Archive for the ‘ Rage ’ Category

Reviewing This Year’s Games

Hey, guys. Still feeling sick and tired, so I’ve not finished up my giant, multi-part series I’m working on. Plus, my laptop was hit with a virus, so I’ve spent the weekend backing that up.

Hi!

From the article title, you’ve know what I’m writing about today. Why am I doing it? Well, here’s the deal: I wrote a blog post a while back where I failed to explain my thoughts on reviews, so I deleted it, but the general gist was that when you involve yourself in something, you become more inclined to be defensive of that thing. If you spend $500 on a watch, you’re more inclined to defend that purchase than if you spent $20. Likewise, if you spend several hours trying to save a virtual world, you’re likely to be defensive of it. I think that’s why you get such immediate fanboyism over games than you do most other things–because you invest your time and effort in completing them.

I think this is bad for reviews. If you’d talked to me ten minutes after I’d beaten Mass Effect 2, I would have screamed “GAME OF THE YEAR!” in your face. If you talk to me now, you’ll get a significantly different story. Now that I’ve had time to pull myself back from the experience and really get at it, I find it to be indefensibly bad. I think many of the people (not all, mind you) who played it and continue to rate it highly never actually played it again, much less thought critically about why it succeeded or failed.

So… I don’t like to review games until I’ve waited some time to think about them.

That said, I’m also short on time and can’t do another giant-sized Rage review, so what you’re going to get are short impressions of a bunch of this year’s video games I’ve played. I haven’t beat Resistance 3, though I’m quite close, but everything else I’ve played and beat weeks ago. I won’t be giving scores to any of them or anything like that. This is just a “what I think about my time with these games” thing. Very informal.

Saint’s Row: The Third

Saint’s Row 2 was a fantastic game marred by a bad port. My introduction to it this year was an intense, thrilling ride that somehow managed to be not only obscenely funny, but oddly compelling as well. I don’t want to say it was a mature narrative, but I can’t bring myself to say that it was particularly immature either… because it wasn’t. Unlike the game people insist on comparing it with, Grand Theft Auto IV, Saint’s Row 2 avoided being cliche and trite. It always presented players with the unexpected, even if that meant asking them to drive around spraying crap everywhere to lower property prices.

Saint’s Row: The Third isn’t quite like that. The engine and art is now cartoonish–though that’s not a bad thing, as the game is quite easy on the eyes. Due to the shift in tech and THQ apparently laying off employees, the game’s world isn’t nearly as well-defined as Saint’s Row 2’s, making it somewhat difficult to navigate on its own. Other failings include what appear to be missing cutscenes–whether this was a lapse in direction or the result of Volition running out of employees, I’m not sure. One of the series primary characters dies, another has a drastic personality shift, the game feels smaller, somehow, and… well…

Overall, Saint’s Row: The Third, feels like a game directed by someone who didn’t quite get what Saint’s Row was about. Instead of being a bit of a tongue-in-cheek game, balancing seriousness and hilariousness in a way that prevents its world and gameplay from being as dry and dull as GTAIV, the way Saint’s Row 2 did, it seems to want to jump off the deep end. The game starts out outdoing any set piece you might play in the Uncharted series, sets you free in a crazy world where reality tv shows include brutally murdering people and gangs have their own clone armies… and then ups the ante. It’s crazy fun and well worth playing, but every time I think about it, I find myself thinking that somehow, Saint’s Row 2, for all its crappy graphics, being a shoddy port, and everything else… was a better game. I beat it in just under 14 hours (note, that’s not a 100%, that’s screwing around in the game world, doing the story, and doing a few side missions).

Also, I was sad that “Down Under” wasn’t in the soundtrack this time. 😦

Resistance 3

It’s a strange beast, Resistance 3. When I first played its predecessor, Resistance 1, I felt bored, as if I were playing a poor man’s Call of Duty 2. The graphics sucked, the controls were odd, the level design wasn’t great, and the use of collectibles and stuff felt weird for the kind of game it was trying to be. That said, I had a soft spot for the world, with its fantastic guns and interesting premise, and was quite interested to go back. Too bad Resistance 2 managed to be one of the worst shooters ever. Yeah. It… I don’t think I’ve hated many games that much. I’ve never played such a charmless, poorly designed, dated (in a bad way) shooter–and even Darkest of Days had some sort of charm!

Then Resistance 3 came out and people said it was “the best FPS campaign all year.” For what it’s worth, they were lying and/or insane, but it was a charming, unique game that I have yet to beat. I’m literally like one fight away from the end, but then a Brawler hit me in the face and I decided that was a good point to stop. Considering I’ve beaten nineteen out of twenty of its levels, and that I’m only offering impressions, I feel okay in talking about it now.

Ultimately, I’d say it feels like a bunch of very talented people, probably people with a lot of experience on consoles and in the console gaming sphere–the sort of people who, if they were fans, would probably bemoan the number of shooters coming out (even though there aren’t as many as people think) and had only ever played Half-Life 2 when it launched with the Orange Box–decided to make a shooter. The end result was a bunch of fantastic ideas wrapped up in a bow of “I don’t have any idea what I’m doing or why FPSes are great, fun to play games.” [Bizarre Theory Time: People who hate shooters haven’t actually played that many. They have played Half-Life 2, thought the environment was good but were underwhelmed by the gameplay, and they consider it to be the pinnacle of the genre. Thus, they think that everything in the genre is less intelligent/worse than Half-Life 2.]

Resistance 3 apes Half-Life 2. You play a guy who has to get to a giant tower that’s opened a hole in space and time and shut it off. It’s got a silent protagonist, a Ravenholm level, aliens that turn people into pseudozombies, and so on and so forth.

Except… it does a great number of things better than Half-Life 2.

The story’s not as idiotic: from the get-go, you know who you are, why you are here, and what you have to do. If Insomniac had decided to give you a mystery, I’m fairly confident that they would have done so quite well. The guns are more inventive and fun to use (plus they have iron sights, and I like that), the enemies offer more variety (meaning more tactics are required to fight them), and there are multiple types of giant enemies to face (which is always a great thing; every game should have giant enemies, if at all possible). Throughout the levels, you’re alone quite frequently, which is a very good thing, because the friendly AI isn’t exactly great, and it really lends to the mood of desperation, particularly near the end of the game. Particles in the air look FANTASTIC–the game’s snow looks especially movie-like–lending to a mood that’s bolstered even more by some really, really nice (and non-repetitive!) art design. Every section of the game feels unique and different. Because the game uses cutscenes, you’re able to visit a broader variety of locations than Half-Life 2 allows (and there are much more unique, interesting objectives than Half-Life ever had), and it’s got a bunch of collectibles that makes the gameplay feel a bit more full than “hey, here is a puzzle where you use the gravity gun, otherwise, just shoot stuff!”

Unfortunately, there are many failings. The game’s controls don’t feel right. The sound doesn’t always sync up with the game–I’ve gotten ahead of it before, so someone was giving me instructions for something I already carried out and went right into the next line of dialog as soon as they’d finished. Strangely, the game spends a great deal of its time making you wait for other characters. “The door is open,” someone tells me, so I run to it, but it does nothing until they arrive. Other times, I’ll run up to them and they’ll just stand there for a while, doing nothing, until they finally decide it’d probably be a good idea to let me get past them. I encountered a few game-breaking bugs that required quitting and starting over–one actually froze my PS3.

The characterization isn’t particularly good, especially in regards to the religious people, who don’t seem like any religious people I’ve ever met (and I’ve met some WEIRD religious people, believe me); they seem like an atheist’s (provided he’s never met a religious person and only watched Hollywood’s portrayal) expectations of what religious people ought to be like, more than anything. “Hey, they’re superstitious, right? Why don’t they call that monster under the ground Satan? That makes sense!” Also, Charlie’s voice actor really annoys me. It also seems strange that my character is a silent protagonist… given the fact that Resistance 3 has cutscenes.

Its FOV is too narrow, but it likes to make you spend time in narrow corridors, meaning that disorientation is quite frequent. This is a problem because one of the most important aspects of design in any 3D game, particularly FPSes, is that the player always has an idea of where they are in a 3D space. Having a narrow FOV is like running around with horse blinders, and with enemies that are quite quick, you often find that they’ve dashed directly behind you and are now attacking from the rear. Also, because of the narrow FOV, it takes a longer length of time to turn around than it should, meaning they get quite a bit of damage in on you. Quite frequently, the levels are unintuitive (a monster’s giant claw makes it look like your path is blocked–you’re carrying a giant bomb, gas is obscuring your vision, and you just fell a whole story, so you’re disoriented–but the path actually isn’t blocked).

So… It’s better and worse than Half-Life 2, which is so desperately tries to imitate. For everything I find wrong with its story and gameplay, Half-Life 2’s atmosphere makes me want to jump back in every so often. That it doesn’t do bothersome things like making me wait for buggy AI or limiting my FOV to some crazy small number makes me prefer Half-Life 2 more , but Resistance has significantly better gunplay and enemy variety, encourages you to explore a bit more, and has a much better story (though, like Timeshift, it’s got much more poorly defined characters). For some reason, I feel like Half-Life 2 will stay with me, while Resistance 3 fades from my memories. :\

If I had to give it a score, I’d give it a C grade, or, for people who don’t use letter grades, a 70%.

The Witcher 2

I want to accuse The Witcher 2 of consolization, but the PC version came first, so I’m not sure what to do with that. The UI was very nice for consoles–significantly less nice for PC. I had a bunch of problems with the UI–for one thing, it wouldn’t tell you whether you’d read in-game books or not, which was irritating, especially since that was an element of the last game. I also had issues with the game’s control lag–at one point, I spent most of a five minute battle cycling through my “standing up” animation, then getting knocked down again. It was irritating as all get out. The skills aren’t particularly well balanced, meaning that a few choices could make your game super easy or super hard. While I like being able to meditate everywhere, not just at campfires, I felt like the potion system was weaker. The game was shorter than its predecessor, being about 35 hours to The Witcher’s 80something. The levels themselves aren’t designed well, so traversing the world doesn’t feel as good. Basically, stuff isn’t spaced out nearly as well as it could be.

…and it’s one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played.

Ever. Played.

Seriously, the story’s fantastic! The characters are great! The world is GORGEOUS to explore! Your choices actually mean something, which means that you’re actually roleplaying. The combat, when it’s not suffering from control lag, is actually pretty cool, and it helps that there are plenty of different environments, equipment, weapons, and so forth to use. While the game is smaller than its predecessor, it’s also significantly more polished. The patches have fixed most of the complaints I had about the game, so the only one that’s still around is… I wish it had about 80% more content, particularly in that anemic final act.

Also, it’s the best-looking game of all time. Its only graphical failing stems from the game’s draw distance, which isn’t as impressive as Alan Wake’s, Skyrim’s (once properly edited), or Red Dead’s.

Dead Space 2

Wow. People like to say that monster closets suck. I think they’re just chickens who hate being startled when monsters jump out of nowhere. The game managed to be more actiony than its predecessor while being less repetitive, but at the same time, it managed to be more scary. I kind of wish they had spaced out the placement of brutes a bit better (and included more giant enemies), maybe actually explained some things, balanced the weapons so that the plasma cutter wasn’t still the best choice (“here, have an assault rifle that does half the damage and is hard to chop limbs off with!”)… but you know what? They introduced an amazing antigravity mechanic, the art design was spot on, the game’s sound and visuals created a sufficiently spooky atmosphere (not to mention it could be downright GORGEOUS at times), and the pacing was fantastic except for when I had to face that invincible, relentless, regenerating monster, which got a little irritating.

Dead Space 2 was better at its characters, better at gunplay, better at pacing, better at levels, better at environment variety… well, everything than its already-really-nice predecessor.

I think the people who’ve been sad it wasn’t on “Top 10 Games of the Year” lists are right–it was excellent and deserves to be considered among finest games the industry has produced in 2011. Get it on Steam–it’s crazy cheap.

Infamous & Infamous 2

I played both this year. Haven’t beaten Infamous 2 yet, but I’m having fun with it. Controls aren’t always what I’d like them to be, graphics in the first were atrocious, draw distance is really short, nobody explained why Zeke is still friends in Infamous 2, Trish should not have died the way she did in Infamous, Infamous 2 removed the awesome thundery sound that happened any time you jumped from really high up, Infamous had an insane telekinetic hobo king, the story and characters are pretty cool in both games, and everyone seems weirdly ready to defer to whatever Cole wants. Also, it keeps presenting me with good/bad choices, which is fine, but sometimes it’s like “um… well-realized character person, why even suggest this to me? There’s no way I’m saying yes. You should know that by now.”

Oh, I love the character of New Marais. Such a neat city. The improvement between Infamous 1 and 2 is a the difference between a C and an A for me. Infamous 2 is fun and worth, say, $15 or so, but I’d say Infamous 2 is worth at least twice that much, especially for its size. I really like the addition of pseudomods, but that just makes me wish that Infamous would be a PC game so it could really be modded.

Infamous is still second to Prototype, but the series is still fun in its own way. Get both games. Get them now!

Gears of War 3

Karen Traviss can write video games for me any time. She’s really awesome, except when it comes to introducing characters, it seems. This is the best war story of a video game I’ve ever played, and quite possibly the finest modern third person shooter I’ve ever played. Its enemies are great, its weapons are more than the norm, its levels are varied, its set pieces are fantastic… It does everything (except introducing characters and explaining the Locust Queen’s human appearance) right. It is a fantastically-told story–don’t let the overly-macho art design fool you. Gears of War 3 is a game that’s not only oozing with style (its overly-macho characters, its gorgeous depiction of dead civilization), but also with substance. Each character has their own distinct personality and way of seeing the world. Interestingly, Gears has a lot of subtext, particularly when it comes to Baird and Cole. Subtext is a thing that’s generally absent in video games, and part of the reason I dislike video game stories, but Gears 3 uses it to really

The multiplayer is awesome. It obviously has Unreal Tournament DNA, even if it is a much slower, ground-bound game.

BONUS: The DLC is cool, but I dunno if I’d say it’s worth $15. Maybe $10. I got it with the season pass, so I already got it at a discounted rate. I love playing as a badass dude with wicked mutton chops and a cigar, and it’s good to see Tai again. The game’s levels seem to have a lot less polish put into them than Gears of War 3 did, but it’s still quite fun.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

This game should be on par with Doom for “games that have mechanics people need to rip off.” In this case, it’s the conversation system. This is a game in which you can (and SHOULD) read people’s faces in order to have conversations with them. Its characters are some of, if not the best characters I have ever seen in a video game. They’re multidimensional. Human.

Human Revolution is a game about interaction. Technically, that’s what all games are about, but HR actually takes its purpose seriously. It’s a game that allows you to choose how to take your missions. All of its missions have been designed with dozens of possible aug configurations in mind. Whether you’ve got lungs that can breathe gas, augmented muscles to lift heavy crates or jump three meters in the air, or implants to help you sweet talk people, you’ve got a bunch of various ways to do a mission.

Okay, so the boss fights seem a little odd (they’re actually not; while tonally inconsistent with what the game has trained you to expect, they actually make sense in the context of the story–it’s absolutely believable that you might be forced into a situation where you must use only one style of play and if you didn’t plan for it, you’re out of luck), it’s irritating when the Chinese boss lady disarms your character in a cutscene when the player would never have let it happen, the game’s overbalanced for sneaky people (even though the gunplay is actually REALLY solid, particularly with the game’s great cover system), there’s no great way to store stuff you don’t want to take with you on a mission, and the fact that your girlfriend is still alive is only a surprise to Adam Jensen, but it’s still a fantastic game. The story’s well written (with the exception of the oddly-stereotypical Barrett and trash can lady) and extremely focused, the art direction is both functional and extremely stylized, and the guns, particularly when modded, are a blast to use.

As much as I love it, those flaws mean that my enthusiastic opinion for Human Revolution has cooled somewhat–now it’s a mere 9/10.

Bulletstorm

Due to a horrendously stupid advertising campaign and an attitude that could be a little off-putting, most people never got to see Bulletstorm for the brilliant, exciting game it really is. While it doesn’t feature jumping (which seems weird, since it had an option that would let you mantle objects, so it’s not like it couldn’t have used jumping), and is fairly short, Bulletstorm still manages to be a delight to play. Its inventive guns feel fantastic, the boss fights are awesome, its environments are gorgeous and great joy to traverse, and its enemies aren’t as dumb as People Can Fly’s previous game, Painkiller. The arcade-like combo system further enhances the game’s shooting mechanics, and really should be a system that gets ripped off more.

The game’s art direction reminds me, strangely enough, of Bioshock, except way, way more gorgeous. Seriously, Bulletstorm is a tremendously beautiful game.

Perhaps strangest of all is the game’s writing. It advertised itself as an over-the-top orgy of violence, which it absolutely is, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s a smart game. Trishka is actually one of the strongest, most enjoyable female characters I’ve played in a video game, and Bulletstorm is so confident in her that it doesn’t constantly throw it in your face. Its villain is one of the most hateable villains I’ve ever fought in a video game–easily topping Ra’s Al Ghul or Alduin or Wheatley or any number of video game villains I’ve had the pleasure of facing. Remeder’s script is a fantastic, pulpy one that doesn’t just get the job done, but has fun doing it.

Bulletstorm is a game that takes great joy in its existence. It is a game that loves to be played and rewards its players with a constant barrage of awesome. It’s pure, unadulterated fun.

Batman: Arkham City

This is a weird game. It lets you be Batman, but it’s also very gamey, so it doesn’t feel immersive. Also, it uses so many Batman characters that I’m not really sure where it will take place. How, precisely, does Rocksteady plan to one-up this? All GOTY nominations for this were deserved. The writing and voice acting is so amazing that I lost a minigame ’cause I was just listening to Zsasz talk! The combat system is like any good shooter’s: it’s really simple and easy to understand, but for anyone actually bothering to think about it, there’s a ton of depth there.

The end was a bit of a let down–it was pretty obvious who the main villain was and it didn’t feel very satisfying–but overall, it was a fantastic game. It’s become a game I fire up and start playing because I need to punch some criminals, even though the story is long over.

I do find myself wondering where they’ll go from here. How, precisely, does one top this? Do they go ahead and make a full-blown Batman: Gotham City game?

Portal 2

Portal was a brilliant game designed by brilliant people that was short and so good at teaching you how to play it that it was generally pretty easy to play. It was also designed with just a mouse in mind, I think, because my favorite kind of puzzles, the ones where you fling yourself through the air, using portals to keep up momentum, are a bit hard to do with controllers. It’s a game about flow and clever puzzles, and that makes it really quite fun.

Portal 2 sucks.

It’s funny, mind you. It’s really funny, the way that Arthur Christmas is a really funny movie, but not the way that Doctor Strangelove (Portal) is. For $10, it’s worth picking up, especially to hear the super duper voice acting. Valve always does an amazing job picking characters who they can sear into your brain, and a lot of this is because of how good they are at picking memorable, good voice actors. Sometimes, Wheatley’s voice would annoy me, but other than that, I liked just listening to Portal 2. It’s a game that sounds very good.

But as a game… meh. The new goo mechanics are incredibly fun, just like trampolines, but they’re never really used to their full potential. Light bridges are boring (unless used with goo), laser boxes don’t really interest me, and so on and so forth. The levels aren’t nearly as well-designed as they are in Portal, and I found my flow disrupted quite frequently. It took me a while (and Portal has trained me so well that I kept forgetting) to understand that Portal 2’s primary mechanic is this: look for the one Portalable surface that’s really far away and portal there. The end. I kept thinking that the puzzles were cleverer than they actually were, so I kept feeling lost and confused until I realized that actually, the puzzle was just ridiculously stupid.

So, um, it’s longer and its humor is much less deadpan and much more overt, so if that’s your thing, it’s worth your time but, y’know, the game itself… kinda sucks.

Haven’t played co-op. Can’t comment.

Dragon Age 2

Is a stupid game designed by stupid people who don’t understand anything.

Here is a list of things Dragon Age 2’s designers do not understand:

  • How to write good characters
  • How it can be okay to tell a gay character you’re not interested in him without being a bigot
  • Why anyone wouldn’t want to play as a gay character in a game about defining who your character is (believe it or not, I wanted to play as a straight guy!)
  • Why good characters would have defined sexualities and not all be whatever sexuality you want them to be
  • Why a mature story isn’t all about gratuitous sex and blood.
  • That nobody actually takes Enchantment Guy seriously; he’s funny because he appeals to our inner eight year old, not because he is an almighty wizard who actually means something to the plot
  • How to design non-repetitive combat encounters
  • That having a lot of skills that are just one-shot attacks that look cool is not a “more varied/useful RPG system”
  • How to make a good game
  • That repetition is a really bad idea
  • That everyone hated The Deep Roads, so keeping the person who wrote that on staff (and making her, apparently, the chief story editor) was a horrible idea, especially when some of her dialog consists of lines such as “Epic fail!”
  • Why people liked Dragon Age: Origins
  • How to write good stories
  • How to deal with just how obvious the protagonist is (admittedly, in DAO, everyone knew who you were, so being a fugitive seemed a little strange, but in DA2, it’s worse: if you’re a mage, walking around shooting fire in front of templars, they won’t realize it)
  • Why it’s stupid that a guy you’ve been friends with, a guy who has dedicated his life to proving mages aren’t evil monsters, would decide to suddenly turn into an evil monster and attack his friends.

If, as a friend of mine suggested, Dragon Age 2 is about gay rights, then, um, I guess the moral is that gays shouldn’t have any and we should kill them all, because they will kidnap your mother, butcher her, and turn her into Frankenstein’s bride. If they don’t do that, then they’ll summon creatures from hell and try to murder you. No matter how nice you are to them (after all, the game makes it very clear that the right thing to do is to be nice to them), every gay person ever will turn on you in the end and try to kill you and take over/destroy the world. But apparently, people who try to hurt gay people are also crazy. Everyone is crazy. Except the gay people in the game who are not the ones the metaphor is about, by virtue of the metaphor being about wizards; they’re actually okay.

Yeah, I get the impression that it’s… not really a metaphor for gay people. If it is, it’s about as immature and stupid as a sixteen year old girl’s yaoi fanfiction, which makes sense, because that is exactly what it reads like.

How did this get nominated for RPGOTY again? The Witcher 2 was snubbed for this? I… what.

I would recommend you save yourself the money and buy Gothic 4, which has a more interesting, open world, more interesting combat, better enemies, and probably has a better story, but I wasn’t paying attention because it was really boring. Dragon Age 2 manages to be worse.

Crysis 2

It’s a bad sequel, a pretty game (THAT TURNS MY SCREEN BLACK FOR SEVERAL SECONDS AFTER EXPLOSIONS, MAKING COMBAT ANNOYING), and an okay console corridor shooter. It gets a 0/10 for being such a terrible sequel to one of the most enjoyably open shooters I’ve played in some time. Also, its story was stupid.

At least the sound design was good, I guess.

Rage

Here is a link.

Skyrim

Don’t own a copy, so I haven’t spent as much time with it as I’d like… but I will say this: getting Dragons to come fight you can be infuriating, the game’s actually got an entire Thief game (with a bit less depth, admittedly) as one of its sidequests, the handcrafted dungeons are a nice touch but reuse so many assets (the game reuses a lot of assets, actually) that after a while, you get tired of exploring dungeons (and there are SO MANY of those), the storytelling (in how you interact with characters) is a bit nicer than previous games, but it’s still flawed (I don’t think I actually have a feel for any of the characters), the number of voice actors doesn’t seem significantly improved, the animations still suck, somehow Mammoths are more powerful than dragons, and there still appears to be an issue with level scaling. I regularly faced enemies well above my level, but rarely faced weak, easy to kill enemies at higher levels, so I didn’t really feel like I was getting stronger; the game would do well to make strong enemies live in certain places and weak enemies in others, so if you were overwhelmed by one area, you could leave and come back to try again.

…and it’s so compelling.

The secret to the game’s success seems to be that A) there is always something to do and B) no matter where you are on the map, except at the extreme peripheries, there are always at least two or three places to visit on your map. Also, there are random creatures and characters you’ll meat throughout the world, the weather seems to change dynamically, it’s got full night/day cycles, and there are no flat surfaces except in cities, so navigating the world isn’t nearly as boring as it was in New Vegas. Skyrim’s world is a rich, extremely varied experience. It feels alive, though not nearly as alive or well-realized as STALKER’s.

Modding makes it look gorgeous.

I was a tad bit disappointed by my visit to Labyrinthine, but only because the end just had me fighting a Dragon Priest, where the rest of the level was about me fighting zombie dragons and exploring massive chambers and huge ruins. It was an incredible dungeon with a downer ending.

It’s Bethesda’s best game, I think, though admittedly, I’ve never played modded Morrowind.

Also: about 90% of the elves in the game are total jerks, which is great, because the only racist tendencies I have are towards elves. Because elves are not real, hating them has presented a real pickle that Skyrim seems all-too-willing to help me resolve.

—–

Overall, it’s been an odd year. There are games that I have played that stick with me–that will, most likely, always stick with me. Whether it was because it was my first real year gaming, or because it was such a fantastic year for games, I’m not sure, but 2007 still seems to have beaten out 2011 for being the best year this gen, with releases like STALKER, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Halo 3, The Orange Box, Assassin’s Creed, Crysis, and Bioshock. It seems strange, given that this year we had Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, The Witcher 2, Bulletstorm, Rage, Skyrim, Gears 3, and the like… but I can’t shake the feeling that these games won’t stick with me as long, or at least not in the same way that the aforementioned titles, or games like Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, Alan Wake, and Borderlands ever did, which I find kinda sad.

Will they stick with me? I don’t know. I worry they may not.

Review: Rage Really Rocks!

It seems like you can’t read a review of Rage these days without a mention of Borderlands or Fallout, so there you go. I’ve namechecked them.

Maybe I should expound: Rage was never going to be like these games, and to compare it to them is as silly as wondering why Alan Wake isn’t Silent Hill 2, or why Infamous isn’t Arkham City. The fact that they may share a few things (perspective, story genre) in common does not in any way mean that they are going to be mechanically identical. In fact, if you’ve been following Rage’s lengthy development since its announcement in 2007, you’d already know the kind of game Rage was going to be. I don’t remember a whole lot about the game’s announcement, not really getting into gaming until a few months afterwards, but what I do remember was this: it was going to be a hybrid racing game/shooter, like Doom meets Twisted Metal.

In a way, that’s exactly what we got.

But there was more: about a year before it came out, some people had said they hoped this engine could power Fallout 4, since New Vegas and Fallout 3 were both pretty ugly games. id’s response was that it wouldn’t be possible, as the engine wasn’t really designed for that kind of streaming open world stuff (that said, having played the game, I’m not really sure what they’re talking about). So, as much as a year ago, we knew exactly what we were getting, or, at least, I thought we did. I guess most people didn’t get the memo. They were expecting, it seems, either Fallout or Borderlands–one acquaintance’s expectations were so strong that they’ve actually taken to saying that Rage looks “identical” to Borderlands and has lots of cel-shading. Actually, I’ve met a lot of people who have been saying that.

By now, I’m sure you’ve read the infamous “creative intent” review from Gamasutra, in which Brandon Sheffield, the interviewer, basically demanded to know why Rage was a linear game and not more like Borderlands. If you haven’t, you probably should. The id guys did a really good job facing up against hostile (and downright silly) questions like “why is your game so brown?”

Rage, being brown.

Rage isn’t Borderlands, and it never was. In fact, it isn’t doesn’t even share the same genre with Borderlands, which is more of a dystopic cyberpunk* western story than a post-apocalyptic one (seeing as how Pandora is the equivalent of a planetary ghost town after a mining boom). Yes, they’re both inspired by The Road Warrior, which means that they feature both deserts and off-road cars, yes, they both have sci-fi technobaddies, and yes, you play them from a first person perspective, but that’s where the similarities end. I can’t even begin to fathom why people are complaining that it isn’t like Fallout, which doesn’t even have drivable cars. Fallout’s a blackly humorous RPG take on 1950s pop culture; Rage is a game about fighting against guys who have taken advantage of a natural disaster to rule the world.

I honestly can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Rage is getting the hate it does isn’t just because it wasn’t what people were expecting (and, because it was a shooter, they felt allowed to get mad; it seems as if any other game that defies expectations gets praised to high heaven), but because its title lends itself to a lot of tasteless article titles. Here, Brandon Sheffield defends his review in an article titled “Journalistic Rage,” with subsections bearing titles like “Anger Management.” It’s the kind of bad titling that would get my mother to giggle uncontrollably. It’s like people are being negative because negativity lets them justify using phrases like “I’m feeling all ragey about Rage!” Most of the reviews aren’t actually full of rage (not like the Duke Nukem Forever reviews were), but there are plenty with lots of silly bits of negativity that revolve around the kind of game Rage isn’t.

Oh god. I’m raging about that right now. I have become them.

Let’s change that.

By now, you might be wondering if I’m ever going to actually talk about the game, and I am, but judging by the reactions, it would be prudent of me to hammer home the point that Rage is not what most people were expecting. See, Rage isn’t Borderlands or Fallout, and it seems like a lot of people thought that it was and were very angry when it wasn’t. Before its release, I didn’t realize that this would be an issue because it was quite obvious that, aesthetic similarities aside, it was never going to be like those games. Despite everything that Rage draws from The Road Warrior artistically, it’s a very different beast mechanically.

WHY IS IT SO MUCH LIKE BORDERLANDS?!

See, Rage is really The Legend of Zelda, Twisted Metal, and Bioshock, with some RPG thrown in.

Rage is the shooter evolved. It’s everything a shooter should be combined with a number of things that a shooter can be. It’s a game that reminds us, after half a decade of fairly bland, console-control-oriented shooter experiences, what shooting used to be. At the same time, it doesn’t fall into the trap that games like Hard Reset, implementing foolish modern design choices like the absence of quicksave, nor does it ever include the elements that made old-school shooters bland. Rage is nearly everything you love about old-school shooters: lots of enemies, solid guns, loneliness, facing overwhelming odds, mobility, fighting without cover, and, of course, upping the ante of what it means to look good.

It’s an advancement of the shooter, but unlike its predecessors, which created new ways of doing things, Rage looks to other games, borrows the elements that work, and reworks those elements for its own end.

A typical mission in Rage flows something like this: you receive a mission from an NPC in a town, go to a store to buy equipment, and prepare to leave, just like most RPGs. From here, Rage takes Zelda’s overworld/dungeon concept and puts its own spin on things. The overworld is explored with your vehicle, with combat reminiscent of Twisted Metal. Rage’s vehicles are incredibly deep in comparison to Borderlands’, which are more of a way to travel between Point A and Point B than anything else. You’ve got a ton of ways you can customize your garage of vehicles, from weapons and accessories to powerups to more advanced mechanical stuff. Ultimately, that customization will hopefully come to your aid in the game’s overworld as you make your way to the dungeons. The dungeons themselves are linear shooter missions that usually loop back around to the entrance. Once you’ve completed them, you drive back to the quest hub, where you can turn in missions, play minigames, race cars, craft items (a la Bioshock) or obsessively take screen shots.

Rage is beautiful. It’s the best implementation of concept art in a game I’ve ever seen. Nothing comes close to this. Say what you will about the now-fixed (for me, anyway) pop-in, low-quality textures, or the fact that the game’s got a skybox rather than volumetric clouds, because it’s still an artistic achievement. Where previous games were all about using more polys or higher quality textures, Rage is all about paying attention to how that detail is implemented. The game rarely repeats anything–each room and everything in that room is laid out in a way that you won’t see anywhere else, whether that’s a giant, twisted windowframe, a collapsed skyscraper, or a Jackal clanmember’s shanty. Some people might think that games are only about gameplay, but Rage is evidence to the contrary. It’s absolutely stunning, and a good portion of my enjoyment stemmed simply from walking around taking screenshots of everything.

The game is mostly gorgeous; as you can see on the left, a rock texture hasn't loaded yet.

That attention to detail isn’t just in the modeling or textures, though. The stylized animations of the characters are a joy to behold–so much so that I nearly died once while watching two friendly spiderbots defend against an onslaught of mutants in an abandoned distillery. Talking to Halek Hagar, the shopkeeper in the first town you visit in the game, was a delight, because he gesticulates like a cartoon character. Actually, everyone in this game is incredibly animated. Everything that moves moves, but not like a traditional game. If I remember right, one of the developer videos said that the characters had something like several hundred animations each, and that they were all context sensitive. When a mutant comes through a door, he leaps into it, using it to spring towards you. In contrast, an Authority soldier is more likely to take cover and shoot at you. Everything moves in an extremely unique manner, leading to all sorts of combat encounters. It’s amazing to chop off a mutant’s head as he charges at you, only to have him stumble towards you and fall off a balcony, hands clutching at where his skull used to be. Personally, I cackled like a madman whenever that happened.

Speaking of enemies, the game has a lot and it uses them well. Compared to Halo, no, Rage doesn’t have the largest bestiary, and it seems like each clan has essentially three archetypes (footsoldier, melee, and heavy guy with a gat; some also have turrets, spiders, and R/C Cars), but each clan behaves differently, which requires you to change up your playstyle differently. The Ghost clan are acrobats first and foremost, flipping all over the place, making it hard to keep your crosshairs on them, while the mutants are all about momentum, leaping through doors and over walls, while the Jackals tend to be either suicidal chargers or guys who fire crossbows from a long range. This large number of enemy types brings a welcome sense of variation to the single-player beyond its impressive number of minigames and different racetypes.

That’s not all, though: Rage also offers up to four different types of ammo for most of its guns (the sniper rifle, off the top of my head, is the only gun that has just one). The guns themselves are varied, though they fall within the general archetypes all shooter fans are familiar with: pistol, rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and so forth. They feel right. They’re an absolute joy to use. It’s a game where you can have fun shooting things just because the guns themselves sound and feel incredible!

Why is there a stamp on his face? Best not to ask.

Then there’s the accessories: you’ve got various grenades, turrets, boomerangs, and powerups you can use. I love the spiderbots. They follow you around like puppies, but are totally lethal in combat. It always saddens me to have to scrap one for parts because it can’t come with me on an elevator or through a door or something. They’re fun just to watch. The stationary turrets are alright, but a bit too easily knocked over, making them kind of a waste; Roland’s turret in Borderlands was quite a bit better (plus, it offered you cover, but Rage doesn’t require cover, which is equally nice). The bandages are an awesome way to manage health–while Rage has a regenerating health system, it’s really more about not having to worry about healthkit placement than anything else. It’s not like Mass Effect 2, where you found that you were made of soggy toilet paper just because the developers wanted to force you into cover. The bandages, as well as the revival system, mean that you’ll stay alive in order to fight lots of guys who are doing lots of things.

See, Rage understands that you shouldn’t spend your time dying and having to replay things. Games can be challenging without resorting to murdering you every sixty seconds, and Rage strives to accomplish that. It succeeds, too; playing the game is actually somewhat stressful (though not nearly as stressful as it is fun) because of the sheer variety of enemies who are attacking you in all sorts of crazy, incredibly fast ways. I actually feel more frantic playing Rage than I do when playing Unreal Tournament, because the enemies just move everywhere. They dodge more in this game than any other shooter I’ve ever played. I should write an article on games that do non-traditional (Marathon/Half-Life/Call of Duty being traditional) health systems well. Rage would be on there alongside Halo/Halo: Reach, Bulletstorm, Bioshock, and Far Cry 2. This is one of the reasons Rage is such a great game: it understands that your time is best spent playing the game, not replaying old bits you’ve just been through or worse, repeating areas so frequently that your level goes down in history as one of the most tedious levels of all time (I’m looking at you, The Library).

You’ll notice a common theme in everything I’ve described: variation.

Rage is about discovering new things and facing new enemies. The game doesn’t want you to replay old sections, much less repeat them just because your armor is made of soggy cardboard. It continually gives you new guns, new items, new ammo, new enemies, and new areas to explore because it knows that repetition is one of the worst sins a game can commit. The game constantly strives to be interesting, so you never get bored or tired of anything. By now, you may be wondering if I have anything bad to say about Rage at all. I do, and this paragraph offers me a perfect way to segue into that.

Each level is repeated once. Whenever you finish a mission, you can go back into a slightly-reworked version of that mission for a sidequest (generally posted on the job board in town) that will net you extra cash. It’s only necessary once, I think, to move the plot forward, but it is the one instance in which the game veers away from its philosophy of giving you new stuff to do. Of course, playing the levels backwards is actually quite interesting, so it doesn’t feel totally cheap.

See how much it looks like Fallout! It's got those clear blue skies and crazy blue rocks!

The save system isn’t implemented quite right. While having quicksave is a blessing, it’s mapped, by default, to F5. To quickselect your robot friend/first aid kit/grenade/whatever, you press F1-F4. I’ve accidentally quicksaved while attempting to switch stuff. Also, the placement of that F1-F4 thing is a bit awkward–maybe using F or something to cycle through my available items would have been a better decision. It’s not just the key mapping, though..

Rage has some other issues too: the mouse support in the menus is a mess, texture pop-in post-patch is extremely rare but still exists, plenty of textures in the shooter dungeon bits are of rather poor resolution, and so forth. That’s really about it for the technical issues. I don’t actually know anyone who owns a copy of Rage for the PC, which makes playing co-op rather difficult, so I couldn’t tell you about the quality of the game’s multiplayer connections, and I do apologize for that.

Its story isn’t the best. Then again, the game wasn’t really interested in telling you a story–that’s all just window-dressing for the game. I honestly wish that id had been as good at telling a story as they had at everything else, because everything else was incredible. Chief among the storytelling complaints was the fact that I never really understood why I needed to dislike The Authority beyond “they are guys who are shooting at me.” Valve characterized the Combine really well in the first few minutes of Half-Life 2, with civilians being beaten, some guy being a real jerk and making you pick up a can, and so forth. In Rage, people just yell things like “man, screw The Authority!” Likewise, what do I know about the Resistance other than that they’re a group of five, maybe six people who apparently can’t do anything without me and who discovered where the mutants came from (it’s really no surprise when you find out).

Rage’s characterization is almost all visual, and while that’s GREAT, most people didn’t really feel fleshed out enough. Because I got to spend some time with the resistance leader, he seemed okay, but they really wasted potential with him. Apparently, he was an Ark survivor. Why, then, didn’t they explore that? The prospect of other survivors in hiding is a very appealing one, I think. Speaking of wasted potential, there were bits of the levels I really hoped to check out–the ship that sits high above the Jackal base could have been an awesome place to fight on, and the city atop Subwaytown looked awesome too. Why the mutants were created or what was planned to happen with them was never really explained, and where all The Authority’s soldiers came from was never made clear either.

I get that the game wasn’t about its story any more than, say, Half-Life 2 was (having such a simplistic story makes it seem like Half-Life 2 was really all about being a tech demo for physics in games).

Why are the bad guys so artistic HNNNNGGGG I DONT GET THIS IT IS THE WORST GAME

At this stage, I find myself asking… why don’t people like Rage more than they do? Again, look at Half-Life 2: it’s got cars, but they suck. Its pistol sounds like a cap gun, and most of its other guns sound lame and handle pretty poorly as well. You don’t have any extra minigames to play, quests to do, or anything of the sort–it’s a completely linear, guided experience (even moreso than the original game). It was pretty atmospheric before, but its art style was all over the place and rarely coherent, not to mention completely lacking in the level of differentiation present in Rage. Lastly, Half-Life 2 has a really bad ending. Basically, nearly everything that comprises the game we know as Half-Life 2 has not just been done in Rage, but it’s been done better. There is no silly plot about driven entirely by getting to the next place Eli is. There are no people wandering around insisting that you reload or giving you so much health that the game is impossibly easy. There are no stages where you stand around for eight minutes listening to people talking.

Rage does literally everything but characterization better than Half-Life 2. The comparison’s only a little unfair, because Rage is seven years older than Half-Life 2, but still, if the latter’s going to be considered one of the greatest games of all time, then there’s no reason the former shouldn’t be considered every bit as good, is there?

Take the endings of both games: Half-Life 2 has one of the most underwhelming endings of all time. All your guns are taken away except the gimmicky gravity gun, which gets a boost. You then run around zapping everyone to death and generally being invincible, while chasing Doctor Breen  and pulling energy balls out of tubes in order to keep him from teleporting to some other place. It’s the antiending. In most games, the ending is the toughest part, as it should be. Half-Life 2 makes everything so impossibly easy that you just breeze through and murder everyone. There is no final boss at all, just some old guy who yells at you a lot while you shut down his power source.

In contrast, Rage sends you to attack the enemy base, which, like Half-Life 2, has been built up to be some huge, dangerous thing. The only difference between the two games is that Capital Prime actually is (also: it has a cooler name than “The Citadel,” since citadels are just fortresses that keep towns safe and are in no way sinister). It practically vomits enemies at you, but makes you feel like a badass because you’re finally equipped with a BFG. The endless onslaught of enemies is still challenging, because they dodge and leap around like ninjas, but it’s balanced perfectly to the point where you feel as though it’s your skill as a player that makes you kickass, not the godweapon you’re carrying. There’s no final fight beyond being locked in a room with tons of enemies spilling into it, but you know what? I’m fine with that. I would have preferred to fight a massive enemy behemoth, sure, assuming it was better than the one fought about a third of the way through the game, but making my way to a computer, turning it on, and killing lots of guys in the process (which, as mentioned before, was extremely well balanced) was still a lot more satisfying than Half-Life 2’s ending, if only because it required me to keep playing, rather than just laze my way through.

Actually, I've got nothing to hate here. Her face is incredible, with its miniscule imperfections and stuff. It makes her seem more like a real human being. Also, her voice actress is amazing.

In Rage, I felt like a badass. In Half-Life 2, I felt like a guy who’d lucked into getting a gun that made all his problems disintigrate.

Ultimately, Rage isn’t just a remix of old shooters, it’s an improvement on the genre as a whole. Now that graphics have gotten about as photorealistic as our hardware will presently allow, it’s time to focus on other elements, like animations, environment detail, and game mechanics. Rage is also a tribute to id’s history, featuring a tongue-in-cheek “find the keycard” objective during one mission and equipping you with a BFG, among other things. It does falter on occasion, but, as demonstrated above, not nearly as frequently as one of the most beloved games of all time. Its shooting is solid and deep, as is its driving. It does more things right than nearly every other game I’ve ever played. Even System Shock 2, the game I firmly believe is the best game ever made, makes more mistakes than Rage.

If you want to play a great game, play Rage. If you have an ATI card and want to play a great game, go buy a good 3D card first. I’d recommend that you play it on your PC, even if navigating menus is awful. The game’s combat was clearly designed by people familiar with how shooters controlled by mice and keyboards ought to play, and the experience is incredibly rewarding as a result. You’re in for a surprise if you were expecting another Borderlands or Fallout just because the games share a few elements in common. Going into Rage without such foolish expectations can only hurt your enjoyment of what is one of the best shooters I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Pick it up! Have fun! I’d love to co-op with you.

BONUS PIC! Coffer is actually my favorite character in the game. I don't know a thing about him, other than that he has an amazing voice and has a jiggly hat.

*you might not be a hacker in a city, but you do play a loner fighting against a megacorporation and lots of technology is involved. I’d call that a cyberpunk western.

BONUS PIC 2! I really like Crazy Joe too. His movements and voice are hilarious.