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Rage Against the (Benchmark) Machine

Rage came out a little over a week ago, and in the aftermath we’ve discovered some interesting pieces of information. I thought I’d chime in with some thoughts on the game itself, a look at various image quality settings, and a discussion of benchmarks with the title and why they’re virtually meaningless. First, let’s start with the game itself.

I know a lot of people have had issues getting Rage to run well, and that has certainly colored impressions of the game. Lucky for me, I’m not one of those unfortunate souls: with the NVIDIA 285.38 beta driver released at nearly the same time as the game, I updated drivers and never encountered any severe issues with stability or playability. I also tried Rage on an AMD HD 6950 system, which generally worked okay, but I did notice some texture flickering/corruption going on. I’m certainly running higher spec hardware than most people (i7-965 Extreme running at 3.65GHz with 12GB DDR3-1333 and a GTX 580/HD 6950 2GB), but with my gaming systems the experience has been remarkably stable and playable. What about the game play?

Here’s where things get a little shaky. First impressions are okay, but by the time you’re running around on an ATV in a wasteland environment 5 minutes into the game, it’s impossible to ignore comparisons with Borderlands. Both games are FPS titles with vehicular elements, set in a predominantly desert environment. Borderlands takes place on a different planet with some muddled background information and Rage is set in the not-too-distant future after an asteroid smashes into the Earth and scatters some new mineral that appears to cause mutations everywhere. Whatever the back story, however, both settings feel a lot like Mad Max’s post-apocalypse world of gangs, bandits, and vehicular mayhem. Then again, I loved the original Wasteland as an early teen (on my Commodore 64 no less!), all the Fallout games (including the oft-panned Fallout: Tactics), and the Road Warrior movies, so I’m okay with revisiting the wasteland.

Gallery: Rage

Delving deeper, Borderlands had a nice cell-shaded aesthetic with a rudimentary storyline, and most interactions with “NPCs” as such came in the way of talking robots, job boards, and vending machines. This may come as a bit of a shock, but I actually found the Rage storyline and NPCs to be superior to Borderlands. That’s right: the same people that brought us Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake actually put some effort into the story this time! That doesn’t mean the story isn’t a bit cliché, but at least there’s something here other than a pure shooter. I think the best comparison would be that the story is presented much like the original Diablo (or maybe Diablo 2) in that you have NPCs in towns who serve as little more than quest givers and background providers, but they don’t go anywhere and your actions typically don’t affect the world around you other than ridding areas of bad guys. The story is also strictly linear with no chance for role playing; you’re here to save the wasteland from the power-mongering Authority, helping others along the way. Some of the side quests (e.g. from the job boards) are optional, but you either do the job(s) or you don’t.

So the story is okay if not great, but what about the game? I wasted more than a few days (weeks) playing Quake and similar titles in my college days, but I’ll be honest: I’m pretty much done with multiplayer gaming now. I haven’t even tried it in Rage, but unless it’s quite different from the single-player experience it’s not going to be the hyper-speed twitch shooter that Quake was. If you’re looking for a multiplayer title to test your mettle, I’ll defer to other opinions; as a single-player experience, though, this is a pretty major departure from previous id titles.

Your character moves at moderate speed with the option to sprint for a limited time, at which point you start panting and resort to regular speed. You have an (unlimited as far as I can tell) inventory along with various items to use, and you can sell and buy ammo, items, and other stuff at several shops scattered around the game world. There are likewise various components and ingredients strewn throughout the game that can be combined (engineered) into useful items. Yes, there were similar pseudo-crafting elements to Borderlands as well, though here most of the items are either ammo modifications or one-use items instead of permanent character/weapon mods. It’s a strange mix, really, where id Software has created a title that feels more like Deus Ex or System Shock in how you manage your equipment than Quake or Doom—but don’t let that comparison make you think the story or freedom to play as you want is up to the level of the DX/SS games.

The driving sections work well enough, providing a nice change of pace from walking around, but the races and vehicles don’t really do much other than provide you with something to do other than walking. They give you cash to upgrade your weapons/vehicles as well. Elsewhere, Rage is pretty standard shooter fare: there are ten weapons comprising the usual assortment of fists, pistol, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifle, crossbow, and rocket launcher, and a “futuristic” weapon at the very end (a plasma gun/BFG). Most weapons also have a variety of ammunition available; typically these just do more damage, but one causes electrocution (shoot at water to kill multiple enemies), another lets you mind-control the target for a bit before they detonate/die, and others add explosion/penetration to your ammo. You can also lay out turrets and mobile turrets, though it’s hardly necessary (at least on normal difficulty). Overall, the variety of options for weapons and ammo is good, though my go-to weapons for most of the game were the sniper rifle and shotgun, with the pistol working well for the first half or so. I also hoarded my special ammo for far too long, thinking I’d need it later; hint: you won’t (again on normal difficulty).

I’m going to keep this short (too late?) and just give my overall impression of the game before we get to some talk about the technical aspects of the game. Rage is a fun distraction, and it looks quite nice overall. I grew up in the deserts of Utah and spent plenty of time out near the Grand Canyon, and Rage does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the place. That also means that it’s a very brown game, and the game itself even acknowledges this in their Quayola Quaons easter egg (a “very rare collection of Quayola’s Brown Spectrum Quayons”). The texturing may not always be as crisp as I’d like, but if there’s any straight repeating of textures in the environments it’s very hard to spot. Shadows on the other hand are practically absent; the environments are all pre-calculated lighting, with only characters and vehicles casting 1-light-source shadows. Basically, id traded dynamic lighting for performance, and it definitely shows on high-end PCs where numerous games look better.

My take is that Rage looks good if not exceptional, and at least in my testing it runs well. If you’re looking for a new shooter to while away ~15 hours, this will suffice, but be prepared for the equivalent of a summer action blockbuster. As a movie-type experience, I’d rate Rage at 2.5 stars; it’s fun and exciting, but you’re not going to have an emotional reaction or learn something new and insightful. If we’re going with letter grades, it’s somewhere in the B or B- range. Fans of Borderlands will also likely find something to enjoy here, though they might also be struck with a sense of déjà vu—did the two developers branch off from the same design document a couple years back? Rage makes me want to go back and replay Borderlands (a game I never did quite finish, despite playing for over 20 hours), just to see if it’s any better; right now, they’re basically a tie in my book. Also, the ending of Rage felt very anti-climactic; there were a couple big boss battles earlier and I expected one at the end, but it never came; weird. Anyway, that’s one man’s opinion; take it for what it’s worth.

Technical Discussion
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  • KikassAssassin - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    All Rage really needed to do was check your driver version, and if you're using an older driver than the game was designed for, pop up a message telling you to update your driver, with a link to download it from AMD/nvidia's website. They knew perfectly well that the game was broken on all but the latest drivers that were being released alongside the game, and few people were going to have those drivers installed when they tried playing the game for the first time, but they didn't do anything to let people know that beforehand.

    I'm a big fan of id and I'm enjoying Rage, but they really dropped the ball with this game's launch.
    Reply
  • lkuzmanov - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    erm... it's not the chip makers responsibility to ensure a game runs - they certainly can and do help the devs, but QA should be part of the development / release cycle. in this context what's happening with Rage is just silly - your product either runs with the currently available drivers or you don't release it - it should be that simple.

    "Until then, Rage remains an impressive technology demonstration and a game that some people will certainly enjoy; it’s just not a good benchmark for us right now."

    the game would've qualified as "an impressive technology demonstration" had it come out on in a somewhat playable state. it didn't. oddly enough, however, the tone of most reviews I've seen remains positive.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    This totally depends on your hardware. It ran fine on my system prior to the patch, albeit with the beta NVIDIA drivers. I think it's mostly on lower spec machines and/or AMD GPUs that people are having problems. Reply
  • ProDigit - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Their conclusions are a story by itself! Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Not sure exactly what you're trying to say here... that I should have posted just a two paragraph blurb? Or that you like the long articles? Reply
  • Taft12 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    I think he's saying "I have a short attention span, doesn't everybody?" Reply
  • Iketh - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    you're a minority Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I was hoping you could comment on what version of OpenGL id Tech 5 is using? I'm under the impression that it's using OpenGL 2.1 + a ton of extensions. Do you think it would have been easier for AMD and nVidia to support if id had stuck to a more standard OpenGL implementation such as stock OpenGL 3.0?

    And any word on adding OpenCL support for GPGPU transcode? In earlier conference presentations, id said they were looking at a variety of options of including CUDA and OpenCL. I'm surprised they didn't go with OpenCL seeing it would have supported both CPUs and AMD and nVidia GPUs instead of requiring a separate codepath for nVidia GPUs and a CPU codepath for everything else. Certainly now that OpenGL 1.1 drivers are available for AMD CPUs and GPUs, nVidia GPUs, and Intel CPUs and soon Ivy Bridge, now is definitely the time for the first OpenCL accelerated game.
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    The context that Rage creates is an OpenGL 3.2 context. But I could not tell you off of the top of my head what they're using from OpenGL 3.x, but OpenGL is nebulous in general like that. Given that they're using a 3.2 context, I wouldn't be too worried about what specific features they are or are not using. It's not like OpenGL 4.x where there are specific headliner features (e.g. tessellation) that people are familiar with.

    As for OpenCL, the last thing I heard was the famous post a couple of weeks ago about CUDA, which noted that OpenCL was a performance issue. There hasn't been any news on that.to which I'm aware of.
    Reply
  • swaaye - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    On Beyond3D in the PC Gaming forum, NV's Evan Hart (engineer behind most of the GPU transcoding) stopped by and mentioned that OpenCL was tested perhaps years ago on older hardware and it performed poorly at the time. Apparently it was not further explored. I'm not sure which company lacked the motivation to go further with it. Reply

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