Ambivalence. It is the only way to describe the feeling you get after finishing Rage. There are plenty of good emotions instilled by playing Rage but these are tinged with disappointment stemming from the question that everyone familiar with what id can do will be asking themselves - is this it?
Id Software has been working on this game for the best part of the last half-decade, building a brand new engine to power the next generation of their unique and groundbreaking FPS franchises. The concepts behind Rage clearly fit into the mold of what an id FPS should be - entertaining, fast, accessible and pushing the envelope of what you should expect from the genre.
For the first time id has decided to open up to the idea of creating an open world FPS giving players the chance to experience the best that the new id Tech 5 engine has to offer. On that front id have not disappointed anyone. Rage is breathtakingly beautiful. In fact, it has some of the most impressively detailed visuals the Xbox 360 has ever seen. Every ounce of extra performance the 360 has to offer has been wrung out with vicious and ruthless efficiency and the results make playing Rage a joy.
Exploring the curious post-apocalyptic world id has created is made possible by another first for them - driving. Driving is an integral part of playing Rage, so much so that the bulk of the multiplayer centres on the games driving elements. The main focus of the driving is to be able to get around the wastelands between the different strongholds and outposts that you need to visit as you make your way through the game's narrative campaign.
The wasteland is a dangerous place and there are many gangs of bandits roaming around on armed vehicles and so there is plenty of combat mixed in with the driving throwing a distinct flavour of Twisted Metal into the mix. The game features four vehicles that you have access to ranging from a small unarmed ATV at the beginning to a full-blown, turbo-charged 4x4 with three different armaments by the end. There are also racing venues at the game's safe settlements that allow you to win currency to upgrade the vehicles putting in bigger guns, spiked tyres, heavier armour, bigger engines and improving the speed boost capabilities. Zipping around the wasteland dispatching roaming bandits is a fair bit of fun and the racing is also pretty enjoyable if a bit simplistic even by the standards of racing in GTA.
Driving isn't all there is to Rage though. The story is very much held together by the times when you are forced to get out of your car and go on foot. The afore-mentioned apocalypse is at the centre of this. In this case it is caused by a massive asteroid striking the Earth. In order to save the human race, Arks were created and sunk into the surface of the planet with humanity's best and brightest cryogenically frozen inside and set to awaken and rise back to the surface when the dust settled after the meteor strike. One ambitious general put his people in key Arks and set them to arrive a bit earlier than the rest allowing him to rise to the surface and dominate the Earth and this is what Rage's story hinges upon.
You are one of these Ark survivors accidentally woken up early and cast into the world. You are rescued from an attack by mutants by Dan Hagar, voiced by John Goodman, the leader of a settlement of peaceful people and he sets helps you out and sets you on your way in exchange for a few favours of course.
The combat is indeed fast, fluid and entertaining and it is tied up very nicely by the amazing setting of a desert punctuated with dilapidated ruins of pre-apocalypse society. Between the different bandit factions, mutants and the Authority there is a decent variety of enemies to deal with. As the game goes on more weapons become available from the id standard shotgun, to a crossbow, to a high-tec pulse cannon and a couple of assault rifles. Id has also introduced a variety of different ammunition for each weapon, some you can buy and some you have to scrounge components to make. The shotgun, for example, has the choice of normal buckshot, electrically-charged armour piercing pulse-shot and the homemade explosive pop-rockets.
Here lies the source of the real ambivalence that Rage induces. There are eight weapons each with numerous ammo types. There is a crafting system that allows you to create ammuntition, sentry turrets, grenades, bandages and other tools to help you survive the wilderness. This is all tied into a free-roaming environment that covers quite a large area. Sure it's no Fallout 3 but it still has the potential to provide hours of exploration. What's disappointing is that, although id has created this massive environment with some depth to the play beyond the run-and-gun FPS titles that they defined, the single-player campaign can be complete in less than 13 hours. 13 hours. Now that id Software has joined the Bethesda fold this makes the shortness of the single-player campaign even more disappointing when measured against its fellow post-apocalyptic stablemates in the Fallout series.
Rage is a game of amazing potential. The size of the environments and the variety displayed in the weaponry and accessibility of the driving elements show what the game could have been. It also showcases what has the potential to be a spectacular game engine in id Tech 5. This year has seen a lot of impressive leaps in graphics especially on the Xbox 360 with Forza 4 and Gears of War 3 leading the way. Rage joins this list of games that show that the Xbox 360 is still every bit as capable a games console as the PlayStation 3 in the visual department. Where Rage falls down is that it fails to make the most of the world it has created. It's not a bad game and there are plenty of moments where the game is fun. It's just too short and this will probably leave all but the most casual of FPS gamers wondering if it was worth the money.