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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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  • SSIV - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    This is my first post on Anandtech ever. I've been a reader for a long time, but never felt the necessity to resort to posting prior to this moment.

    So, mostly due to rageConfig.cfg misinformation on the internet, the article's verdict of RAGE as a benchmarking tool is void.

    Firstly, the steam forums config doesn't do anything, if you try changing some of the environment variables written in it from the in-game console you'll notice no change. There's only a few variables worth changing. The rest is locked.

    Secondly, the variables worth changing are mentioned on nvidia's website:
    http://www.geforce.com/News/articles/how-to-unlock...

    Concerning the constant-fps/variable-quality statement you'll notice that this can be easily changed to constant-quality (if you read the above link's content). Hi-res textures are enabled once you change a few variables to 16384 (read link for details).

    For heavy benchmarking I'd recommend using this config:

    jobs_numThreads 12 // makes big difference on AMD X6 1055T
    vt_maxPPF 128 // max is 128
    vt_pageimagesizeuniquediffuseonly2 16384
    vt_pageimagesizeuniquediffuseonly 16384
    vt_pageimagesizeunique 16384
    vt_pageimagesizevmtr 16384
    vt_restart
    r_multiSamples 32
    vt_maxaniso 4 // 0-16 (32?)
    image_anisotropy 4 // same

    CUDA transcode is not included in config because it can be changed on-demand under video options. Whereas settings such as r_multiSamples 32 cannot be set from menu (16 is highest).

    Please revise the benchmarking verdict, because it doesn't do the game justice.
    Also, it'd make Anandtech the first site to make a real benchmark of RAGE.
    I'd like to see this happen :)
    Reply
  • ssj4Gogeta - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    @Jarred Walton
    Please do take a look at this, as the images posted there show a very noticeable improvement in texture quality.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    SSIV, you're correct that most of the variables in that config I linked didn't do anything, which is why I didn't test with them for most of the time. I ran some screenshot comparisons, shrugged, and moved on. And you might be surprised to hear that I actually already read that whole article before you every posted; I just never tried forcing the 16K textures (as the article itself states you "might" see an improvement). Anyway, I'll check 16K textures, but let me clarify a few things.

    1) Setting Texture Cache to "Large" gets to very nearly the same quality as the forced 8K textures.
    2) CUDA transcode was tested separately, and has no apparent impact on performance for my systems.
    3) Forcing constant quality is fine, but that doesn't do anything for the 60FPS frame rate cap...
    4) ...unless you force at least 16xAA, and possibly 32xAA. (I tried 32xAA once before and the game crashed, but perhaps that was a bad config file.)

    Even if you can get below the 60FPS frame rate cap, however, that does not make a game a good benchmark. Testing at silly levels of detail to try to get below the frame rate cap is not useful, especially if many of the changes that will cut the frame rate down far enough result in negligible (or worse) image quality.

    Thanks for the input, but unless I'm sorely mistaken this CFG file hacking still won't make Rage into a useful benchmark. Anyway, I'll investigate a few more things and add an addendum, based on what I discover.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Addendum: 16k textures do absolutely nothing for quality. What's more, you really start to run into other issues. Specifically:

    1) Using a GTX 580 with 12GB of system RAM, 16k forced textures (using your above list of custom settings) causes every level to load super slow -- you can see the low-res textures, frame rate is at 1-2 FPS, and it takes 5 to 20 seconds (sometimes longer) for a level to finish loading. This is of course assuming nothing crashes, which in my limited experience over the past 30 minutes is quite common.

    2) 16k textures with 8xAA enabled crashes at 2560x1600, so I had to drop to 4xAA to even get levels to attempt to load (though 1080p 8xAA works okay).

    3) Even with 16k textures, the difference compared to 8k screenshots is virtually zero. Without running an image diff, I couldn't tell which looks better, but even the file sizes are nearly equal

    4) Finally, even if we get rid of the 16k textures idea, 16xAA looks worse than 4xAA and 8xAA, because everything becomes overly blurred, and 32xAA looks downright awful. "Hooray! No jaggies! Boo! No detail!"
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, October 15, 2011 - link

    Also FYI, there are now two paragraphs and a final image gallery on page 3 discussing the above. Reply
  • SSIV - Sunday, October 16, 2011 - link

    I'm aghast at the vigor of your response! Thank you for investigating and researching this Jarred Walton. With things looking as they are now I can see that not much else can be done about the benchmark verdict.

    What >8xAA settings do to the game sounds worrysome however. I assume id will address this sooner or later.
    Because the textures load iteratively, they're blurry at first. Under heavy load the engine might only have enough time to AA the first first texture layer (might be a realtime constraint). But this is just my hypothesis, which shouldn't be true because it implies some sort of texture iteration load block.

    16k has small differences, mostly on road signs and bump mapped cement blocks. But like you said, it's not a significant improvement compared to 8k.

    Thank you for your effort and making an insightful review!
    Reply
  • SSIV - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    A 32-bit game can only allocate as much memory as 32 bits permits, which lands around 3072MiB. So unless RAGE uses PAE, which diminishes overall ram performance, your 12GiB of ram will never be utilized.

    Having said that, the sentence beginning with "Using a GTX 580 with 12GB of system RAM" is slightly disappointing.

    Again, great review.
    Reply
  • JonnyDough - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Maybe not, but his link sure did help show me what Rage can really look like. Wow! Those textures make the game look sooo much better! I'm sure an old console can't produce that clarity! Reply
  • SSIV - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Here's some more texture comparisons if you're interested:
    http://forums.steamgames.com/forums/showpost.php?p...

    Biggest difference between 8k & 16k are signs and jagged peaks of blocks/rocks. Goes unnoticed once motion blur kicks in.

    As a side note, I hope a game that'll utilize the dynamic lighting part of this game engine will appear soon. That'll be an interesting add to the Tech 5 stew.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    I think these images show what I hinted at above: depending on your system and settings, if you go beyond a certain point in "quality" you may end up with inconsistent overall quality. 2560x1600 with 4xAA and 16k textures certainly did it for my GTX 580, and 1920x1080 at 8xAA seemed to do it as well. Some of the linked images show definite improvements, but interestingly there's at least one shot (Img 2) where the 8k texturing isn't consistently better than the 4k texturing -- two of the building walls as well as the distant mountains look like 1k textures or something.

    If you have enough VRAM, 16k textures with 8xAA looks like the best you'll get, provided you only run at 1080p or lower resolution (or at least not 2560x1600/2560x1440). On my system, however, 16k causes problems far too often for me to recommend it. I tried binding a key to switch between 16k and 8k texture cache, and most of the time when I try switching to 16k the game crashes. I'd be curious to hear what hardware others are using (and what drivers) where 16k is stable at 2560x1600.
    Reply

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