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Engaged with Rage

Rage tells to the story of a scorched Earth, years after an asteroid has hit the planet.

Now playing: Watch this: Game trailer: Rage

If there's anyone who should know how to make legendary video games, it's got to be Id Software co-founder John Carmack. Largely responsible for classics such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake (basically the games that invented the first-person action shooter), there's no game maker, save for Nintendo's Miyamoto, who comes close in terms of influence or reputation. (See our E3 2011 interview with Carmack here.)

It's no surprise that Rage has received its fair share of hype. Now that we've had our hands on the final product, here's what we think:

It's impossible to play Rage and not immediately think of games like Borderlands and Fallout 3. The game draws so many similarities to the former that veteran players may find things a bit redundant in not just atmosphere but gameplay as well. Both games are a looter's dream, but Rage succeeds at delivering a much more polished and complete package.

Rage places the player in the role of Ark member, a project designed to continue the human race in anticipation of a meteorite impact that will destroy most of if not all life on Earth. The game begins with the Ark member awakening some time after the collision. Of course the world is now a shell of its former self and, surprise, surprise, you're not exactly welcome in it.

Narratively speaking, Rage starts off with an impressive sequence, but never really is able to achieve the same sort of cinematic awe. Voice performances are strong and likable, highlighted by the instantly recognizable John Goodman.

We're happy to report that Rage runs at an incredibly smooth frame rate, but there is a fair amount of loading to endure when crossing into new territories. Installing all three discs on our Xbox 360 seemed to slightly improve wait times, so if you've got room to spare, it's worth considering.

Beyond long loading times, Rage is an absolute graphical marvel. There is an incredible amount of fine detail stitched into the world, with uniquely stylized characters and small towns.

Id Software

Rage is primarily a first-person shooter, but a fair amount of gameplay also puts the player behind the wheel of various vehicles. Beyond providing a vessel for A-to-B travel, vehicle gameplay features racing, combat, and the ability to upgrade your ride with better parts and weapon assemblies. Both first-person and driving controls feel tight and responsive--all of which is further exaggerated thanks to the game's silky smooth aesthetic.

For a demo of Rage with commentary, check out last week's episode of preGame!

The generically titled "Rage" is the first game Carmack had the equivalent of above-the-title credit for since 2004's "Doom 3," and like that game, it's a violent stylistic exercise that's a marvel to behold. That the game looks amazing should not come as a surprise; Carmack's reputation is as a programmer and technician, not an overall entertainment auteur. This is, after all, the man who was quoted in the book "Masters of Doom" as saying, "Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important."

That approach is evident in Rage. The physical landscape, while stunning, is an overly familiar post-apocalyptic desert, virtually identical to the ones seen for decades in everything from The Road Warrior to Fallout 3. The characters are hastily sketched stereotypes, albeit with animation and voice acting that puts lesser games to shame. In a way, it feels as if you're watching an award-winning cinematographer directing a film: the visuals are great, but there's a lack of connection to this potentially intriguing world around you.

Id Software

Still, if you're playing Rage, you're likely more interested in the shootouts, which is where the game really shines. Unlike so many first-person games in recent years, Rage doesn't exactly hold your hand at every turn. The initial gunfights are surprisingly difficult, with enemies (again, painfully cliched post-apocalyptic mutants) that are fast, agile, and who can take more than a few bullets from your puny starter pistol before going down. If you're used to the generous auto-aim assistance in the Call of Duty series, get ready to reload your game more than a few times.

The depth comes from the endless array of new weapons, ammo, and accessories you can build, based on discovering or buying blueprints. Within the game's first few hours, we were building explosive ammo and walking sentry bots that would fight alongside us. The constant upgrade cycle makes it feel like you're always making progress, which helps keep the pacing quick.

Id Software

On a technical level, Rage shows off the importance of frame rate in console games. Despite the high-powered visuals, the movement is always extremely smooth, double the normal 30 frames per second that most console games strive to achieve. Going back to any other game after Rage feels like you're moving in slow motion. There's a catch, however. On the Xbox 360 version we played, some texture pop-in was evident almost every time we turned our virtual head too sharply.

Rage clearly has the technical side and the in-game mechanics down. But that's only half the picture for modern consumers of interactive entertainment. While playing we inevitably thought of what could be accomplished if one were to merge the visual mastery of Rage with a game in roughly the same genre, such as Fallout 3, that's known for its top-notch plot and script, but only so-so visuals. Once someone manages to do that, video games will a big step closer to eclipsing film and television as our most compelling creative medium.

Rage is available now on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.