Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rage PS3 Review

Once long ago Borderlands was promoted as a realistic shooter before Gearbox decided to go all cel-shadey and throw a ton of fun at it. But consider an alternative universe where they decided to stick with their original plan - and lo we get Rage.

If you played Borderlands but thought "I'd like a bit more meat to this" or if you played Fallout 3 but thought "I'd wish this was a bit simpler" then Rage happily occupies that middle ground. This isn't necessarily a good thing though. If we treat the gaming landscape as Florida then Borderlands is DisneyWorld with al the thrills; and Fallout 3 is the residential homes where you can retire and redecorate your house. Rage is the swamp.

The only thing I can think of is that someone at id, famous for their shooting games, suddenly realised that these sandbox type games were currently in fashion and so had better make one sharpish. As such you get the standard linear levels you'd expect from a shooting game; but this time with 10 minutes of travelling to reach each one. This is a feeling that is reinforced by the quest system and the loading system.

Quests are simple - talk to a person; they'll tell you to do something. At which point it's a case of following the guideline on the mini-map to the destination; completing the task and then following the guideline on the mini-map back. If you decide that you want to return to that area - well I hope you remembered the way because there's no map or signposts. There's no way of selecting a completed quest so as to return to that area. Sure there are some areas to discover and you're always harassed by bandit vehicles so it's not a purely boring slog back and forth, but for me there was always a feeling that unless this was the quest destination I shouldn't be touching it

Loading times are also a discouraging factor -to enter the race or mail delivery challenges requires a load to Wellsprings then a load into the challenge area then a load back out or a load to retry.

For anyone used to the flowing vistas of Arkham, Fallout, or inFamous this is comedical. I essentially raced only when I had to not because I didn't enjoy the races, I did, but because it required such a huge time-investment. When a quest appeared that was going to force me into a race I didn't think "Yippee those are fun!" I thought "Oh that's annoying". Not a thought developers want to hear.

Perhaps the loading screens are justified thanks to the MegaTexture technology which allows huge amounts of detail. And it's fantastic - when you're standing still. In other words it makes for some great captured screen-shots. In motion it's another story. Turn around and the wall you're standing next to is a blur until finally slowly it resolves back; turn away from the wall and back again and it's a blurry mess once more. It says something that when I got to step outside it wasn't the vista in front of me that drew my attention (a la Fallout) it was the textures that were slowly being drawn in. An excellent display of their speed can be seen here.

So it's not sounding too good so far, but redemption lies ahead because id have done well with what id do well - shooting. Once past the travelling and loading it suddenly picks up. The shooting aspect is by far the best I've seen; aim-assist is loose so it's not a case of simply aiming in the right direction and letting the computer adjust; and the weapons feel right. Best of all is the enemy AI.

Enemies react - they'll retreat, regroup; take cover (which incidentally you as a player can't) they'll duck if you throw something; they'll tumble and roll to avoid fire; they'll stumble if you shoot them. They react as you'd expect they should react. It's exhilarating at times.

If id had released this as a set of linear FPS levels in the manner of their previous this would be excellent; but it seems they've tried to embrace the idea of a sandbox without really knowing what one is and it simply lessens the whole thing.

If they patch this to fix the texture streaming and the load times then this is a worthwhile game; as is... not so good.

[Update - and what a disappointing ending. I get given a big gun which I think "ah-hah there's going to be a big boss so I'll save my ammo for this" go through the level with pop-rockets and dynamite bolts and then... that's it.