In tone and premise, Rage‘s debut has more in common with arcade high score attack games than anything in id Software’s canon. Staged within a gameshow of death and hosted by a sadist blabbermouth, it’s old-fashioned and schlocky, albeit realised with cutting edge technology.
An on-rails shooting gallery with a restricted manual aim, id Software has structured its rollercoaster to direct your eye around its slick set. Each pan and swing is propaganda for Rage‘s technical accomplishment, and it certainly looks splendid in the hands. The quality of the environmental detail and animations are unrivalled on iOS handhelds, fulfilling John Carmack’s promise that he can outclass last-gen consoles on the smallest of systems and consolidating his position as the programmer laureate of his generation. Ranging from the dank, decrepit innards of an abandoned asylum to the dank, decrepit innards of two other very similar decayed locations – tenements and a nuclear bunker – a little more artistic variety would graduate Rage from striking to spectacular, but it at least sets the standard for any future iOS ventures on which the team might embark.
But, as with last year’s Doom Resurrection on iOS, it’s in the technology that the genius proves itself, while the gameplay tries to keep up. Unfortunately, id hasn’t conquered the control quandary of Apple’s button-free devices. Neither the tilt nor touchpad controls for manual aiming provide a convenient method for tackling Rage‘s waves of mutants. Though the aiming is precise, fending off enemies, shooting targets for high-scores and collecting pickups burdens the scheme beyond comfort. Targeting while the on-rails camera pans, evading and observing threats is a little too much to juggle.
Id’s heritage shines through Rage‘s audio-visual flourishes, though. Mutants raise bloody hell all over the screen, slashing, screaming and throwing missiles until you dispense them in a red mist with one of the game’s three weapons: a pistol with infinite ammo, a rattling assault rife and, of course, a booming shotgun. You shoot, reload and dodge or sprint with the tap of icons arranged around the corners of the screen, each bringing a level of strategy as you time your manoeuvres, dodge projectiles and hit the narrow windows in which you have to shoot bonus bullseye targets. Certainly when the pace ramps up it feels impossible to grab all the pickups and hit all the targets, but there’s a rhythm to the action that can be thoroughly compulsive.
With just those three levels, though, Rage feels a little slight – more a toy than a full game, even if there’s plenty of room to perfect your scores. The shame is that Rage doesn’t engage more deeply with next year’s main event. Designed to promote id’s own technical prowess, Rage is more a guided tour than a real behind-the-scenes look at what the full Rage promises. But with iOS’s touchscreen still proving a major hurdle to presenting big-console experiences on the system, you have to wonder what the real value is in putting all that creativity in and squeezing out so little.