You might be thinking, "oh, great, yet another shooter set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland." You might also be thinking, and rightly so, that the story of a single survivor emerging from an underground shelter into an unfamiliar desert world filled with roaming gangs, homicidal mutants, and isolated fortified settlements has been done before. And it has, quite recently in fact, and by the same publisher nonetheless. Ah, but this is an id Software game, a shooter made by the company that invented the first-person shooter, and that alone should pique your interest. If not, how about the fact that this shooter is so big that it ships on three discs? Or that it has some of the best graphics yet seen on an Xbox 360? Or that it's one hell of a shooter? Interested now?
In RAGE you play as a nameless survivor of an asteroid impact with the Earth. While civilization collapsed and the world went all Mad Max, you slept safely in suspended animation in an underground "Ark". You awaken to find yourself the sole survivor among the Ark's inhabitants and emerge into the new world. Luckily you're soon picked up by the kindly leader of a local outpost of civilization, and soon you're put to work helping to keep what's left of civilization from being overrun by the gangs of miscreants and hordes of mutants that control the wastelands.
RAGE is not your typical shooter, and in many ways it resembles an RPG. The world is filled with characters to converse with, dispensing pleasant nothings, adding to the story, or offering you either story or side quests, and it pays to revisit them as their attitude toward you and what they have to offer will change as you make your way through the game. The game also features those staples of the modern RPG, loot and crafting, and you can spend your time playing some of Rage's gambling mini games, one of which is a built-in collectible card game. But this is no RPG, there are no experience points, character levels, or +1 items, and there are certainly no dice rolls being made by the CPU under the hood. When it comes to combat RAGE is a pure shooter, and one that fans of the genre will find satisfyingly challenging. If the enemy AI isn"t state of the art, it"s pretty darn close, and to make your job of killing enemies even tougher, different factions and enemies exhibit their own characteristic tactics. You might succeed on one mission against an enemy that effectively uses cover, moving between protected firing positions and occasionally blind firing, only to find yourself facing a different enemy in the next mission that aggressively tries to flank you.
You're inevitably going to do your share of dying in RAGE, and when you do you'll have the chance to use your embedded defibrillator to give you a second lease on life. A mini game is used to determine how much health you'll have when you recover, and when you do you'll send out a shock pulse that will fry any enemy foolish enough to get to close to you. Once you get this second chance you'll need to allow the defibrillator to recharge before you can rely on it to save your bacon again. And while I'm on the topic of bacon-saving, I should point out that RAGE takes a very PC-like approach to checkpoints and game saving. You need to get used to saving your game manually and doing it often, as checkpoints are basically only set to the points at which you enter and exit areas or complete a major objective. Fail to get in the habit of doing so will mean replaying potentially large stretches of a mission. You've been warned.
The shooter mechanics in RAGE are excellent (and include some fun new toys such as the deadly boomerangs known as wingsticks, automated turrets, and RC cars packed with explosives), but that's come to be expected from an id Software game. What's not as expected and pleasantly surprising is that vehicular combat is a big part of the game and on top of that id nails that too. Getting from one place to another requires driving through the desert, and since that desert is teeming with armed buggy driving bandits it's a good thing that you quickly get your hands on some weapon-enabled wheels of your own. Armed with machine guns and homing missiles, and a number of optional extras such as flying drones, you'll stand a chance of making it to your next mission alive. The vehicles in the game are pretty fast, especially when you kick in the boost, and the game's driving engine sits somewhere between the arcade and sim worlds. The buggies handle like the lighter vehicles that they are, but the speeds that you can reach in them and still be in control while racing over dirt roads and canyon floors is definitely the stuff of fantasy. Not that that matters that much, they hit the "fun to drive" factor close enough.
When you're ready to give multiplayer a try you'll need to pop in disc three unless you take the time to install the entire game to your hard drive. When you first start up the game that's exactly what it recommends that you do, but if you're concerned about the space the game is certainly playable without doing so. The load times are a little on the long side, but there are plenty of games out there with worse performance when it comes to level loading. The biggest hassle will be when you switch between single player and multiplayer, but in the grand scheme of things switching discs isn't that much of a hardship.
Once you've got the discs swapped and boot up multiplayer you may be surprised to find that there are no competitive multiplayer shooter modes. Instead you get a collection of nine two-player co-op missions and a competitive car combat game. The co-op missions add to the game's storyline and each provide a bit under a half hour of entertainment, and while they're enjoyable they probably won't inspire you to take them on multiple times unless you're playing with close friends. They can be taken on solo, but you'll need to be up for a challenge if you do.
The vehicular mode is surprisingly fun, and feature four-player free-for-alls on closed tracks. In addition to the required deathmatch/destruction derby mode there's one that has players racing to capture meteorite chunks and another that has players racing to be the first to hit checkpoints as they pop up, with extra points awarded for chaining checkpoints together. As you play you level up and gain access to new vehicles and weapons, but beyond that there's not enough here to keep you occupied for long stretches of time. Think of multiplayer as a fun little diversion and buy RAGE for its single player experience.
Final Rating: 95%. An outRAGEously fun shooter.