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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  • Carlos_ - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    I also feel very disappointed with the Megatexture techonology. In my PC, I have a lot of texture popping and the game is not very pretty. It's fluid, but I have lots of slowdowns. It stops for a moment every 20 seconds or so.

    If I compare it with, for example, Crysis 1 it's considerably uglier and less smooth and the game pauses to load new levels quite often (every time you enter a new zone).

    Rage is the worse id game I have ever seen, and I play their games since the Commander Keen times.

    I think that this is be the last game I will buy from them.
    Reply
  • Revdarian - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Yeah, but even trying to "fix" it by making it keep a bigger amount of textures actually in memory//streaming some of it beforehand, the basis of the engine is flawed in my humble opinion.

    You see, if you want dynamic lightning, then you will have to keep the textures at a higher level, thus achieving a lesser compression than they did.
    And there is almost no proper way to add interactive objects to the levels by the very nature of it.
    On top of that it also forces level designers to work constantly with the graphic artists, as every little design change has to be run again, and the base texture modified by hand and recompressed.

    So, again, 21GB for just roughly 10hours of gameplay and regular to bad texture quality, how much would it be for a decent lenght and higher quality?... 40GB? 50?

    Honestly i feel that developers would do better modifying idTech4 (which supported MegaTexture but didn't seem to be entirely focused on it), versus idTech5.
    Reply
  • Frenetic Pony - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    It's a fantastic technology all around! At least, once the dvd9 limits of the 360 can be eliminated. Doom 4, which will be a smaller area on even more dvds, should look utterly fantastic and not blurry at all.

    Plus it's an incredible win from the standpoint of artists using it. No more worrying about texture size, or cramming it into memory, or you can't put this texture here, or etc.
    Reply
  • pyrocro - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Found this command "vt_visualbenchmark" here->http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1640248&...

    not sure if anyone discovered/knew this before but adding the common code line terminator ";" after a command allows you to place another command on that same line. for example

    vt_restart; vt_visualbenchmark 20

    combining these 2 commands seems to produce consistent benchmarks results for a given area and they are very different from the vt_benchmark results. I have only tested this for about 5 mins and it seems to be a useful indicator for perfomance.
    Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    I played Borderlands and Fallout NV and enjoyed both for different reasons. I guess I'm just a post apocalyptic kind of guy. Compared to the older two Rage was down right beautiful in some parts and I couldn't help but feel awed by the surroundings.

    However, it was not a game designed for my computer like mine, or gamers like me who use, a 3 - monitor (Alienware 23", 120hz), 3.8Ghz OC'ed i7 and GTX 590 type of system. Whenever I tried to run on three screen mode at full resolution, all I got was tons of texture flashing and eventually a crash with crappy performance. No matter how many settings and custom .cfg's I could find.

    This game was built for a console, plain and simple. A typical sellout game that has no roots to its past nor the community that help support it. It ran beautifully at 1920x1080, big deal. Both Borderlands and Fallout NV run beautifully at 5760x1080 without missing a beat and without any fancy megatextures.

    Whatever id.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    I'm guessing you'll need to wait a month or two to get three screen support working well. It's going to be mostly driver fixes/updates to enable Rage to run on three displays. Honestly, I'm surprised you haven't had more issues doing triple-head with recent releases, as that's about as bleeding-edge as you can get. Reply
  • mauler1973 - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    I don't know about anyone else, But I want to see more games with great storylines! Reply
  • Belard - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Yeah, like Left4Dead... And UT 3. Reply
  • Mike89 - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    There were remarks in this article comparing Rage with Borderlands. I see no comparison whatsoever and can't see how the reviewer came up with that. Borderlands is not even in the same ballpark as Rage. Borderlands should have been called Cartoonlands. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, October 17, 2011 - link

    Post apocalyptic world with mainly a desert environment? Check.
    Vehicles to drive? Check.
    NPCs and/or missions that feel hollow? Check.

    Obviously the stories are different, and the gaming engines are completely different, but for someone to say you see no comparison whatsoever? You're apparently thinking that I was comparing the engines and rendering as opposed to the setting. That I'm talking about the setting should be clear from the context.
    Reply

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