iD Software is no ordinary developer. Time and again, it’s a company that has pushed the boundaries of graphics technology, first with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, then Quake, Quake II, Quake III, Doom 3 and the ‘megatexture’ tech behind Quake Wars: Enemy Territory. As a result, we expect something ground-breaking from a new iD release, particularly when it’s the debut of a new graphics engine and a new IP – not to mention the company’s first major solo-developed title for over seven years.
And in many respects Rage delivers. While iD Tech 5 faces some stiff competition from the graphics tech powering Gears of War III. Crysis 2, Killzone 3, Battlefield 3 and Uncharted 3, it’s still an incredibly impressive piece of work. Rage’s post-apocalyptic landscapes are spectacularly detailed, beautifully lit and packed with truly awesome levels of clutter and debris. While the characters are clearly hand-animated, not motion-captured, they’re just as lovingly rendered. If iD Tech 5 isn’t the huge step forwards that the Doom, Quake III or Doom III engines were in there time, then it’s still responsible for one of the most sumptuous looking games on the current crop of consoles.
However, there’s one thing we tend to forget about iD’s games: they’ve not always been as polished as the engines. While we might look back now with rose-tinted specs on Quake and Doom 3, the former was an incoherent mess with moments of stunning grandeur, while the latter gave us such joys as a flashlight you couldn’t use while aiming weapons and the notorious monster closets – rooms and chambers which seemed to spawn hell-spawn as if from nowhere.
Now, Rage is a little different. It’s been hyped, buffed and polished for an awfully long time, so maybe you can’t blame some critics for feeling a little underwhelmed by the finished article. However, it’s actually a better all-round game than either Quake or Doom 3, and probably the strongest single-player title iD has put out since Quake II. Sure, the storyline is a little sketchy and it’s all a bit quaint and old-fashioned, but it’s a game that’s rich in ideas, that comes based in a fascinating setting, and that boasts some of the most satisfying shooter action we’ve seen in ages.
There’s no need to talk too much over the premise. You’re some kind of nano-engineered super-soldier of the future, frozen in suspended animation, then sent into orbit in an Ark-ship to ensure that humanity survives an imminent asteroid collision. Some years later you find yourself back on Earth, you’re comrades all dead and the world transformed. Your particular stretch of Earth is now a desert, populated by bandit gangs, mutants and fragile settlements and well-defended townships. Some people want to help you, more people want to kill you, and some mysterious force known as The Authority wants you captured and probably dead. It’s a strange world, mixing elements of Mad Max with hints of Cyberpunk and high-tech sci-fi, but it’s an increasingly fascinating one to explore.
Where iD’s previous games have been linear, story-led shooters, Rage is a weird kind of hybrid. It takes place in an open world, traversed by armed buggies and quad-bikes. It has RPG elements. The characters you meet will send you on quests, and the game has simplified systems for crafting healing items, ammo types, explosives and a ton of miscellaneous equipment. Rage moonlights as a vehicle combat game and racing game, with events to win, upgrades to fit and plenty of four-wheeled bandits to blast, yet it’s at its best when it returns to iD’s shooter heritage.