Rage Review

Publisher: Bethesda
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
UK Price (as reviewed): £25.70 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $59.99 (ex tax)

Rage is a racing game. A Mad Max-style desert forms the backdrop, with canyons enclosing the circuits and ruined highways merging into sandy scrubland. You can explore at your leisure, searching for hidden jumps and watchtowers to plough down, but the real game lies in the organised races.

The events themselves run an impressive gamut that draws on the usual tropes of the kart racing genre - power-ups litter the course and violence is common, but time trials and rallies balance out every vehicular deathmatch. You can put rocket launchers on your car and customise your look, but all that really matters is who crosses the finish line first.

Well, kind of.

Rage is a story-heavy game. Even from the very beginning, when slow radio static mixes with classical music as an asteroid demolishes Earth's atmosphere with celestial elegance, it's clear that this isn't a typical id Software title. It actually has a story to which it's worth paying attention, albeit one that's only revealed at a glacial pace.

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Rage doesn't begin until hundreds of years after the cataclysmic impact in the introduction, with a nanite-enhanced soldier emerging from hibernation to find a world that's made leaps forward in terms of technology, but otherwise fallen back to frontier barbarism. A mysterious force called The Authority rules the wastes with an iron fist, directing it towards unknown goals, while the masses survive on the narrowest margins. Everyone is a mercenary and everyone wants to use you, but as you accept jobs from do-gooders and reprehensible masterminds alike, Rage makes it clear that all that really matters is survival itself, not how it's achieved.

Well, kind of.

Rage is a mindless shooter. The folks at id Software aren't stupid and haven't changed as much as their marketing department want you to believe; they know that what all gamers really want is the chance to shoot monsters with cool guns. Rage happily obliges, shelving any semblance of plot as soon as the tutorial ends and starting to dribble out the goods. Here's a shotgun, here's a bandit to shoot - Rage wastes no time.

The enemies in particular show how far id Software has come since Doom 3, with the bandits and mutants of Rage divided both aesthetically and tonally, each with their own style. The Ghosts have a preference for leaping over scenery and dodging bullets with feline grace, while the Gearheads use robotic assistance and heavy cover. The contrast between the mutants, who attack en masse but are individually weak, and the looming Authority characters, which are fewer in number but greater in power, is particularly strong.

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In the latter stages of the game, when you face off against more technological foes on a regular basis, making use of the full range of weapons and gadgets is especially important; what really matters in Rage is knowing your enemy.

Well, kind of.

Rage is an RPG. It's ironic that Bethesda bought out id Software during Rage's development, as one of the game's most obvious influences is Bethesda's revival of the Fallout franchise. Rage's wasteland might not be nuclear in nature, but there's still enough to make it familiar; mutants, crafting, men in cowboy hats and lots of sand.

Where Rage starts to differ from Fallout 3, however, is in how it devotes most of its RPG efforts to the vehicles, rather than the driver. You can still purchase armour and weapon upgrades, manufacture your own ammunition and explore hidden areas by crafting your own lock-grinders, but mostly you'll be tuning your engine and chasing five per cent speed improvements. Tellingly, there's no specific levelling system either; just a constant string of enhancements - what's most important in Rage is that you're always moving forward, somehow.

Well, kind of.
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