Review: Rage (PC)

Almost any long-time gamer has either played or heard of the games Doom and Wolfenstien. What you may not know is that these games were developed by id software, and the brainchild behind these games was John Carmack. We haven’t had a game from id in a long time, but they’ve been busy with their new Tech 5 engine, and spearheading this new engine is a world known as Rage.

Rage takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that brings together elements from minigames, driving, and first-person shooter (FPS). This gives us something familiar from many other games, but it’s been a long time since Doom 3. Does id prove they still have what it takes to make a quality game, or has the time away dulled their skills?

Rage
Systems: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard, and Logitech G19 Keyboard.
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: August 23, 2011
MSRP: Standard Edition $60 (PC, 360 and PS3)

Rage starts out with a familiar tone if you’ve played any of the Fallout games. The player character emerges from an underground bunker after a holocaust event that has ravaged all of humanity. The Eden Project was initiated to save humanity after this event with cryogenics and individual pods with several survivors known as Arks. Through this effort, life would be preserved and allowed to continue long after said event. After your emergence from your Ark, you’re quickly greeted by a gang member of a group known as the Ghost Clan, and this guy wants to kill everyone. Like a divine angel, a man promptly uses a sniper rifle to dispatch this devil. The sniper is Dan Hagar, who promptly takes you under his wing and warns you of the perils of the Wasteland.

Dan brings you to his settlement, where you are promptly asked to help him rid the area of this Ghost Clan and help save his people. This is where you begin the main game. You are now a “go-fer”, meaning you go for this and go for that. You’re always told where to go and what to do in the game. There is no reward for exploration, and while the world looks open, it’s actually all corridors in traditional id fashion. You’re limited by invisible walls everywhere, and the outdoor terrain is walled in by rocks; for lack of a better description, I’ll call it an outside corridor. This will quickly make you frustrated because you have this sense that you should be able to do things but can’t. In one such instance, I could see enemies jump over desks or tables, but when I attempted to try and do the same thing, it was impossible because of invisible walls. In co-op, it was even more frustrating.

This brings us to another grievance about the game on the PC: graphics problems. The engine Tech 5 uses a process called mega textures. This process puts less of a load on the memory by loading one massive texture instead of a bunch one small piece at time. The mega texture is still segmented, but it’s in one large file. This game looks so muddy up close, but distant objects look decent. Where we see this texture and lighting system work poorly is indoors. All gamers expect to see descent detail in a room, but this screenshot shows how poorly these were implemented in this game, especially compared to other id games like Doom 3. This brings me to a major sore point in the game: there are pop-ins and they’re everywhere. This isn’t just a problem on the PC; it’s definitely exaggerated depending on your hardware or if you turn quickly with your mouse, especially if you use a high DPI.

The problems don’t end there, unfortunately. Texture tearing happens frequently, and you can see the seams of the segmented textures between each one. At the game’s initial release, this problem and others had the developers placing the blame game on drivers when it’s obvious many of these issues are engine-related, not hardware-related. Since I have an Nvidia card for my graphics, the texture tearing was a simple fix; all I had to do was force vsync in the Nvidia control panel because there was no available option with the initial release, but this fixed nothing else. This function should’ve been available from the beginning, but it was included in a later patch that for some reason does not stay enabled.

The first patch that was implemented gave me some hope because I could now define what texture set to use. Unfortunately, the game still suffers from texture pop-ins on objects that have greater detail, like concrete, or objects with signs on them. The only improvement I could see was with the world because it doesn’t have much detail.

The graphics are not the only area that needs further improvement as the game has a major problem with the mouse, too. It’s fine when you use it to aim, but when you go into a menu, its speed doubles when it shouldn’t. Again, this is another problem confirmed by others with the PC version. I also had to setup a startup command for raw mouse input and disable mouse smoothing, which didn’t fix my menu problem, but at least the mouse didn’t feel as slow in first person. A mouse sensitivity adjuster is a basic menu option that should be available in the game, and in fact, many PC games expect this due to how much system hardware can vary from one to the next. However, it seems that developers are doing their best to cut out what’s been established for features on the PC to boast about in order to look like they’re doing us a favor. It’s obvious that developers are doing this to save money and time. I for one am not fooled by these kinds of tactics, and neither area majority of PC gamers.

On the bright side, the soundtrack fits the game well. Each new area has its own distinct sound, but since they’re short, you can hear when a track begins to loop. It’s a pity the voice acting didn’t help me care about the characters, or help me feel that the story was important, because there was just no emotion in the delivery. The audio also cut out periodically: if you loaded the game while in a vehicle, there were no other sound effects besides that of the tires running across the road. The audio would also start popping. I thought it was either my speaker or sound card at first, but my headphones use the USB port and that had the same problem. I was able to confirm later from other players with the PC version that they had the same problems, which were still present even with the latest patch.

I also found a few basic bugs that should’ve been picked up by quality assurance. The first one I found on was at the main menu. The menu does not properly adjust the first sound you hear after you press enter; it’s maxed even if the in-game audio is turned down, which was startling when I opened the game and expected it to be lower. The second one was with the in game VoIP: every time I went into the multiplayer menu, it would be enabled. I tried to disable it because I prefer a third-party solution, but no matter how many times I went back to the single-player menu or exited the game, it would never remember what I chose.

The most enjoyable experience in this game lies in the first-person combat. The ability to use new and upgradable weapons and quick-use items had me thinking about how to approach a given area and what to use. The AI has its ups and downs; e.g. they can always hear you unless you’re crouched, but that’s the only real shortcoming with it. The best the AI has to offer is when you’re already in a firefight: the enemies will either duck, climb, or take cover; and because these movements are random, you’re guaranteed to never fight in the same way in a given area even if you have to backtrack to it.

This, however, cannot be said for the AI behind the wheel. They use regular cheap tactics to either catch up or overwhelm you. Most times when I got ahead of the AI and used a boost to gain distance, they would be able to stay on my tail even when I hit the boost refill in races. This would’ve been nice to bypass, but since it’s required to earn racing coupons that allow you to upgrade or compete for new vehicles, this felt more like a chore than an escape from the other game mechanics.

The game doesn’t limit how many weapons or how many quick-use items you can have in your inventory. Instead, you have a limit on how many you can quickly select at any given time. This clever move by id is something I hope to see in future games because too often they give you too much or too little, which hurts a game one way or another.

The game had many, many minigames or persistent missions to keep you going back to earn a little bit of cash. You wouldn’t think six of these would be too many in, say, an MMO, but since these are meant to distract you from the world, it seems obscene to have so many in a world that has limited exploration. I appreciated that id wanted to give us a variety, but it also felt like they had too many ideas on the board and couldn’t decide what to cut.

At the time of review, I tried to play multiplayer games with more than one other person, but it was unfruitful. Thus, the only thing I feel that can be mentioned properly is the co-op. I played with two different people, and even though these stories helped the game go into detail about certain events, it wasn’t very fun after the first few runs. It’s the same situation every time and gets old very fast. The other drawback is the lack of a menu for even basic inventory control; you have to find everything you’ll use in this mode. This leads to further frustration because you could use it just fine in single-player mode. This isn’t the only basic information it’s lacking: things like ping, individual kill score, and time played are not present until the end of the game or don’t appear at all.

The first co-op attempt went off with my partner experiencing lag and wondering why my score was very high, high enough to be his score doubled. He later mentioned he was getting lag, and since I was the host, I wondered what was up. The next person I played with, I connected to him and we played two missions with his being almost double on the points by the end both times. This leads me to believe there’s a problem with the game and how it registers the hits. Either that, or something else is hindering the connecting person’s score.

The story may not have been very easy to get engrossed with, but the ending was like hitting a brick wall at 100mph. I was thinking I was going to have a confrontation that led to a boss fight, but it just stopped after I completed what appeared to be another gopher mission. I have heard other people say (including friends), “It’s id; what do you expect?” To be honest, I expected something with a little more closure than that. I didn’t expect to have all the secrets of the universe be revealed to me, but all they did was stop the story at a point where they could easily pick it up for a sequel.

This game took me about seventeen hours to finish, which was good, but I found a catch: I stopped enjoying it well before that point. In the end, Rage is one of the worst games I have played in years. It’s worse than Crysis 2, and I thought that was the worst we would see this year. I was wrong. There are so many technical issues that should’ve been caught if they did proper quality assurance at id. I have read Carmack’s comments that the PC was not a lead platform, and that’s fine; I don’t mind that. But it’s obvious the PC had little to no effort put into its development cycle.

I gave this game many chances to get its act together. One such chance was by using command lines on startup to force or push the engine further than by what was enabled at the start. I tried for about four hours, and they did little nothing to help with many of the technical issues, such as popins. Now, Carmack has said they’ll try to resolve these technical issues, but these critical bugs are forcing me to say people should either wait until this game is on sale before they buy it, or they shouldn’t bother at all because there isn’t much to carry this game beyond its single-player experience. Unfortunately, this game has also hurt id’s reputation with the PC community that helped launch them to where they are now. I wasn’t expecting a perfect game, but I was expecting one that would run with few problems with id behind the wheel. That, for me, is why I’m giving this game such a low score.

PROS

* Dynamic AI
* Varied weapons
* Inventory system

CONS

* Graphics bugs
* Sound bugs
* Weak story
* Lack of basic menu options
* Outside corridors

FINAL SCORE: D+

Disclosure: The game version reviewed was 1.0.0.0 for about 75% of the game and the last 25% was with 1.0.0.1. The writer purchased this game through Steam. The amount of the game that had been completed at the time of review was 100% on Normal difficulty.

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About Brandon Mietzner