When I first heard that Rage was going to take place in an open-world, post-apocalyptic wasteland full of mutants, I couldn’t help but think of the Fallout series. But once I began to play through the demo at this year’s E3, I realized that it wasn’t just like Fallout…it was also like Borderlands.
The point is, Rage doesn’t seem like its own game. The environment, the visual style, and the game’s personality all reflected elements from previous games, like certain open-world RPG/shooters from Bethesda and 2K. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing — I personally loved Fallout 3 and Borderlands — but it felt familiar and not particularly inspired. It’s still fun, but had it borrowed less exceptional game facets from other titles, Rage would be in a lot more trouble than it is.
Now, I’m aware of the fact that Borderlands was cel-shaded and Rage is not, so it seems unfair to draw parallels between their visuals. But aside from that, the style of the world around me looked very familiar; the dry, dusty, desert-like wasteland that’s colored mostly with washed-out, pinkish pastel colors, for instance. There was also the way character models consisted of an equal blend of realism and slightly exaggerated, cartoonish physical features, but I suppose 2K wasn’t the first to adopt that style either. And the areas that were less arid and more like dilapidated metro cities had Fallout written all over them. Ultimately, I got the sense that I was playing a game in an already-established universe for a number of reasons, but the aesthetics were probably the number one contributor to this feeling.
The demo available at E3 for Rage — developed by the esteemed id Software, by the way — had a number of preset missions to choose from and I played two: one which was a little more guided and closed off, and another that allowed me to explore the wasteland at my leisure while completing my objectives.
In my first mission, the premise was remarkably straightforward as I was placed in a sort of game/reality show setting and given the simple task of surviving. I made my way through five different chambers, each with increasingly difficult challenges — the enemies remained the same, but external factors like a mechanical gorilla covered in spikes spinning around the room were introduced as I moved on — and I was given bonus amounts of cash for how quickly I disposed of my opponents.
I was given a full arsenal to work with, which I appreciated, but none of the weapons were particularly out of the ordinary. I had my trusty fists to work with, as well as a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle. While the weapons were a little ho-hum, I did enjoy the fact that there were multiple types of ammunition that could be loaded into each of them.
Like the weapons, the mission was pretty ho-hum, but I appreciated that they at least got a little more creative as the mission went on, like the spinning gorilla or having the mutants raised on platforms so they could hurl fireballs down at me. On the whole, though, it was just walk into room, shoot the same mutants repeatedly until their numbers run out, rinse and repeat.
The second mission had me running around the wasteland to collect parts to juice up my ATV, which I enjoyed more, mostly because it didn’t make me feel like I was on rails and it gave me an opportunity to explore a little bit. But, as I have repeatedly complained about, driving around this wasteland mostly just gave me a severe case of deja vu, especially the small towns and settlements, which basically resembled junkyards and abandoned gas stations. Still, it was preferable to be out in the open and interacting with new NPCs and enemies.
In the end though, it was nothing more than a run-and-fetch, errand mission, and nobody cares much for those. Pick up one piece from one destination, talk to someone, run off to the next destination, and kill everything that stands in your way. It was another uninspired moment for Rage and made me wonder what the other missions were like in the demo that I didn’t have a chance to play through; hopefully, they were a little more interesting than this.
I did, however, really enjoy using the ATV. Vehicles always make long-distance travel in sandbox games a little more interesting, and I definitely had a blast buzzing around on my little four-wheeler. Going off jumps and occasionally smashing into things — which would cause my character to go flying while wailing goofily, another instance of the little injections of humor throughout the game — kept me from getting tired of what was otherwise a run-and-fetch mission. I assume there are other vehicles that will be available for use in Rage, and I can only hope that they’re half as fun as driving the ATV.
Marginally less enjoyable was the inventory system, due to the fact that throwable weapons are tossed in with the rest of your items, so only one can be equipped for on-the-fly usage at a time. A button that would let you cycle through your throwables would have been nice (especially mid-battle), but instead you have to pause the action, go rummaging through your inventory, and equip them manually.
On that note, however, seeing what secondary weapons I had was one of the rare moments where Rage came up with something of its own that impressed me: the bladed boomerang. You may have seen it on certain promotional items before (I’ll admit, I have a Rage t-shirt from PAX that is adorned with one of these and I had no idea what it was); it’s a three pronged boomerang that you can huck at your enemies and, if you’re in the right place, it can come back to you and be used again. The grenades that I also had at my disposal were pretty standard fare, but boy, did I like those boomerangs.
From what I could tell during my playthrough, Rage isn’t a bad game, it really isn’t…it’s just unoriginal. I feel like we’ve already seen a lot of what it has to offer, but the fact that it borrows some of the best elements from games like Fallout or Borderlands — the quirky personality, the wide-open wasteland to explore, vehicular travel — is what really saves it from being unenjoyable. Undoubtedly, I found Rage to be a bit of a let-down since I was expecting at least some freshness from a game that has been in development so long, but there’s still fun to be had here, you just may have experienced it before.