Written by Chris Price
09 Sunday 09th October 2011

I hate the anarchy symbol. Its jutting typographical awkwardness, destined forever to sit on some crusties lapel button. My main gripe with Rage is the fact they've stuck one in the middle of the logo. I was half expecting a squatting simulator soundtracked by Chumbawamba (Disclaimer - I have no concept of the subtleties of a modern anarchist movement. All I know is that I hate the anarchy symbol).

Anyway (if you're still reading), aside from my pathetic gripe with its logo, Rage is quite an interesting proposition of driving meets shooting game, with equal emphasis on both elements. Over two years ago, id Software announced a new game, starring a bunch of Gollum-esque mutants in a post-apocalyptic wild west style battle over resources. So far, so Mad Max 2.

id Software as a studio have earned their stripes - this is the company that created the FPS genre with Doom and Quake. Although both games might no longer hold so much sway (Quake Wars did very little good for the brand name), Rage inevitably drinks from the same spring its forebearers did. For all its quest and fulfilment mission structures and recharging health, Rage’s levelling up is built on mission design. This is a straight up action game, albeit one with a rather large amount of padding.

But it does do something rather exciting, and that's tell a story. You’re ejected blinking onto a post-apocalypse Earth, with the voice of John Goodman for company and the solitary piece of knowledge that you’ve got some extra special kit inside you, that a group known as The Authority want to get their grubby paws on. Everything else you learn on the hoof. This story-by-attrition lends additional kudos to the game, mainly because Rage is so consistently surprising, it begins to run dry of ideas towards the end but this is still an feat for a game that runs across three discs.

The setting and core story will no doubt bear comparison to Bethesda’s pivotal Fallout 3. But whereas the plight of Vault 451 inked the canvas for the expansive post apocalyptic landscape, Rage truly colours it in. Every crawlspace, cavern and crumbled underpass of the Wasteland is a shanty of debris precariously teetering on top of one another. Each town and city is salvaged mass of neon and steel, bathed in shadow.

It’s this level of minuscule detail that immediately elevates Rage from the pack; all contributing toward the atmosphere of a confusing new world, rife with threat unless you can form alliances. You’ve got the usual cabal of untrusting badlanders and wide-eyed females, just jaunty enough to be sexy, but you also have the Kevorkian scientist leashed to his equipment, complete with an agreeable blinking drone on his shoulder or the glutonous host of Mutant Bash TV – who eggs you on channelling the spirit of Lionel Starkweather.

The detail also continues into the ballistics. Much has been made of id’s skill with weaponry (this is the company that created Quake’s Nailgun) and their microsecond feedback delay. But it's no hollow praise, with Rage displaying some of the meatiest firepower since Killzone 3. Each weapon has different forms of ammunition, from electrified crossbow bolts to explosive shotguns, all upgradable with add-ons. id’s heritage shines through, with all weapons portable at once, but the environment design commanding what you can use and how often. Suffice to say, those final crossbow bolts are the most satisfying.

The enemies are too complicit in their dismissal – empty a machine gun into one half of a maundering mutant to send them wheeling 360 degrees to the ground. Fling one of the games bladed Y-shaped Wingsticks at one to drop them with said weapon jutting out of their forehead. From delivery to receipt, Rage ticks all the boxes.

But where the game loses its footing slightly is in its duality, for as well as being a FPS, Rage is also a racing-shooter. Travelling between each location is done via a dune-buggy style unit, which you can customise into a nippy armoured grasshopper. As you drive from area to area, different bandits and mutants will take you on, giving you the chance to earn cash and bonuses by taking them out. You’re also offered mini-grand prix and timetrials to continue the game story.

It’s a slightly awkward blend between Mario Kart and Motorstorm, that while never detracting from the game (bandit vehicles can be easily avoided if you don’t want to engage in confrontation) it never quite gels. It’s commendable to attempt to scratch the itch on the Achilles heels of games like GTA4 and Just Cause 2 by improving what’s usually one of the more monotonous elements of sandbox adventures. Take out the traffic, amp up the guns – but the avoidance of missiles seems rather arbitrary, as well as the rather tight hand braking which doesn’t allow for much drifting. But these sections act as a pleasant high- powered asides from the FPS sections.

Rage is a very much a game of two halves. The driving side is pleasant enough but not accomplished enough to carry the game narrative alone and certainly not strong enough to hold up to the formidable FPS sections. id have built an empire from re-purposing combat in videogames – taking the fight from the perspective of an impartial observer, and putting yourself in their body and Rage is no Judas, you can sense the lineage of Doom pumping through its veins.

With no existing IP to build up, Rage plonks you straight into an unfamiliar world that expands as you play, and relies on superb level layouts driven by points of interest, at the same time exhibiting the je ne sais quoi that made id so pivotal 15 years ago and showing that they are just as a much a force to be reckoned with in 2011.

Rage is out on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC now. More info on the official Rage site.

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