FPS meets carnival shooting galleries in John Carmack’s iOS project.
RAGE HD (played on an iPhone 4) is quite possibly the best looking game I’ve played for iOS devices. The “Epic Citadel” may look pretty, but the challenge of packing those graphics into a real game can prove extremely challenging, as I’m sure the folks at id Software are well aware.
It should be mentioned right out of the gate that Rage HD is an on-rails shooter. I heard that id Software originally planned on a full-motion FPS experience, but had to drop it due to hardware limitations. This makes sense, but is highly unfortunate, as it’s pretty obvious while playing the game that it was intended for free movement. The story places you as a contestant for “Mutant Bash TV”, a game show where players run through post-apocalyptic mazes, blasting mutants for points. There are also targets scattered around
that give you point bonuses, ammo, and health packs to keep you alive and killing. The creepy announcer (who looks like he’s sitting on a toilet with his pants down… maybe that’s just me?) will comment throughout the game based on how well or terrible you are doing. He’s mildly entertaining at best.
Most on-rails shooters don’t give the player any camera control, as you are automatically taken from one location to the next, and have to clear each area of enemies before moving on. In Rage, while you’re still being automatically taken from one room to the next, you can control the camera to look for powerups, money, or enemies. There is also a “run” button that allows you to move more quickly from time to time, and a “dodge” button that lets you sidestep incoming projectiles. This all sounds well and good on paper and is certainly better than mindlessly tapping your screen to shoot enemies, but it ultimately fails, and is one of the most frustrating aspects of the game.
There is a constant battle in Rage HD, and it’s not just between you and the mindless mutants you are slaying. The battle takes place between the player and the on-rails camera. You may want to look to the left to get much-needed health, but the game has other plans, and will jerk you away at the last second. Allowing you to look around, without giving you the ability to at least temporarily stop the on-rails movement, makes the game feel almost broken at times. This makes it’s all near impossible to shoot and collect all the objects in each level, because the game seems tears away camera control when you need it most. I understand the concept of a fast-paced carnival shooting gallery, but the constant struggle for camera control becomes almost maddening. This issue is multiplied with tilt
controls, which have no calibration at all. I suppose if you just played through the entire game to shoot the baddies, without worrying about any bonuses, you wouldn’t have much trouble. You also had better be damn good at the game, because health packs and ammo are essential to not getting completely owned.
I just realized that, so far, this review makes Rage Rage HD sound all bad. That’s not necessarily the case. As I mentioned at the beginning, the game looks simply gorgeous. It’s an awesome “Hey look what I can do on my iPhone!” game to show your friends. It’s also a great landmark in iOS game engine development, and will hopefully encourage other developers to follow suit with games that contain high-quality visuals and sound. But with only 3 short levels, no online/leaderboard support, frustrating camera controls, 3 weapons, and little reason to replay the game, Rage HD simply doesn’t live up to the standards of modern iOS gaming – especially for the $2 asking price. After completing Rage HD in 30 minutes, I got the feeling that this game, while impressive graphically, is more of a proof-of-concept project for Carmack and the gang than anything else. That, and it’s a slick marketing tie-in for the console/PC version of the full game coming out in 2011. At it’s core, Rage HD is a incredible technical achievement that will provide a fun-but-brief experience that may or may not be frustrating depending on how you play the game.