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Sometimes, originality is overrated.
From the very start, Rage feels like an echo of something else. The opening movie shows us how the world ends – an asteroid gouges a massive canyon into the moon (Thundarr the Barbarian) before smashing into the Earth and nearly wiping out the human race (Lucifer’s Hammer). The best and brightest humanity had to offer, however, had already been sealed away in cryogenic Arks, to be opened when survival above ground was once again possible (Fallout).
You play one of the Ark dwellers, awakened to find the rest of his fellow nanotechnology-enhanced scientists already dead. You emerge into a world that has become an arid wasteland (Wasteland) where generations of survivors cobble together an existence based on scavenging or banditry (Mad Max).
It soon becomes apparent that the bandit clans (the incredibly idiosyncratic gangs – the Wasted, the Ghost Clan, the Shrouded, etc. – remind me of the Factions in the city of Sigil from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Planescape, but that might just be me) are the least of your worries, as the technologically advanced and fascist Authority, with their heavily armored goons in rebreather helmets (Half-Life 2) are keen on capturing or killing all the survivors of the Arks.
There are also fast-moving feral mutants (Left 4 Dead), dune buggies (Borderlands) and a settlement in an abandoned subway (Metro 2033) to round out the references to the post-apocalyptic pantheon, not to mention the doubtless dozens I overlooked.
Yet, instead of being dull and derivative, Rage takes that source material and creates a synthesis that feels new and vibrant. In fact, it is the best narrative-driven first-person shooter since Half-Life 2.
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Of course, this is a game created by John Carmack, the legendary creator of Doom, so a certain level of technical prowess is to be expected. The controls are as tight as can be and the visuals are bright and incredibly detailed. Carmack’s much-lauded 60 frames per second gameplay gives the action that extra zip – it’s a small detail but one that sets the game apart from its competitors.
The truly surprising thing about Rage, however, is just how packed the game feels. Every mission feels different, every opponent seems unique. The depth and richness of the game world is astounding.
[pullquote][Rage] is the best narrative-driven first-person shooter since Half-Life 2[/pullquote]
Rage is unapologetically linear, with levels wrapping tightly around themselves, herding the player ever forward. In fact, as modern as the levels seem, with their clever triggered events (doing battle with the Ghost Clan is one of the most viscerally exciting things I have done in a videogame so far this year) and distinctive atmospheres, there is something uniquely old school (read: Doom-esque) about their construction. Invisible walls abound, most doors never open and, in one brief but amusing section, a key card needs to be fetched.
Those flaws, if you can really call them that, are few and they pale in comparison to the rest of the overwhelming experience. Rage is a game made by people who are not only very good at making first-person shooters, they love them too – and every bloody, adrenaline-fueled bit of it is splashed in vivid colors on the screen.
Rating: Five out of Five Pies
(a word about our ratings)
Stu Horvath has learned that you can take the man out of the Wasteland, but not the Wasteland out of the man. Follow his dusty trail of death on Twitter @StuHorvath. Rage, developed by id Software and published by Bethesda Softworks, is available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.