Superficially speaking, Rage is a hybrid of Fallout and Borderlands, delivering an adventure in which you awaken after a lengthy cryogenic sleep to discover that the world has transformed into a futuristic western wasteland populated by mutants whose bodies you must loot for cash and ammo during an endless series of kill-and-fetch quests. As beautiful as id Software’s latest is, full of expertly refined textures and well-animated enemies and dusty-plain environments, there’s no getting around the gnawing reality that such a world has already been imagined by other games, not to mention ones with far more interest in actually fleshing out their sci-fi milieus. That’s because, despite surface similarities to the aforementioned titles, Rage offers weapon-customization, item-collection, and character conversations only as a distraction from its true objective: straightforward, narrow-corridor first-person-shooter action. That aim is handled with dexterity, as the weapons in the developer’s long-in-the-making franchise-starter boast a satisfying recoil-charged physicality that goes a long way toward making its myriad shootouts exciting, even when targeting-accuracy issues crop up—and they do. Yet given the time and care that obviously went into crafting its aesthetics, the game’s lack of conceptual originality—with regard to not only its story and setting, but its drive-here, shoot-that task construction—is more than a tad disheartening.
Rage’s gameplay involves selling junk, buying supplies, and acquiring missions at a local town from a variety of colorful if one-dimensional characters, and then driving somewhere in your weaponized, armored vehicle across stretches of rocky desert to kill lots of enemies and then return home with whatever object was sought. That schematic structure loses its luster quite quickly, though it’s somewhat compensated for by reasonably hectic, drawn-out firefights with enemies who alternate between shrewdly taking cover and bum-rushing you with reckless abandon. During any particular bloody encounter, Rage can truly rock, affording expertly chaotic combat in well-structured battle arenas. As the proceedings progress, however, a sense of repetition becomes unmistakable; there are only so many confining passageways one can run down, blasting to bits whomever pops up in one’s path, before the absence of true tactical options becomes a glaring annoyance. That uncomplicated design extends to your interactions with others via conversations that never afford any multi-path dialogue choices; instead, Rage merely moves you forward to the next carnage-strewn clash.
While both a co-op mode and car-centric multiplayer are both too basic to generate any lasting devotion, the main campaign at least affords enough decent boss battles to make completing the title reasonably worthwhile. Still, with so little attention paid to the narrative, which boasts a carnivalesque sense of humor but rarely provides anything in the way of actual, pressing motivation to perform the chores with which you’re saddled, Rage is often something of an abstract experience, one in which the fetishistic thrill of wielding assault weapons (and some nifty doodads, like the boomerang-ish Wingstick) to mow down anonymous baddies occurs in a purposeless vacuum. Without a substantial or compelling reason to carry out your errands, and with upgrading items a largely pointless exercise (no matter how powerful you make your guns, felling adversaries still requires boatloads of bullets), the game rests solely on the immediate moment, on the visceral madness of a sharpshooting skirmish or Road Warrior-style vehicular fracas. That would be fine for the average FPS, but considering id’s prior, sterling Doom 3 and Quake III, such skimpiness ultimately can’t help but turn Rage into a letdown.