The end of the world has never looked so good.
Born from the same loins that gave us the seminal shooters Doom and Quake, Rage is a new-school throwback, a simple, straightforward and absolutely gorgeous first-person blast-'em-up that is so free of pretension -- and maybe even ambition, beyond its technical wizardry -- that it's oddly refreshing.
Rage is set a century after a giant asteroid has struck the Earth and laid waste to most of human civilization, with the player cast as a technologically enhanced survivor who has been in suspended animation inside a subterranean ark.
Once you step out into the harsh sunlight of the post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, the shooting begins. On foot, and then in cars. Shooting, driving, shooting, talking and more shooting. Roll credits.
Rage has the disadvantage of following in the irradiated footsteps of Fallout 3 and Borderlands, fantastic games that both happen to take place in post-apocalyptic-ish worlds that are home to bandits, mutants and other, larger nasties. But don't make the mistake of comparing Rage to those games. This is a shorter, simpler, shinier affair. It makes demands of your reflexes, not your intellect.
As the mute hero of the wastes, you'll spend virtually the entire game undertaking missions for various wasteland dwellers. Most of these involve going someplace and killing some things, sometimes on foot in the ruins of cities, sometimes in your customized, gun-equipped hot rod, out on the open roads. In between, you'll do odd jobs (involving killing), build cool gadgets (with which to more effectively kill), play an addictive collectible card game (based on killed enemies) and maybe hop into the game's co-op missions or vehicle-only multiplayer modes. To kill your friends.
The guys at id Software know a lot about making games that look amazing, and a lot about designing levels that flow well. What they're less skilled at is storytelling and characters, and Rage often feels like a romp through a theme park populated by sophisticated but soulless animatronics.
But here's the thing: Rage is still fun to play. The shooting and driving are frantic and satisfying, and encourage careful thought about which weapons and gadgets to use in your quest to rid the wasteland of bandits, mutants, earth-shaking monstrosities and the (unimaginatively named) Authority, the ultimate baddies in Rage's ravaged realm.
Other than its slicker-than-slick visuals, Rage doesn't try to innovate. Everything from the fetch-questing to the item-crafting to the car-racing has been borrowed from (and, in some cases, done better in) other games.
And sometimes feel like you're just using guns and rocket launchers and dune buggies to manipulate a series of databases hidden behind the gloriously beautiful facade of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But with every passing hour, Rage gets a little better (keep that in mind through the initial slow slog), and while it won't be remembered as a title that redefined the first-person shooter genre, it's the most beautiful apocalypse gaming has seen.
While Rage is woefully thin on a story or characters you'll care about, it's a slick, pretty throwback to old-school shooters. Just don't go comparing it to those other, better post-apocalyptic games.