'Rage' Has the Barest Bones of an RPG

Rage is what happens what a developer that only knows how to make shooters tries to make an RPG.


Publisher: Bethesda
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-2 players
Developer: id Software
Release Date: 2011-10-04

Rage is a weird game: Part shooter, part racer, part RPG, it should be no surprise that it suffers a bit of an identity crisis.

Rage is structured like an open world RPG. You drive around a big map visiting towns and getting quests, but there’s no persistence to your character: no levels, no experience points, and no stats to increase. Your avatar remains a total blank slate throughout the game. Despite the world being open, there’s little reason to explore. Any interesting buildings you might find will be locked until a quest deems it’s time to go there; you’re literally locked out of most of the world. There’s also no world map, so it’s hard to get a sense of the setting's size and shape, though there is a mini map in the corner of your screen that displays a breadcrumb trail leading to your quest destination. While helpful, that kind of detailed direction coupled with the lack of a world map trains the player to depend wholly on the game for guidance. Rage trains you to ignore its open world, not that it was very open to begin with.

The save system doesn’t help any. There are precious few checkpoints; the game would prefer you use its “save anywhere” feature, but navigating the menu to save takes a few seconds too long. It’s a minor annoyance, but it stacks over time. This lack of checkpoints would be forgivable if Rage was a truly open world game like anything developed by Bethesda, but since Rage is structured so linearly it lulls you into a false sense of security instead. You’ll trust the game to checkpoint your progress because that’s what all shooters do, right? Well, not in this case. You’ll stop trusting the game and learn to save yourself once you lose an hour or more of progress.

ID is supposedly known for pushing graphical boundaries, but you wouldn’t think that looking at Rage. While the character models are always impressive, both in their visual detail and animations, the environments are a completely different story. Some, like the overworlds and final level, look genuinely great. But everything else ranges from merely good to awful. One little puzzle involving a fuse box was tricky only because the fuse box looked so flat you’d never guess it was interactive. It’s not an issue of texture pop-in, it’s an issue of detail; things looks blurry even at medium distance. At one point a super detailed character was talking next to a road sign that was so pixelated I could barely read it. That’s Rage's graphics in a nutshell: great looking characters and crappy signs.

But Rage isn’t all bad. While it fails as an RPG, it succeeds as a shooter, and sort of succeeds as a racer. It’s a rare shooter that doesn’t follow the Call of Duty template but instead feels very much like a classic PC shooter. You don’t have to spend all your time hiding behind cover, waiting for guys to stick their head out; you can rush an enemy and not get cut to pieces even on the hard difficulty. Iron sights are practically pointless, circle strafing is key, and the shotgun will become your best friend. Later enemies are just bullet sponges, able to soak up an entire clip of rifle ammo before dying, but you’re no different, and you’ll get plenty of extra toys to level the playing field. The Wingsticks are my personal favorite, as they’re boomerangs that can decapitate your opponents. After playing so many shooters that emphasize cover and regenerating health (which Rage does have), this kind of free-flowing, open combat is a breath of fresh air.

The driving is also surprisingly fun, despite the lack of a tutorial (it took me 10 hours to realize I could power slide around corners and perform tight 180 degree spins). In the open world, driving is just a means of getting from quest giver A to destination B, which is another waste of the world. The real fun is in the official races you sign up for in town. These range from time trials, to rocket races, and since damage doesn’t carry over into the main game, you’re free shoot and crash to your heart’s content. Upgrades feel significant: you can feel the better traction from new tires, and armor lets you take more missile hits before blowing up. These races feel like a classic vehicular beat-em-up, like a simplified Twisted Metal. They’re a throwback to a more arcade-y era of gaming. And that’s good. It’s a shame that there aren’t more of them in the game. There’s enough in each town to keep you busy for an hour, but then it’s back to shooting.

Rage does include some multiplayer, but it feels tacked on with little thought put into it. The multiplayer consists of several racing modes, but they’re nearly indistinguishable from one another. They’re all some variation of a demolition derby: drive over three rally points in a row to score X points, drive over rally points in a row to increase your score multiplier, drive over meteorite pieces and bring them to a rally point to deposit your score, or just blow people up. Strangely, there aren’t even any actual races! When choosing a car can you can choose what look like classes, but then you can customize that class to the exact specifications as the other classes, so what exactly did you just choose? You do rank up, but since your progression isn’t obvious it’s hard to tell how you earn points, how much you’ve earned, and how close you are to unlocking something else. ID really isn’t good with this whole character persistence thing.

It’s hard not to feel like you’re missing something in Rage: Maybe there’s a door unlocked somewhere in that open world, maybe there’s another multiplayer mode you haven’t seen, maybe there are more races hidden in another town, maybe there really is more to this game than just lots of shooting—there’s not. Rage is a big game (took me about 17 hours to beat it, side quests included) but it's also a sparse game. It’s got the barest bones of an RPG, a nonexistent story, and too little vehicle combat. Its one saving grace is its shooting, namely the fact that it’s so fun and there’s so much of it. But while it’s a genuinely fun game despite its self-imposed limitations, Rage is filled with woefully untapped potential.






West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.


Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.


'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.