Also, yes, I know it's not an MMO. This is MMO Burnout and I thought we were past that already.
Anyhow, I'm afraid I'm going to have to recommend the title to burned-out MMO gamers for several reasons. It's quite beautiful, quite fun, and it's the perfect getaway from the typical massively multiplayer grind. id started with the desire to make a sprawling, open-world opus but abandoned the concept halfway through.
You can see bits and pieces of a larger experience in the scrumptious world design and the way that you're free to go wherever, whenever, in between missions. The problem is that there's little reason to do so, as the game's post-apocalyptic wasteland is larger than most shooters but basically devoid of interesting NPCs, sidequests, or minigames.
Sure, you can play five-finger filet with a crusty local at the Wellspring watering hole, and you can take repeatable vehicular homicide sorties from the gal who owns the place, but the novelty here wears off fairly quickly. The same is true of the turn-based card game and the crafting mechanics that you'll mainly use to manufacture handy little high-tech buzzsaws that chew their way through the pesky door locks peppering the game's interiors.
As with other id games (the company is responsible for the Doom and Quake series, among others), the presentation is most of the reason to give the whole thing a go. Rage is an unequivocally gorgeous game, and while it's set in the same sort of generic Mad Max future that you're exceedingly familiar with, it goes out of its way to present you with amazingly detailed environments and hand-crafted NPCs that you'd expect to find in a top-tier RPG instead of what's basically a corridor shoot-'em-up.
The two main mission hubs, the aforementioned Wellspring and an eastern wasteland dump called Subway Town, feel like real locations in a way, and they're certainly unlike any environment I've explored in a shooter before. Subway Town in particular is worthy of its own article if you're into game aesthetics and environment design. It's a pulsing Blade Runner-style mini-settlement oozing with both cyperpunk and post-apoc atmosphere, and it's the kind of place where you just know that every one of the NPCs has some sort of sordid, fascinating backstory.
The world design isn't perfect, though, and more than once I caught myself frowning at impassable, foot-high barriers. I could have done without replaying the Dead City level in reverse, too. Those are minor quibbles, though. My major complaint with Rage and its presentation is that I don't have more of a reason to revisit it. This is a world that cries out for a more extensive co-op or multiplayer mode, and I'd love to see some folks mod the hell out of it as we used to do with id's original Doom 20 years ago.
So that's all fine and dandy, I hear some of you saying, but what about the shooting? Well, it's pretty solid. There's a good amount of progression between the game's many weapons, and over the course of a 10- or 12-hour campaign, you'll graduate from a cute little newblet peashooter to shotguns, assault rifles, pulse cannons, rocket launchers, and more. There are also a couple of turret models and radio-controlled bomb cars that blow up real good, not to mention your usual assortment of thrown explosives and a three-bladed boomerang analogue called a wingstick.
The game's crafting and inventory system comes in handy here, too, as you can construct bomb cars and the like out of all the junk you're going to be looting as you plow through Rage's indoor shooting galleries. id's enemy AI seems familiar, as baddies will often pop out of hidden spots in the scenery and attempt to throw off your aim by cartwheeling, climbing walls, and so on. Normal mode is probably where you want to start if you've got a decent amount of shooter experience. I tried the hard setting for a few missions, but the giant Dead City mutant boss cured me of that impulse pretty quick.
Rage's vehicular minigame was more fun than I thought it would be, mostly because of the responsive controls and the jaw-dropping work of id's art department. You can progress through a series of unlockable races, and you'll need to at least get your feet wet on the circuit in order to advance early on in the game's story campaign. There are also plenty of upgrades for your dune buggies, most of which can be bought from an NPC in the mission hub of your choice.
Again, though, it's hard to shake the feeling that the developers had something much more grandiose in mind, even though what's actually here is by all accounts a lot of fun.
Multiplayer is something I'm still kind of curious about because frankly I couldn't find anyone to play with over the past week. I do know that Rage features two MP modes, Road Rage and Wasteland Legends, and on paper at least they sound pretty slick. Road Rage, as you might guess, is built around the game's vehicular component. As near as I can tell, it's a four-player free-for-all affair where the ultimate objective is to collect more rally points than your three amigos.
Wasteland Legends, on the other hand, is a sort of story-driven co-op session built around on-foot shooting zones that riff on stories told by NPCs in the single-player campaign. I played the first mission solo (even though the game dutifully warned me that it would be much harder and none of my achievements would be saved). I was rewarded with an interesting yarn about Dan Hagar and how he came into possession of the sniper rifle that he used to bust me out of the Ark at the beginning of the solo campaign.
If you're looking for more replay value, id's first Rage DLC pack is less than a month old as of press time. It's called The Scorchers, and it adds new weapons, a new clan, and a new difficulty level to the base game.
Ultimately I think RAGE is the quintessential MMO Burnout title. It's largely single-player, but let's face it, who doesn't need an escape from the repetition that is today's MMO scene every once in a while? id's shooter features one of the most beautifully realized game worlds I've ever experienced, and there's a good 15 hours of fun to be had here when all is said and done. I picked it up on Steam via one of those crazy $4.99 sales over Christmas, but I'd have no problem ponying up for it at the current $19.99 price point either.
Burned out on MMOs? That's OK; there are tons of other titles out there featuring MMOish open worlds, progression, RPG mechanics, or a combination of all three. Massively's MMO Burnout turns a critical eye toward everything from AAA blockbusters to obscure indie gems, not to mention a healthy dose of the best mods.