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Game of the Year 2011: #24 – Rage

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Since Rage was released this past October, it has been talked about almost non-stop: Is this a return to form for id Software? Why is the PC version so buggy? Do I really want to be creating items and hunting parts in a game like this? Are these racing sections necessary?
It’s a shame that these questions have become the defining means for talking about Rage post-release, because it takes time and page space away from talking about what the game does right. Granted, the execution is not perfect throughout but taking into account the scope and ambition of the project it’s pretty much bang on.
For starters, the faux-open world environment in which it is set is brilliant. It allows the designers to craft highly focused levels and missions without getting rid of the hustle and bustle of friendly population centres and the additional content built around them.
One minute you’re playing cards in a bar, racing around a track, visiting new shops and deciding which bounty to hunt/not hunt, while the next you’re fighting your way through a skilfully constructed prison or haphazard junkyard. The illusion of an open world allows for this kind of pace, it wouldn’t be possible any other way.

If the team had decided to go fully open world, the elegant structure of the most memorable levels would have been lost. Go the other way and offer a tightly controlled level-to-level experience and things would be too intense. Not only would you not have time to catch your breath but you’d miss out on the activities that provide much of the game’s enjoyment.
The ‘Rage Frenzy’ card game is one such example, featuring a rule set that seems simple at first but soon reveals itself to be deep and challenging. Rare cards can be found dotted throughout the world, heightening your desire to explore – and, in turn, rewarding it.
If you’re after a more intense and visceral break from the main path then Mutant Bash TV is probably going to satisfy you more than a round of cards. A sadistic game show of the future, Mutant Bash has you progressing through rooms filled with enemies and death traps for the amusement of those watching at home.
Those of you familiar with Saints Row: The Third will find common ground between Mutant Bash and Professor Genki, only Rage’s version is far more menacing and far more difficult.
With such praise you may be wondering why Rage is not higher than 24 on our list. The reason for that is, while the structure, underlying mechanics and gameplay concepts are good, the shine and polish they’re coated in often isn’t.

The world of the Wasteland is nicely laid out, just the right size and hits all the buttons in terms of the technology, but the art design and aesthetics wear thin after a while. This kind of post-apocalyptic world is of a style that we’ve all seen many times before so it was always going to be difficult to produce something that felt new and engaging.
It might have been a better idea to rethink the manner of the setting and alter the characters a fraction, to create a little same-rules-new-coat. We all love new coats. Similar accusations can be levelled at the characters and your own arsenal.
Not that that should deter you from picking up and playing through the whole thing, however. In fact, the above negatives won’t even apply to you if you’re not as familiar with post-apocalyptic ‘lore’ as some people are; in which case this will genuinely feel new.
Whatever the case, as far as gameplay is concerned, Rage is a one long lengthy blast. Its biggest success is that it manages to force some new life and ideas into a genre that has been lacking both for some time. The way it does that is by, rather than reinventing the wheel, it bolts new elements onto a (slightly tweaked) system that we’re already familiar with.
The advantage of this is that veteran shooter fans feel instantly comfortable in its shoes and can explore the world as they see fit. On the flap side, new players get to experience the world of exploration and shooting for the first time all at once.
With some tightening up and more work on the story and setting, Rage could be great. Let’s just hope that its issues don’t get in the way of a successor.


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