Let's get one thing straight…
You should play Rage. With a never-ending list of distractions and a fully realized post-apocalyptic world to explore, id Software's latest feels more like Red Dead Redemption than Fallout 3. The shame is that it never reaches the heights those two titles have, instead relegating itself to a litany of annoying fetch quests interspersed with breathtaking first-person shooter action.
Rage sets players down on Earth after a massive asteroid strikes the planet, forcing civilizations to adapt… or, you know, not. The player manages to survive in an Ark, a gigantic Ziplock baggy for the world's best and brightest. Unfortunately for the world, most of the individuals in the Ark have died by the time your character emerges.
You're immediately scooped up by Dan Hagar who takes you to a local settlement and tasks you with defending his family from the Ghost Clan he saved you from. Unfortunately, this makes for a rocky start.
Rage's problems are evident from the get-go, forcing you down a path of fetch quests, errand-running, and under-powered combat. If we were reviewing the first two hours by themselves, I'd call the game a bloated, pedantic grocery list. Fortunately, the lesser elements of id Software's baby will grow on you soon after this.
It's Wellspring, the first major hub in the game, that'll teach you to slow down and take in the game's rhythm, the distractions, and the individuals you interact with. It's also when you get to play with some fancy new weapons.
Players can equip four weapons at a time and those weapons have four different ammo types at their disposal. You'll have to pull up your equipment and quest menu to select different weapons from your inventory. Players can also use four different tools on the fly—grenades, bandages, RC bomb cars, and sentry guns.
Heading out into the wasteland and blowing away countless enemies in one of the game's dungeons is intensely satisfying. Seasoned gamers, like myself, probably don't bob and weave with the action like they used to, so it says volumes about Rage that I was ducking and leaning in the middle of combat, my blood pumping up and down with every move.
In between fire-fights and hub worlds, players will traverse the wasteland with their dune buggies and combat cars. Vehicles handle with arcade-ease. Enemies explode with gusto. Tires kick up dust, and arenas have been designed with buttery-smooth combat flow in mind. If you think Rage's dungeons are the masterworks of id Software, wait until you face off against a pack of bandits in the tangle of a broken-down highway interchange.
The characters you interact with are beautifully designed and so are the hubs you'll explore for quests. As much as you might want to love each and every person you meet, they all talk too slowly and dialogue can't be skipped. Fallout 3's beautiful character-interactivity was always as brief as you wanted it to be. Here, players will end up standing around waiting for NPCs to finish their sentences too frequently.
Players will also find themselves staring at loading screens far too often. Quests generally send players from a hub world to a location in the wasteland, back to the hub world, and back out into the wasteland. Why should players be forced to check in after every complete objective?
This chore-like structure puts any pacing the game establishes on ice. The dungeons and car combat reach terrific highs, but checking in with quest-givers mean horrific lows. Luckily, you're heading right back out to blast even more mutants.
Enemy AI is unparalleled in today's gaming environment. The same goes for Rage's stellar vistas and action set pieces. Various factions move differently and attack differently. Some use guns and hide behind cover while others aggressively lunge at and mob the player. As intense as that combat is, there's a bevy of mini-games to engage back at the settlement.
Rage Frenzy in particular offers the player an fully realized CCG for players to bet money on. Choose a deck of cards and set them against your opponents. Some units will lend points to the rest of your squad's hit points or attack points, though each of them has to ultimately hold their own against their adjacent enemies.
Multiplayer offerings are limited to 8-player car combat and 2-player cooperative missions, both extending the game's playtime exponentially depending on how long players stick around. Once you've run through each co-op mission once, you won't be particularly motivated to go back.
The only thing left to complain about is persistent texture pop-in. Even in an enclosed space, spinning around in console versions of Rage will result in severe texture loading. Fast and furious dungeon action will leave textures muddy and blurred. If you've got a PC to play Rage on, don't hesitate to spring for that superior version of id Software's latest miracle engine.
At its best, Rage is the most varied and engaging experience id Software has ever developed. At its worst, it feels like mowing the lawn after Saturday morning cartoons. There is so much to love in the wasteland, but quests feel like they took a backseat to the engine. Games shouldn't focus so exclusively on graphics anymore; dedicated design work, not merely a pretty face, can yield an engaging experience for players moment to moment. Regardless, Rage represents the most exciting first-person shooting in gaming bar none. If you've got a small dose of patience and a willingness to explore, you've got to play this game.
You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.