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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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  • Valitri - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    After reading threw the article, I have to say I am impressed with the title of the article. Bravo!

    On another note, I absolutely love post apocolyptic type games (Borderlands and Fallout), and after reading this it really makes me what to pick it up. However, I am in the middle of Deus Ex: HR, trying to weed off my WoW addiction, and don't mind waiting for better drivers for my 6970. So I will be picking this title up soon, thanks for the opinions and generally nice article to read.
    Reply
  • aguilpa1 - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Michael is this u? This post sounds awful familiar. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - link

    Who is "Michael"? Reply
  • Valitri - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - link

    Sorry to dissapoint, my name is not Michael. I haven't ever posted on this site before, just been reading it for 4 or 5 years. Reply
  • T2k - Thursday, October 20, 2011 - link

    ...I guess once you suck at making games you will always suck at making games, huh? Reply
  • cactusdog - Saturday, October 22, 2011 - link

    You cant be serious, sure RAGE has issues but ID are pioneers of computer gaming. Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein are classics.

    Theres so much disrespect from gamers....
    Reply
  • deV14nt - Monday, October 24, 2011 - link

    It's because many of them weren't even born when those games came out. They really have no idea.

    Regardless, I think id took a wrong turn some time around id Tech 4. Q3 engine games were the smoothest twitch FPS games. Best gaming tournaments around then too.
    Reply
  • HangFire - Wednesday, October 26, 2011 - link

    I've been thinking about this for a few days. Obviously doing screen captures and visually comparing texture resolution is no way to go about benchmarking.

    To do benchmarking properly with this engine, you'll need the cooperation of id, to make available some variables for you. Those variables would record how hard the de-rez system is working.

    If you could record how much and how long the engine is forced to de-rez, you could put together some very understandable graphs. One in realtime showing how much de-rez as you play through a level, when things get busy on a slow machine you'll see a lot of de-rez. Another graph showing how much time spent at less than 100% resolution, average de-rez, etc.

    The problem with this approach is that (at the moment) no other game or engine is available to compare to. It would allow you to compare different hardware.
    Reply
  • meatfestival - Sunday, November 06, 2011 - link

    The renderer was rewritten. It uses DX9 (in single player)

    The multiplayer uses OpenGL, it's based on the Quake Wars version of the engine.
    Reply
  • NT78stonewobble - Saturday, November 12, 2011 - link

    "A second suggestion was that we force 16xAA to improve quality and put more of a load on the GPU, thus making the game run below 60FPS and allowing us to do more of a benchmark comparison. This misses the point that a game benchmark needs to be at meaningful settings; otherwise we can just go back to using 3DMarks."

    I kinda disagree here... I would like to compaire severely stressed performance on real game engines.

    Since many game engines are used in more than 1 game and the newer games often push the limits of the game engines.

    Basically it's just an attempt to predict how future and more graphically intensive games base on the same engine would perform.
    Reply

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