Tuesday, November 15, 2011

RAGE Review

id Software, the game development legend behind such series as Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake, has just released its latest game, RAGE. Expectations for this title have been building for years -- ever since their last game, Doom 3. Seven years later, the developers are back with a new title, hoping to squeeze their way back into the hearts of gamers who may have forgotten them. Will RAGE prove as memorable and prolific as its predecessors, or did id miss the mark with its big bet?

The first thing anyone will notice about RAGE is its horrible rendering issues. From the minute gameplay starts, textures on objects update far more slowly than they should, sucking you out of any semblance of immersion. On hokey shows such as CSI, there are parts where the investigators zoom in on an image, “enhance” it, and then the picture magically clears up. This is exactly what happens in RAGE when the player whips the camera too quickly. Below is a video demonstrating this effect:

Surprisingly, this video actually looks better than when I played it. This nearly unbelievable fact is due to my copy being a PlayStation 3 title, and the video coming from a PC. The worst thing about this issue is that, according to the internet, downloading a modified configuration file will fix the issue on PC, but console owners have no such option and will have to play a graphically broken game if/until id decides to fix it.

The rendering problem is made even more tragic by the fact that the graphics are otherwise stunning. The object details are crisp, lighting is better than most games, and simply gazing around outside is a treat. RAGE is like a delicious cake covered in nightmare icing.

The story of this game is mediocre. A select group of individuals were chosen for the Ark program, which let people sleep in metal shelters while a meteor came down and caused the apocalypse. You play one of the Ark-people who escapes his captivity only to find himself in a desolate wasteland. Wait a tick, does this story sound familiar? It bloody well should -- especially if you’ve played any game in the Fallout series. Down to the pieced-together armor and bandit outfits, this game calls back to Fallout 3 for me, and as such, I began to compare the two. This is the turning point in which my opinion of RAGE went from unfavorable to disparaging.

As I quickly found out, comparing Fallout 3 and RAGE is an exercise in frustration and disappointment.

RAGE is an open-world game whose shortcomings make it seem so much smaller than the visuals let on. Upon first leaving the Ark room, a desert buggy ride introduces you to a wide world with sprawling landscapes, large geometric features, and interesting characters. Everything about the game sets up your journey to be one grand in scale, but that expectation is quickly dashed by how limited you are in your choices. For one, guns cannot be retrieved from enemies. This alone is unacceptable in the King’s year of Two-thousand and Eleven. Just seeing a dead body’s weapon fade away and not being able to retrieve it is unbelievable and frustrating in a modern game. You must instead either purchase new weapons or have them given to you as part of a quest. Perhaps the rest of the game is full of wiser design choices?

Perhaps not. Another feature that confines the player is the rampant use of invisible walls. From places in towns to places inside mission areas, everywhere you turn is an inexplicably inaccessible area. Here’s a wonderous area in which we have room to explore:

Now let’s remove the areas made unavailable to the player by invisible walls:

Simply smashing.

I can understand something like this in a game with a smaller scope, but having such sprawling terrain sets a different expectation in the player’s mind. This expectation is only enhanced by knowledge that games since Elder Scrolls: Morrowind have been doing without invisible walls for years. Perhaps it is my fault for expecting more than I should have, but I believe the game’s style and genre history justify those expectations.

In line with poor use of space is the inclusion of mission areas. Blue zones on your minimap denote areas in which a mission is carried out or a car cannot fit, though both are one in the same. Again, this is just another design choice that id should have thought on more. I love getting lost in a game -- not being reminded that I’m doing a quest by denoting where a mission zone begins and ends. I would expect something like this from a game studio’s first try, but these developers have been around long enough to know better. I feel more like a disappointed parent than a game reviewer. I am not mad, id -- just disappointed.

The only substantial feature differentiating RAGE and Fallout 3 is RAGE’s vehicle system. Within the game, the player obtains a number of vehicles which can be leveled, customized, and raced in addition to being used for transport across the Wasteland and eliminating bandits. The saddest part about vehicles being a highlight of the game is that their execution missed the mark. I will admit that the level of customization is impressive, but the basics of driving in this game are all wrong. The collision physics are incredibly stiff, steering is clunky, and racing is almost a joke. What could have been a killer game feature simply feels like a poorly executed, last minute add-on, much like the rest of this game.

If you like action adventure RPGs set in the apocalypse as someone who just emerged from a place seemingly frozen in time, play Fallout 3. If you want all of that plus vehicles, play Jak 2 on Playstation 2. If you want all of that along with a god-awful rendering engine, absolutely no immersion, a world closed by invisible walls, mission areas, and an unacceptable weapon selection, RAGE is the one for you. I’d say six months could have done the game’s mechanics wonders, but the concept was ill fated to begin with. Making design choices this poor is intolerable, especially for a game developer legend. If you know what game yours will be compared to, at least try to make it better than the competition; okay, id? I like you and I want to continue liking you, so try sticking to poorly lit monster FPS games.
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