The quests, it turns out, are effectively FPS levels, pushing you through fairly linear environments, blasting away at whatever bandits, mutants or monsters stand in your way. In a way, it’s very old-school. Enemies tend to have two modes – hide, pop up and shoot or rush and attack – and there’s no cover system and no CPU-controlled allies to worry about (at least most of the time). The combat is fast-paced, visceral and compelling. iD doesn’t just know every trick in the book – it invented most of them – and there’s a certain pleasure in seeing all the hoary old shooter cliches, not to mention a few new ones, trotted out for what seems like the first time in years. Whether you’re pushing your way through the mutant-haunted ruins of a long-dead city or battling through a bloodthirsty post-apocalyptic game shot, the action rarely lets up for a second.
And there are some genuinely smart ideas in there. iD has kept the weapon count fairly minimal, but added interest with alternative ammo types, which can either be bought or made from scavenged items. With the aid of these a shotgun becomes a makeshift grenade launcher, or a crossbow bolt becomes a great way to slay whole groups; take electrified bolts and just add water. The weapons and ammo types make each successive battle even more entertaining, but the star of Rage is undoubtedly the wingstick. A triple-bladed smart boomerang, it can be hurled at foes with a click of a bumper, dispensing nasty decapitating or limb-severing doom to anyone in the way of the initial throw or the return. It says something for the ferocity of Rage’s combat that you'll be relying on the wingstick fairly often; with so many mutants to slay, even your average assault rifle can’t keep up.
It’s also worth mentioning that those bandits and mutants aren’t quite as dumb as they look. Some of the rushers prove to be highly agile, springing up walls or leaping over ledges to get up close and personal a bit faster than you’d like. Rage also does a nice line in sudden bursts through ceilings and walls. Combine excellent monster design – always an iD strength – with some fine shock-horror music and the well-staged, vicious pace of the attacks, and Rage does a great job of keeping even veteran shooter fans on their toes.
If it falls down anywhere, it’s in the open world aspects and the long-term pacing. Some of the side-missions are brilliant fun, but it’s a bit of a let down to see so many that send you back to previously-explored locales to confront a slightly different arrangement of mutants or bandits waiting for you. A handful of fetch quests feel a little cheap, and while there are useful rewards for going bandit-hunting or joining the local delivery service, actually doing so isn’t that much fun. Meanwhile, Rage suffers from a slight lack of the extraordinary set-pieces we’ve come to expect from shooters in the age of Gears of War, Resistance 3 and Modern Warfare, mistaking old-fashioned boss battles for dramatic high points. The tempo as a whole is a bit uneven, and while Rage delivers an exceptional beginning, it struggles to build towards a satisfying middle and end. It’s always very good, but just when you expect it to take things to another level, it doesn’t.
None of the above changes the fact that Rage is a hugely enjoyable shooter. Those of us who go misty-eyed over Doom and Quake II will play it happy that iD can still do what it does best, and do it better than many of its rivals. The more you explore, the more you fight and the more you play with the weapons,ammo types and equipment, the better it gets. There’s work iD could do make a Rage 2 even better, but then that’s exactly what it did before with Quake. This might not be the best or most revolutionary shooter of the year, but it’s a bloody good one, all the same.
Rage is a strange mix of cutting-edge tech and slightly retro gameplay, combining a number of game styles that don’t always 100% work. Yet the core combat is fantastic, the world itself is absorbing and the weapons and ammo combinations just get better the longer you play. While other recent shooters have done more to up the scale or change the genre, Rage is every bit as entertaining – and a must for long-term fans of iD’s games.