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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  • Rukur - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I will not ever again buy a game for my PC that also runs on console junk.

    The Games are crap.
    UI is crap.
    Game questions only have 4 possible answers in a diamond pattern.

    Utter junk.
    Reply
  • Steve McQueen - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    a better path is just to wait 2 years and see if a modding community has formed around a game. If it has, chances are good that it is a decent game and you will be able to amp up the experience with content from from people who just love gaming [and boobies, ;) ]. Reply
  • The0ne - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Yep, it's a good rule of the thumb! My latest encounter was my beloved Dungeon Siege 3 game. The port was so horrendous it got me so upset I spent hours writing up a FAQ to help others perform basic functions like properly move around.

    My nephews refuse to play an FPS games on their consoles and prefer them on the PC. Other games such as fighting and sports they play on the consoles. MMO is another no no on the consoles.
    Reply
  • CrystalBay - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Baked Lighting , Static skybox ,WTH is this shit ? Who is Carmak ? iD?

    Just wait for the suckers to buy Skyrim and get this ,"The New Creation Engine" cough Gamebyro. FU ZeniMax..
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    It's tough to say, as they look different. As a game, Crysis 2 certainly has a better story, but I haven't quite finished it yet. I'm not sure why, but Rage got me wanting to see the conclusion, and I ended up disappointed but I still finished. Crysis 2, I was playing and then paused and got distracted by something else, but I'm about 80% finished and need to go back. I'm more interested in wrapping up Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though, so Crysis 2 is on the backburner until then. Oh, and DXHR looks like crap compared to Rage and Crysis 2, but I like it more as a game. Not sure if that says more about me or the games, though. Reply
  • Omega215D - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Deus Ex: HR was supposed to be graphically superior but quite a few things got cut from the finalized game due to limited resources and wanting to make the game accessible to more configs. Or so the story goes.

    Despite the graphics I found the game very fun and addicting, much to the point where I'm on a 3rd play through to see how much stuff I can find. Then I will be going back to the original Deus Ex to follow the sequence of the story and then onto Deus Ex: IW (a game known to be crippled by console requirements). It's like an interactive novel I can't put down.

    Crysis 2 was pretty interesting but I got tired of it soon after. Been playing BC2 and Black Ops multiplayer for my FPS kicks. I was about to give Rage a try until I heard about the bugs.
    Reply
  • Proxy711 - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I've only ever returned 2 games in my entire gaming life, I'm 25 years old. Even dead island didn't get returned, and that's really saying something.

    The two? Unlimited Saga and RAGE.

    Rage was a pain in the ass to get running right even with the upgraded drivers and config tweaks. Combine that with id pretty much saying we don't care about PC gamers and I quickly got a steam refund.

    Rage has so many PC options missing its crazy. No SLI or crossfire support, baked lighting, the absence of any user config (until a patch that added a few more), 60FPS max.

    Such a disappointment. id and carmak are dead to me.
    Reply
  • RenderB - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    On a personal level I partly disagree with the borderlands comparison. That game has more humor, limited freedom, and even some exploring. (Like those weapon caches that are semi outside the map.) It also has decent coop. The Rage npcs say more up front, where as the ones in borderlands will coment during story missions via echo.
    Rage feels very linear, and seems to constantly build up to something that never happens. (That last level is a major anti climax.)
    I did have to do some tinkering before it would run, disabling ati ai got it working.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    I'm not saying the games are the same, but they feel very similar. As I noted in the conclusion, Rage makes me want to go replay Borderlands to see how it actually compares. I have a feeling I'll prefer Borderlands, if only for the semi-open world. Actually, I was just reading about Borderlands 2 in PC Gamer, which could be a better comparison if it can come out within a few months. Reply
  • Aikouka - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Borderlands 2 won't be out until 2012... unfortunately. :(

    Every time I look at my Steam games list, I always kind of wonder how I spent so much time playing Borderlands (~220 hours). The game is oddly addicting for those that love dungeon crawlers or collecting loot, but I think anyone that's played it will admit that there really isn't much of a story. The game does have some pretty good dark humor though, and you may find that enjoyable.

    If you also prefer getting technical about things, there's a lot of "behind the scenes" technical stuff that you can learn that will give you a better understanding of Borderlands. For example, how exactly the elemental guns work or what defines a shield's stats. I ended up looking a lot of this up, and now I can look at a model of a shield on the ground and tell if it's good or not.

    If that's not enough to impress the ladies, I don't know what is! ;)
    Reply

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