As a survivor of the Ark programme, an attempt to save the best of humanity from an impending asteroid collision (the spectacular intro scene), you awaken years after the disaster to find an earth broken by the destruction, now a wasteland of ruins littered with bandits and small settlements. Overseeing this ‘society’ is a shady group called The Authority, who collect bounties on Ark survivors and are a source of hindrance throughout the game. It’s hardly an original storyline, but it sets up a believable world of stunning character and real, real grit, whether it be the fractured remains of once great cities or the inhabitants themselves, grizzled folk whose only aim is to survive. It bears plenty of resemblance to the recent Borderlands and stable-mate Fallout 3, although in character it bears more of a likeness to Mad Max 2 than anything else; pessimism and desperate desolation is everywhere.
The new engine itself is really quite something; RAGE is easily one of the best looking games of this generation, with detail and solidity in the environments (though I recommend installing the game onto the system as the console struggles straight from the disc, so make sure you have space available). This solidity extends to the combat itself, a potent mixture of brute-force and tactics. The shooting mechanics are brutal, chunky and oh so satisfying. When you hit an enemy it feels like you have caused them damage, unlike other games where shooting is akin to spitting bubbles at your victims.
Each individual character has a specific physics layout, so depending on where they are hit and what weapon you use they will react and die differently; a nice touch. An even nicer touch is the imaginative array of weapons at your disposal, from the normal assault rifles to the brilliant wing-stick, a lethal boomerang which decapitates opponents upon impact. Also worthy of particular note is the hallucinogenic cross-bow bolts, which allow you to take control of an enemy and guide them, homing missile style, into his allies before blowing them all up spectacularly. And boy, do they blow up; grenades result is showers of gore, shotgun shells smash through rib-cages and assault rifles rip off limbs convincingly.
You need to use the weapons well, as ammo is scarce and necessary. Enemies are very well crafted, and their intelligence suits the character of the individual; the dim-witted Wasteland clan poke idiotically at cover, The Authority soldiers flank and utilise their advanced weapons, whereas mutants just dive for your face. Each poses a unique and varied challenge in itself, and soon enough you may find yourself dead. But, as Nick Cave once sang, ‘death is not the end.’ A mini-game pops up, requiring several stages of button pressing and analogue stick twiddling to get your defibrillator working, blasting you back to life and electric-shocking all enemies around you (particularly handy when one is stealing your boots).
Although most missions are either find-and-collect or basic reconnaissance, the levels are well designed and multi-layered, keeping you on your toes at all time for fear of ambushes. The wasteland itself, however, is disappointingly barren, and serves as little more than a more entertaining way of getting from A to B. They do serve the basis for the buggy racing, which strangely for a great shooting game makes up the multi-player. This consists of frenetic races around dusty tracks and handles similarly to Mashed and Mario Kart, with boosts, jumps, slides and volatile weapons the main fare.
Still, it does not detract from the overall experience. RAGE is a wonderful effort; a brilliant, visceral, satisfying adventure of charm and imagination built around a superb and advanced engine, which would fit impressively into anyone’s collection. Oh, and the ending leaves plenty of manoeuvre on a sequel; a superb opening to what is sure to be a popular and illustrious series.