RAGE   Leave a comment

Against the dying of the fight.

I bought RAGE ages ago, really wanting to play it, but for one reason (Skyrim) or another (being old and decrepit) it sat in its box for ages. A week or two ago I finally managed to have a go for a few hours, until my computer exploded.

RAGE, new shooter by id Software, abusers of capitalisation and makers of Doom, yadda yadda yadda.

Doom was ace, wasn’t it? New Game, pick the first chapter, select Ultra-Violence (unless you’re really hardcore and pick Nightmare!). Fancy screen-wipe effect, and there you go. Gun at the bottom of the screen, baddies around the corner to the left, bang bang BLERGH! Shotgun! And then BOOM click-click until you run out of things to BOOM and hit the End Level button. Then the score music kicks in Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Chinga Ch-Ch Chunga Ch-Ch Chinga Chinga Chunga Ch-Ch Chinga Ch-Ch Chunga Ch-Ch Chinga Chinga Chung and BANGBANGBANGBANG as the percentages count up, then click-click and you do it all again another seven or eight times. And then you pick the next chapter two (or three) times. Dudes were shot, keys were hunted, secrets were found. It was brilliant.

RAGE is almost, but not quite, exactly unlike that.

Obviously it starts with logo videos and PRESS START screens (I love those on PC. Which button, exactly, is start? Queue hammering randomly on the keyboard and mouse) and intro cutscenes. Then there’s a Half-Life style “this is really a cutscene but you get to press buttons” thing, involving your waking up, going outside, getting ambushed and having a ride in a buggy with a guy. Then there’s some talking and finally, finally, you get given the most useless, weedy pop-gun I can remember being lumbered with by a game. You drive a quad-bike to a baddie house and then, at last, you get to shoot some dudes.

Time-to-crate has been used to estimate game quality for some time. For shooters, perhaps time-to-murder should also be considered. Unfortunately for RAGE, in this case bigger numbers aren’t better.

In Doom, unless you’re playing on one of the silly pointless wuss difficulty levels*, the first baddie you see will take two or three bullets to kill, and he’ll drop a shotgun. Doom’s shotgun is one of the best game guns ever. It can kill two guys in one shot and goes BOOM! Click-click.

In RAGE, the first baddies you meet take all of the bullets to kill, and while some of them have much better guns than you, you can’t pick them up so you’re lumbered with the useless pop-gun for two or three whole levels.

Eventually the game deigns to let you have a shotgun. Its shotgun is pretty good! Unfortunately, you won’t actually find this out for ages because as soon as you get a gun that’s actually worth firing RAGE decides it’s not a first-person shooter, but a first-person getting-lost-in-an-unfamiliar-town simulator. And unlike real unfamiliar towns, there’s no chance of violence.

I like it when action games space out the slaughter with other activities, but those activities have to be interesting. Running around post-apocalyptic towns between killing sprees and buying stuff sounds a bit like Borderlands, doesn’t it? And, indeed, they use very similar colour palettes. But wheras Borderlands’ towns were a playground where you had to abuse the physics to get to that stash you could see perched on a roof, in RAGE you can’t even jump over the railings. You have to heed the invisible walls and walk down the stairs like a good little health and safety officer, desperately trying to find that one NPC you’ve got to talk to amongst all the twists, turns, random (mostly pointless) buildings, bystanders, decorations and detritus. And, of course, no map. Remember when games had maps? Doom’s map was great. You do get a little map when you’re driving buggies, praise unto the dark gods of ludocartography, but not when you’re getting lost in the town. Oh, you don’t get a quest marker either, and while I’m generally Not In Favour of turning games (hello Skyrim!) into “walk to arrow, use or kill as appropriate, repeat until credits roll”, sometimes I’d be willing to make an exception.

Anyway, you talk to some people in the town and do what you’re told and then you get to test that shotgun, right? Nope! You get to drive a buggy. For ages. In races and in the wasteland. Happily, once you’ve upgraded the buggy it’s quite fun to race around in. Unfortunately, when it’s not upgraded it’s fiddly and finickity and frustrating. And how do you upgrade your buggy? By winning races in your un-upgraded buggy. Yeah.

One evening I played the game for at least an hour, and while I blew up a few enemy buggies, I didn’t get to shoot a single dude from a first-person perspective. If only you could shoot at the monsters, I thought wistfully. Now that would be something.

Then, finally, it lets you go and shoot people. With a shotgun, and probably even an assault rifle by now, instead of the useless pop-gun. And it’s, um, well, it’s a bit like Halo if Halo were less imaginitive and less fun.

Doom is often described as a corridor shooter. This is unfair; in Doom, most of the areas are pretty big. They have to be, because you’re constantly running sideways, dodging fireballs and rockets. Some of the areas, like the arena where you fight the Cyberdemon, are positively ginormous. Which is just as well considering a) the Doom marine runs at over forty miles per hour (more when abusing glitches), and b) the Cyberdemon fires a rocket every second or so, so if you couldn’t get out of the way you would be dead in about two seconds. Anyway, combat in Doom is all about movement; running and strafing and getting in with the shotgun and out with some hitpoints. You’re never standing still or hiding.

In RAGE, you move quite slowly. The environments are small, cramped and cluttered with obstacles. The baddies are quite accurate and tend to have instant-hitting, undodgeable weapons. When you get hit, the screen blurs and you can’t see what’s going on, so you have to hide behind something until your health recharges and your vision returns to normal. You can take quite a lot of punishment, but the baddies are veritable bullet-sponges; even a common-or-wasteland bandit’s head can withstand two or three bursts from an assault rifle. This means you’ll wind up sitting behind some scenery, or around a corner, waiting for a baddie to poke something out from behind wherever he’s hiding. Then you shoot him, and he flinches. Repeat until dead. It plays a lot like a cover shooter, but without a cover system.

Another thing Doom did was exploration. Every map was crammed with secrets, and you needed to find the coloured keys to progress. Levels were sprawling mazes. RAGE is… Much more modern in its design. Shooty bits tend to be a more-or-less linear corridor. There’s the occasional secret to find, but random junk (used for crafting), maybe the odd crystal (of yet unexplained use) or ammo stash, doesn’t have the same kick as getting a new gun – in fact, I didn’t find a single gun in the shooty bits, only in shops and from talky-people – and recharging health means you don’t get the relief of finding a nice, big medikit when you’re on 15% hitpoints. Modern shooter design’s a bit rubbish really, isn’t it?

At about this point, five or six hours in, I suddenly wound up with a bagful of guns (and while you can only scroll between four with the mousewheel – thanks, consoles – the number keys let you select any weapon at any time, as is only right and proper in an FPS), and was beginning to accrue a selection of blueprints and components to build things like sentry guns and pet robots, so it looked like the game would start, finally, being its own interesting thing rather than just a pretty but slightly dull and sloggy modern shooter. Unfortunately, that was when my PC popped. So I won’t find out for a while. I do want to go back to it, because I’m sure it’ll get better. It lets you build pet spider-bots, so it has to be great, right?

I know I’ve spent most of this post comparing RAGE to Doom, and it really shouldn’t be fair to compare a modern, cutting-edge game to one developed very nearly twenty years ago. But, well, so far I can’t help but feel that RAGE is a disappointment, and that it’s thrown out most of the things that made Doom instant, accessible, exciting and interesting, while keeping anything interesting of its own hidden away for far too long. If your game forces the player to slog away at rubbish bits for hours before letting them get to the good bit, your game is a bad game. Don’t waste people’s time.

* Doom is a game where almost all of the fun comes from shooting dudes. Difficulties below Ultra-Violence mean there are fewer dudes. This means there is less fun. Why would you do that? It’s stupid. At least until the fourth episode, anyway.

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