To Die For: Exhibiting Rage - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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To Die For: Exhibiting Rage

When I'm willing to lay my virtual life on the line to sightsee, the video game has to be a sight to behold, nevermind a feast for the senses in general. So that's how I found myself likely with a Bandit's bullet through my skull as I wandered around the wasteland of Rage.

I managed to play id Software's post apocalyptic shooter for 40 minutes on my Playstation 3 Tuesday night. (SPOILER ALERT: The following screenshots will document that progress.) That's not much time to form any opinion on the game, but I don't need much when it comes to presentation. You see, I'm a kind of graphics wh... , well, let's just say I enjoy a pretty picture.

For me, presentation can go a long way toward establishing atmosphere, regardless of the medium. Whether Dead Island's tropical paradise gone awry, BioShock's crumbling underwater utopia or Fallout 3's ghastly urban wasteland, such design can immerse gamers in their worlds in profound ways. Rage promises a simliar experience.

If you're familiar with the premise of Rage, you'll know that the wasteland you awake to is the result of an asteroid strike, which is depicted in an impressive opening cutscene. You'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching Armageddon, Deep Impact, Meteor ... well, you get the idea. A nice, ominous (albeit brief) beginning.

One wonders if id rushed to get this out before the much ballyhooed year of 2012. In any event, the near-ELE (to borrow from Deep Impact's lexicon), or Extinction Level Event, is impressively depicted and properly sets the stage for the stark wasteland imagery to follow.

 

In the meantime, I want to direct your attention to graphics that remind me of prerendered imagery common in older generation console games but not as a means to disparage what id has accomplished. Indeed, there are static, three dimensional environments in the game that have an artistic, brushstroke quality that is appealing.

 

Your character emerges into a kind of industrial area seemingly in the middle of an otherwise barren no-man's land. The emergence itself is a scenario similar to the beginning of Bethesda's Fallout 3. And while the Capitol wasteland is compelling, the detail here helps give this rugged terrain character that the former lacks somewhat by comparison.

Whether photorealistic cumulus clouds, billowing smoke, distant flocks of birds, rays of sunshine or dynamic lens flares, the sky above is filled with detail. It is complimented nicely by alternating manmade or natural landscapes shown with great effect by a quality lighting mechanic that illuminates textures and casts convincing shadows.

Indeed, the detail in rock formations alone is an impressive feat, revealing cracks, striations, coarse or smooth surfaces, and other damage or imperfections. The one caveat is that such textures are best appreciated at a short distance, as too close results in muddy or otherwise blurry details; chances are, however, that no one will get that close in their wanderings.

Sand, pebbles, plants and other environmental features fare just as well under such scrutiny. In fact, this wasteland is truly beautiful in its stark relief. Likewise, it's not entirely lifeless, as plants sway, dirt and dust blow and insects swarm. The one exception as far as I can tell is clouds that are static (a pet peeve), but when it's this lifelike, it's a moot point.

Speaking of, the wasteland does have a way of coming alive, even if to brain you. Indeed, scripted events such as this are well integrated into the gameplay, helped in no small part by the same high quality production values that grace all aspects of the game's design whether cutscenes, scripted sequences or gameplay footage.

Watching the animation of meticulously detailed NPCs one is reminded of another industry titan known more for its fantasy role playing games. In fact, Bethesda Softworks is the publisher of this id game. I haven't progressed far enough to know whether there are dialog trees, but the well realized characters add personality and dimension to the proceedings.

It wouldn't be the apocalypse without *** Road Warrior vehicles. Like most objects in the wasteland, they sport a beaten, weathered appearance as well as an eclectic, scavenged customization. The obvious difference with a similar title like Gearbox's excellent Borderlands is that these models are more gritty and realistic in their design.

The following observation might seem more than a stretch, but the image of this former diner reminds me of Edward Hopper's classic Nighthawks painting. The spare facility, the retro design, but more than anything it's the artistic merit. Of course the focus of Hopper's image is the alienation of its lonely denizens, which might also be the appeal of this barren outpost.

Quests form the basis of your gameplay, at least from what I've read of the game. There is a kind of Western motif that appears on the surface at least to pervade id's wasteland opus, and these stills, with their suggested wanted poster bounties juxtaposed with rugged lawless claim jumper types, carry a kind of Red Dead Redemption appeal.

A standard feature of other loot-grinding games, glowing items will highlight materials for the taking. Some might be obvious without this artificial beacon, though in this context having to hunt for quest-necessary items would be an unwelcome burden. That said, the game will make you work for other, less obligatory fare. Observant explorers will be rewarded!

I believe Andrew Reiner suggested in his review that one can upgrade items from their limitless inventory on the fly. This appeals on many levels, though this initial, minimalist menu doesn't hint at such possibilities. And while it might fall short of Two Worlds 2's clever breakdown/buildup inventory management system, id's creation sounds far beyond the standard RPG format.

On the surface, this image might bore. However, note that dust blows from the vents or swirls about the ceiling fans, insects swarm around the lights, and the view through the window is a dynamic, detailed scene outside the building. Add the stylish retro decor and you have a well conceived interior (in fact, Kola Kong reminds me of Fallout 3's Nuka Cola).

Like vehicles or even wardrobes, weapons are well designed in Rage. This beaut appears more as decoration then combat ready enemy slayer, but don't think I didn't try to abscond with it just the same. While not quite a steampunk sensibility, the inventive creations have their own design chic and add considerably to the overall atmosphere.

Images such as this might very well be the antithesis of a Winslow Homer painting, but the kind of Americana they represent is just as evocative. The hardscrabble life, the rundown but functional premises, the stark designs and retro flourishes all imbue the proceedings with a distinctive feel that, while not entirely unique, bear id's signature stamp.

I mentioned it once before but the towering impression left by the awesome cloud design bears repeating. Juxtaposed with this inspiring manufactured spire (suggestive of a kind of water or transmission tower), the heights this game aspires to, at least from a presentation standpoint, are well within id's capable reach.

The variety of characters are more impressive when the level of detail lavished on their models is taken into account. Of course this title is just as succeptible to the conventions of the genre, considering the same dichotomy of sexually provocative attire and protective armor. Despite this, each wardrobe is still compelling. (Note the useful Wingstick, reminiscent of Dark Sector's Glaive weapon.)

Nanotechnology appears to play a significant role at least superficially if not in its application. Whether part of your unique physical makeup or the tools and/or weapons you use, it seems you'll be putting them to the test in the various quests you'll be given throughout your journey. The Wingstick, for example, is a welcome boomerang-type weapon.

Having only driven this ATV, vehicle controls thankfully are standard. Considering the degree to which vehicles are a part of the Rage experience, this is an important element. Also welcome are environments that loaded seamlessly even when at high speeds, though granted I didn't travel far.

Postapocalyptic landscapes rarely vary much from an established norm. Indeed, similar features appear in Fallout 3, Borderlands and even Enslaved, though in the latter a more lush Logan's Run world prevails. But as mentioned, the details in Rage and certain flourishes add extra character that enhance its experience.

Contributing to the Western motif referenced earlier, animal -- and human -- skulls figure prominently in some of the areas you'll explore. With apologies to Georgia O'Keefe, these otherwise decorative elements take on an ominous morbid fascination in the lawless frontier you'll explore.

Loading screens so far are minimal, and the artistry they depict once again nicely compliments the overall vision and attention to detail that id has so carefully applied throughout the various game elements, resulting in a satisfying, cohesive whole. Likewise, while Ghost character models are literally stripped down, their Spartan appearance nonetheless is thoughtful.

I was stopped in my tracks by the gorgeous heat distortion emanating from this torch. Of course this kind of element is not uncommon, especially to dungeon crawlers, however, I don't think I've ever seen an example so convincing. Also note the crude but humorous dialog spoken by a nearby Ghost, a welcome feature in any title IMO.

While the development team's creativity in the open wastes of Rage are more subtle in nature, among the pockets of structures both habitable and ruined that dot the landscape are more obvious signs of their fertile imagination. Whether the crumbling old world ambiance of The Rutherford hotel or the hot air balloons among natural spires in the distance, no pixel goes to waste.

As indicated earlier, with any loot grinding game it helps to be thorough in your exploration. From obvious quest-related materials to tomes such as this survival guide, from items like collector cards to tools including an electrical wire kit, open world RPGs and similar games are teeming with objects to augment your experience, and Rage is no exception.

You might not know it, but I just dealt a fatal blow to this charging Ghost, who ends up dead at my feet. The melee and range attacks both are effective, though the former seems limited to one movement (R3 if I remember). What's especially impressive is the movements and animation of your foes, as these Ghosts will leap often and convincingly while they charge.

Lighting in any game helps immerse one in its world. The visual distortion of moving between darkness and light, lens flare effects when looking toward the light, rays of sunshine breaking through clouds or ruins, all these elements establish a feel for this world that poor lighting would ruin. Thankfully, id's creation uses this feature to its optimum effect.

In case you couldn't tell, I value exploration. That's one reason I typically start on Easy difficulty (well, that and I am a Bullet Sponge, according to the trophy I won in F.E.A.R.). I wish more games would include the ability to switch it on the fly like PlatinumGames' Bayonetta. Thankfully, id wisely includes that feature here. After some easy kills, I ratched up the challenge.

What this pwnd expert also appreciates is the ability to save anywhere. A feature that's become somewhat standard in modern titles, you forget how much it's appreciated until you suffer an autosave glitch as in my beloved (PS3) Dead Island or the ignominious autosave that ensures you respawn on death's door. Here again, id enables a user friendly feature in its save anywhere function.

So there you have it, my first 40 minutes in Rage, with most of my time spent gawking at the impressive production values on display. I even ventured far enough despite another's warning that I ended up dead, I'm assuming from that Bandit's bullet though it's possible id killed me for leaving the path. Regardless, I'm convinced it won't be the last time I die while appreciating this title's impressive presentation.

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