off simply abandoning the deeper role playing and story concepts attempted here, and focusing on what they’ve done so well in the past: making good shooters.