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I Played The Witcher 3, Then Wrote 930 Words About a Game from 2011

June 27, 2015

Sorry, the headline and first sentence are the only references to The Witcher 3 in this post. I'm a dirty SEO trickster

In a post-Witcher 3 lull, I went back and finally finished the Most Forgettable Game of 2011, id Software’s Rage. OR DID I?

Yes. I did.

Some thoughts.

It's a newly-discovered regret of mine that we'll never have the Xena video game we so richly deserve. FUN FACT: a young Karl Urban made a guest appearance in Xena, playing Cupid. This is true.

1 — The shooting is mostly really good, all loud, purposeful shotguns, and chuckable wingsticks that make you feel like Xena throwing her Whatsit Circle around. The mutant enemies’ twisty attack patterns make solid connections especially rewarding, especially since they go flinging their bodies around madly thanks to the game’s wonderful animations. Then the human enemies start wearing fifteen layers of armour and it sadly becomes something of a slog; they don’t get smarter or more interesting, they just take longer to smack down. Purchasing oodles of the Authority’s armour-piercing ammo does the trick, but it does make certain weapons (including that shotgun) feel impotent in the latter stages. And some of the enemy spawning is about as subtle as Kanye West wearing a golden kimono at an egoists’ convention on the moon.

2 — id appear to have promptly forgotten that the shooting was very good, and in a drunken panic, padded out the game with hub towns packed with irredeemably awful textures, some pretty (vacant) models that say nothing of note, and mini-games straight out of a 1991 Atari compilation. “Mini-games”, with a strong emphasis on “mini”, and a derisive, hacking laugh strangling “games” mostly into unintelligibility. One supremely awful standout in Subway Town (cleverly imagined, these place-names) has a guy playing guitar one note at a time, each corresponding to an on-screen arrow. He plucks a sequence of notes, and you attempt to repeat it, in a memory game so insultingly banal, it could be Mumford & Sons’ complete discography. On cassette.

Speaking of Karl Urban, one of these days I'll write a halfhearted defence of the DOOM movie, which was serviceable enough as a pretty standard action movie, mostly content to coast on the likability of its leading trio of Urban, Rocky, and Rosamund Pike. Also enjoyable was the cheery triteness of its fanservice: the character with the wheelchair welded to his torso was nicknamed "Pinky", which you initially mistake for just a winky reference, but then he turns into a literal Pinky Demon, and Karl Urban chainsaws him to bits, and you wonder if this movie was in fact written by a sentient Doom 3 screenshot

Also filling in time between the all-too-rare shootery bits is a lot (A LOT) of pointless driving twixt points A and B in a beautiful, empty, beautiful, boring, boring, beautiful, boring post-apocalyptic open world. This insufferability is made worse by the introduction of the game’s vehicular combat, which is akin to a Young Republicans meeting in that you know people worked hard at it and really believed in it, but it’s still the most depressing depiction of not-fun in the world. It tries so very hard to be Mad Max, but the cars are entirely devoid of any feeling of weight or heft or violence or fun, and then the enemy cars start using shields, so you end up just stocking up on rockets and one-shot-kill pulse ammo and trying to get through it as fast as possible. Or better still, ignoring enemies altogether, and just pounding nitro to stay ahead of them as they pepper you with ineffectual bullets, paying the Repair fee once you’re back in the garage as a kind of Boredom Tax. That could be Rage’s subtitle. Boredom Tax.

3 — id’s games used to have simple, one-line stories, ranging from “There are Nazis, and you kill them”, through “There are monsters, and you kill them”, and of course Quake III’s “There are other people, and you kill them”. Elaborating much further would have dispelled the magic: no one needs to know the Cacodemon’s origin story, or which exact feudal system the Baron of Hell and Hell Knight exist in. (Is the Cyberdemon their Satanic King, leasing out portions of Hell to his Barons? Do Hell Knights get to live on that land in exchange for hurling green deathbolts at the player? Where are the Hell Villeins? Y’know what, forget what I said before—Doom 4 should have the Shadow of Mordor Nemesis system in place, with all these politics realistically simulated.)

I'll tell you what though - I'd play the hell out of a video game adaptation of Urban's Dredd movie from a few years back. All the cleverness of Prince of Persia's "this is all one castle" setting, but with more cyberpunk ultraviolence and pithy post-face-explosion one-liners

When id Software reach for an actual story, we end up with Rage. (Or Doom 3, both of which were given to – nay, inflicted upon – us by the same external author, one Matthew J. Costello, whose oeuvre also includes Just Cause 2 and… um… the 2003 Starsky & Hutch video game of the 2004 movie of the 1970s TV show. And a SeaQuest DSV novelisation. So.) Rage’s story is best described as this: Fallout 3’s story, barely remembered and badly retold by an Alzheimer’s-stricken elderly relative. “There’s a barren wasteland… and you step out of… a thingy? A thingy. Then the shooting. And the people talk a bit. Mutants.” And nothing substantial to fill in the gaps, just lots of first-name-only characters that say “Hey, you’re a guy that did a thing just now” when you press E on them.

And the story gets the ending it probably deserves. After a few missions taking on bandits, and another few taking on mutants, you make your first tentative strike against the Authority, the big bad oppressors with all the armour and the under-explained motivations. You immediately receive another mission from your allies: strike deep in the Authority’s base, and you can activate all the Arks (you emerged from an Ark – the aforementioned “thingy” – at the start of the game) across the Wasteland, thus giving your team an army of confused soldiers to rally against the regime. They pack you up with Rage’s BFG-equivalent, because this is id, and send you on your way. So you go and you do that, and the game forgets to give you any big enemies to use your new gun on, and the Arks spring up in a cutscene, and then the game craps itself and dies, and the credits roll, and you slump incredulously in your seat. Imagine if The Lord of the Rings ended with the formation of the Fellowship, but without any of the interesting stuff that happened before that, and you’re about halfway to comprehending the absence of anything resembling an ending here. It’s like if this blog pos

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