Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the id.
All id have ever been known for is FPS. They set the standard with one game, Doom. Then carried on remaking it for the next 20 years before being bought by Bethesda. It's almost a final act of rebellion that their last game as an indie would, instead of being a FPS be an RPG, a genre they've never even tackled before. Could they do for RPG what Doom did for FPS? That would be a suitably apocalyptic ending for the original rebel indie.
id's apocalypse starts with an asteroid hitting Earth and unfortunately the only thing to survive was a copy of Fallout 3. Meanwhile, the army, scientists, thinkers, id’s originality, were placed in underground Vaults - sorry, Arks to escape the destruction. After his cryo-freeze malfunctions, Rageguy is thawed out and, sunlight blinding us like an iconic vault exit moment, we see what became of the world. It's a wasteland, where we meet a wastelander (from Rage’s wasteland, not Fallout 3’s The Wasteland, just to be clear), one of the descendants of those who survived the impact on the surface. He takes us back to Megaton – I mean, a settlement, where quests to recover inconsequential things heavily guarded by raiders await.
You can argue there’s only one way a post-apocalyptic world was going to end up and Rage is reflecting the same outcome explored in Fallout, but I don’t buy that. The ruined buildings, sun-scorched look, raiders vs settlers, the feel of it; Rage copied Fallout 3’s homework as lazily as a Bethesda DLC and filled in the blanks with Mad Max. id were famous for never bothering to set the scene, the storyline was barely a line in the manual but this time we don't need a manual because we've been here before. Couldn’t they have done something different, set it immediately after the impact as everything collapses, or make out society didn’t recover and just have it as Rageguy alone, or changed it environmentally, make out the asteroid caused a flood - us picking our way around the ruins with water and nasties swimming about; that would have been a different take, had folks zipping about on Airboats? Instead we’re pootling about in Dune Buggies and thinking about how good Fallout 3 was. And once we’re over the Fallout 3 feel, we realise Rage is a po-faced Borderlands.
Borderlands opens with you helping an outpost against bandits. Rage opens with you helping an outpost against bandits. Both feature a knowledgeable local who needs menial jobs doing which end with getting a gate open to reach a bigger town where the plot is. It’s beat for beat the first act of Borderlands before falling back into Fallout 3 with ‘The Authority’ standing in for Fallout 3’s Enclave. There is a major difference between Rage and Fallout 3/Borderlands though; Rage has no plot. There's the id I remember.
At least, no personal plot. Rageguy wakes up mute and stays mute. He’s just been thawed then a gun thrust in his hands and he’s pointed at the nearest raiders?! Lucky he turned out to be a marine not a scientist then. Or id's originality. He's not hungry, thirsty, confused, curious - doesn't even need the loo. Rage could have distinguished itself by having an RPG hero that speaks for once, reacts; Rageguy has less context than either Fallout 3 or Borderlands’ protagonists and yet he isn’t even slightly flabbergasted by the state of the world. There’s stoic and then there’s vacant; it’s only okay to have a blank canvas if you get to impress your digital personality onto him, but it’s a strictly linear game with no choices or impacts – the only emotion Rage triggers is familiarity. That’s a hell of an assumption on id’s part; in Fallout you had a personal mission but you chose how you went about it; in Borderlands, missions were mutually advantageous. Rageguy has zero characterisation yet he’s silently happy to fix someone’s leaky pipes? Oh, that’s Fallout 3. Even Doomguy has a personal reason; the hellspawn killed his pet rabbit Daisy. When an RPG has less characterisation than Doom you’ve got problems.
The larger plot is Rageguy’s hunted by The Authority, a militaristic group that controls the wasteland, because he has something even smaller than the plot; nanites. Added to his blood before cryo-sleep, they now provide him with better reflexes and healing properties, including a mini-game that kicks in before dying; you can time an electric shock to give you a health boost and kill anything nearby; like Borderlands' Second Wind. But then nothing else happens with the nanites. No levelling up, cool abilities, it’s just why The Authority is looking for him – not that he’s bothered. They're literally the plot. And wouldn’t Rageguy want to join The Authority? It’s the military and he’s a Marine so his natural response would be to re-up. In the game he’s shown no emotional attachment to the little folks so why is he against joining the more advanced Authority? Not that he’d get the chance, The Authority isn’t looking very hard and you never bump into them. Because there’s no freedom to bump.
In Fallout the biggest risk in heading to a location wasn’t what’s inside, it was the hundreds of distractions along the way. In Borderlands it was the constant threat and the lure of top loot in that clearly dangerous camp over there. And in both cases there was open terrain to cut across. But in Rage, Open is an alleyway. You drive linear paths, cliffs on either side, nowhere to go but where you’re going. There’s nothing out there. I was kinda hoping for a GTA Apocalypse with prime id attitude. Instead we’ve got a game where two-thirds of it has nothing to do. There’s loads to do the garage though; spikes, machine guns, rockets, upgrades – you pimp the hell out of your dune buggy then … just Uber from location to location. You meet raiders of course, but they’re just an annoyance you drive through. It is the most boring driving game I have ever played, but you can enter races.
Why am I entering races? Because Rageguy has nothing else to do. Just race his buggy around tracks that have floating power-ups. WHY THE HELL ARE THOSE HERE?! Is this game serious or just a knock about? You couldn’t make racing more interesting than Mario Kart with a Borderlands reskin? Do we get a banana skin powerup? Racing isn’t even tied into a larger plot, you just keep going round and round to generate tokens to upgrade your buggy and get across the map quicker. One of the upgrades is id decals for your car, then crash and burn it.
Once you’ve reached your marker, what happens when you get there? It’s not bad actually. If there’s one thing id do well, its shooting people. The shootouts can be intense and disorientating, and the locations tend to be close-quarters with them coming at you from everywhere. The various clans that you tangle with are straight out of … oh you get the idea. Bandits, nutjobs, mutations. They move-in fast, using exciting scripted leaps and bounds but while I’m a fan of tough baddies, those guys are playing on Nightmare mode. Even without armour they can shrug off two head shots or take a grenade and keep coming. id seemed to misinterpret Borderlands low-survivability rate and figured just make them really tough. Borderlands was more subtle than that plus you had room to move and a special skill to even the odds. They even crack-wise like Borderlands goons; id aping another shooter?
Missions cheat you as well. You can clear out an area then get sent back to find it full again. Borderlands repopulated places, but you weren’t sent into the same small, closed off arena time after time. id couldn’t see their way to creating more than a few locations? Eventually we reach a bigger town, tangle with The Authority and throw in with a rebel group, although we’re not entirely sure why or what the TA are up to, but no one involved cares. Worse, the franchise-starting ending implies this is just the beginning so it doesn’t even end, just stop.
Rage, of course, looks amazing. And it's a solid, well produced game - but we've played it before. The question is, where? What is Rage? It’s not a full RPG or even a minimalist RPG; 2015’s Mad Max got that approach right by having a compelling lead who had a reason to travel light, to stay mobile. And he talked so we knew why we were -or weren't- doing things. It’s not a Role Playing Shooter because you don’t even get to loot (One thing you can loot is a Pipboy Bobblehead … and that just makes Rage feel insecure) - the only looting here is id digging around in Fallout 3 and Borderlands; you can't even pick up Raider weapons. Who doesn't arm themselves, makes do with the same loadout until given a weapon? Wait a minute – No looting, no characterisation, silent hero, threadbare story, standard weapon loadout and no Role Playing? That means Rage is ... a Doom Clone. Like every other id game. I should have known. It's hardly worth a mention in the wasteland survival guide.
This is id’s final game as an indie and I have mixed feelings about that; in taking on RPG, a genre that’s starting to slip into the generic, id could have revitalised it and instead they made something this derivative? They changed the gaming world and rocked the real one for which I’ll always love them. But id did go gentle into that good night.
2011 | Developer id Software | Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Platforms; Win, PS3, X360