Review: ‘Rage’ brings fireworks, but story fizzles

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“Wolfenstein.” ”Doom.” ”Quake.” They’re all landmark titles in the history of video games, and they defined an entire genre: the first-person shooter.

The studio that created them, Dallas-based id Software, has been relatively quiet since 2004’s “Doom 3.” But id has finally returned with “Rage” (Bethesda, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.99), and fans will be delighted to discover it hasn’t lost its touch for trigger-happy mayhem.

“Rage” takes place in the sort of post-disaster wasteland that has become a bit of a cliche. In 2029, the hero was put into suspended animation before an asteroid struck Earth. When he awakens centuries later, the surface has been overrun by bandits, mutants, cannibals and other miscreants.

In an earlier id game, your goal would be simple: Kill ’em all. Indeed, “Rage” doesn’t skimp on opportunities to fill your enemies with lead. You can run screaming into a firefight, flinging grenades and automatic weapons fire every which way. Or you can take a more cautious approach, taking out foes one-by-one with well-placed sniper bullets.

While the weapons don’t get too exotic, they’re well differentiated. A shotgun has a beefy kick to it, while a rapid-fire machine gun is more difficult to control. You can also build turrets and sentry robots, which become valuable sidekicks when foes become too much for your lone gunman.

There are only a few enemy types, but they come after you in many ways. Some kill from afar. Some heavily armored guards march relentlessly toward you. And the most agile mutants jump you en masse. The animation and artificial intelligence are terrific, making all your antagonists seem like living (and dying) creatures with their own unpredictable attack patterns.

At its core, “Rage” is a series of environments — caverns, a factory, a prison — filled with things to shoot. There are a few short detours, but the paths are almost entirely linear. Still, other activities prevent the game from feeling like one long trudge toward the inevitable.

You get access early on to a dune buggy equipped with guns and homing rockets, and it’s a kick to chase bandit vehicles around the wasteland. At two locations you can sign up for competitive races; a few are straightforward, but most turn into demolition derbies.

There are also side jobs that you can take on for cash. And there are several gambling events, including an addictive collectible card game and the ever delightful “five-finger fillet.”

Such side quests — as well as the colorful but cramped towns where you’ll find them — create the impression that “Rage” is an open-world adventure like “Grand Theft Auto” or “Fallout.” But that initial sense of freedom turns out to be an illusion, and it’s disappointing to discover that you don’t really have much choice in determining how the story unfolds. And the ending, which is blatantly written to set up a sequel, arrives so abruptly that I was taken aback when the credits started rolling.

In the four years since “Rage” was first announced, its post-apocalyptic setting has been used more effectively in adventures like “Fallout 3” and “Borderlands.” Still, it does deliver plenty of thrills. Despite its disappointing story, I had a lot of fun — and I’m looking forward to “Rage 2.” Three stars out of four.

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Online:

http://www.rage.com/

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Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lkesten