When you tell a gamer that id Software is making a new game they get a little excited. If you then mention that the company is also developing a new gaming engine, the hardcore gaming geeks freak out. Because that means there’s likely going to be some kind of paradigm shift in gaming. Of course, only once – with the retroactively renamed idTech 1 – has id Software completely revolutionized gaming. They all but created the FPS genre with Wolfenstein 3D.
Since then the company released hit after hit, and all new innovations for the gaming landscape. During the 90s many home developers used the Quake engine for their gaming mods. It was a huge influence on the community.
But as time has gone on id has been nearly forgotten. Not completely, but when Doom 3 released it was a solid piece of gaming. But it was rote in design, and absurdly short and easy to get through. A design choice that allowed for a tightly controlled gaming experience, but was not the event we’d hoped for. The lack of a flashlight on your gun – you had to switch to the flashlight in order to see in the dark, then switch back to a gun to take care of business – was a source of constant humor. But it represented a misstep for id’s design process. The industry had moved on, and one of its founders had been relegated to near obsolescence.
I’ve been done with id Software as a major player in the gaming industry. Of course I hoped they could come back, but the company that should have been battling Valve for game design supremacy has let the fans down. When it was announced that id was developing a new engine and game with RAGE there was an initial anticipation. Everyone knew that if id ever made its grand reentrance to gaming dominance this would be the game.
My relationship with the gaming industry has decreased greatly from the game’s reveal in 2007. Thus I’ve not really had a grasp of exactly what RAGE is meant to be. I was told by gaming journalist friends that there was more to the game than the demos let on. This was going to be something new.
The excitement grew in the industry slowly for RAGE. Except I kept seeing a game that couldn’t define itself: a racer, an open world Fallout 3 clone, and a twitch shooter. When we finally started getting some definitive feel for RAGE I found myself checking back out.
As of one week ago I had determined that I’d pick up RAGE when I could. And then the game landed on my doorstep, I put it in and played. Nearly one week later and I’ve now played the best controlling first person shooter ever. id Software has done what I thought they’d no longer achieve again: create a master class in shooter design.
The twitchy battles with fast moving mutants as you frantically switch guns, and then ammo, to take out the sniveling club wielding enemies is perfection on every level. I forgot what it was like to play an id shooter as I brought up the gun switching menu midbattle and ended up dead. Unlike in most games when you switch guns via an overlay screen in RAGE you’re still in battle.
You soon become attuned to the surroundings and enemies, then in one swift maneuver switch from a sniper rifle to a pistol with Fatboy ammo, headshot the mutant near you, spin around and switch to your shotgun and blow away the two mutants who just clubbed the back of your head. It’s like playing a fine instrument once you learn the nuances.
Which then makes the other elements all that much more jarring. The driving element of the game is damn good; it’s honestly better than most other shooters. But the issue is that it’s not always as much fun. The Wasteland is huge and beautiful, and humming along at one point my wife looked up and remarked at how gorgeous the game looked. She’s right, but the driving is just a way to quickly get to the next shooter mission. There’s a distinct feeling that id wanted the vehicles to be important, but added in the racing challenges to take advantage of all the time spent on the driving design.
The open world design is done competently. It’s on par with what Fallout 3 has already done. In fact I immediately renamed Wellspring, the first town you come across, “Megaton.”
I wish that RAGE overall was a perfect game. But that’s not always what id Software is about. Sometimes they innovate, and then everyone else follows suit. If this is the future of shooters, then the genre looks to be maintaining its dominance for at least another couple of years.