Monday, January 3, 2011

App O' The Mornin': Rage Review

Grade: B
Price: $1

I've put off covering Rage for a couple of weeks. I kept returning to it, giving it another shot, trying a different way of playing, just to figure out if it was the game or me that wasn't quite right. I'm not sure I've figured that out yet, but I have come to this conclusion:

I really don't like it all that much.

It's certainly impressive in a number of areas, and it does something fresh with the format, but in the end I had to admit that I simply didn't enjoy it.

The Rage app is big news because it's the work of id Software, and pushes the iOS platform to its limits. Rage is id's latest series, due on multiple platforms later this year or next. The iOS version is described by John Carmack as "a little slice of Rage." I haven't seen any part of the larger game, but my understanding is that it combines driving, RPG, and FPS elements in a post-apocalyptic setting.

The "little slice" that made it to iOS is called "Mutant Bash TV," and it's a rail-shooter set in the context of a TV game show. You travel automatically through a series of twisting levels, pausing occasionally to shoot mutants and targets, as well as grab health, money, and ammo.

The rail element doesn't bother me all that much. Rail shooters can be perfectly entertaining, and Rage handles the traveling aspect fairly well. Adding movement controls wouldn't have made it a better game.

The problem is more in the controls and actual gameplay content. This is basically a shooting gallery, in which you turn around and look up or down at each stop, hunting for mutants which are closing on your position. Some throw bricks or rocks, others come in close for melee combat. You aim with one finger, and fire or dodge with the other.

But the aiming controls just seem a bit off. I tried adjusting the sensitivity levels and using different approaches, and it never quite felt right. There are awkward stages where you just can't turn and shoot fast enough, and other places where you're being attacked from a distance and have to hunt for the culprit while also fending off melee attacks. Once the mutants get in close, the screen can become so awash in blood that it's hard to even see anything.

I'm perfectly willing to admit that my mad gamer skillz may be atrophied in my old age, which is part of the reason I'm scoring the game as high as I am. It's all very slick and well-made, with plenty of content and knock-out visuals. This is clearly the product of a talented team of programmers and designers.

In the end, however, I found it all a bit unpleasant. The settings are grimy, crowded, and depressing; the pacing is jittery; and the overall effect didn't entertain me. I was glad to delete it. As I always say, however, "Your mileage may vary."


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