Sometimes I’ll start writing something and life boils over, washing those words aside. By the time I find them again they’ve lost their relevance. A write-up on Rage is the perfect example of this, because really, who the fuck cares about that game anymore?
Rage has lost so much relevance that when it came time for me to write about horribly distracting graphical glitches, I didn’t even cite it as one of the worst offenders. That article, which you can find on GameZone.com, talks about games people actually remember. You should probably read that first…and leave a comment! I’ll love you forever.
Either way, I liked where I was going with this piece, so here it is. If you’re into reading half-finished things:
Rage is a snapshot of a beautiful game. It’s a static image of a masterpiece that only exists in id Software’s offices. The final game we are playing is a compressed JPEG downloaded over a phone line. The image builds itself slower than the eye sees it, and final result is soft, pixellated, and not nearly what I was expecting.
The characters animate with Disney-esque quality. They are expressive, agile, and a joy to watch. Much like a hand-animated film, though, the characters and backgrounds of Rage are two very separate things. The flowing characters clash with the static backgrounds, they don’t look like they are a part of the world they inhabit. They dance and move with grace but the world ignores them.
The sky is stuck. The clouds hang in perfect stasis forever and ever. It’s a reflection of the world below, a place that’s solid and detailed but cold and unchanging. Smoke effects provide a vain attempt at life, but the stillness of every scene is hard to deny. Stop moving and the world freezes in time. A strolling NPC is still little more than a well-animated character walking across a photograph.
Beyond the shadows under your feet, the light in Rage is fake, painted onto the landscape. You cannot change it. It may look great at the right angle, but it will never look any different.
The most elaborate changes to Rage’s world come from the slowly loading textures. Leap into a scene before the game catches up and you have a blurry mess that slowly builds into something seemingly crisp. It’s all a trade-off of a game that runs at a buttery smooth framerate while still looking as great as it sometimes does.
And it does indeed have moments of beauty. The town of Wellspring offers brief glimpses of the future of video game visuals. Crisp, smooth, and lovingly detailed, Rage tells of a visual future worth exploring, worth advancing to a nicer PC or a newer generation of consoles. Here and now, in this generation, it’s all just a story. Take a second to admire anything in Rage and you’re met with the ugly truth – texture work that wouldn’t pass a decade ago, let alone today.
Once you see it, it can’t be unseen. A catwalk straight out of Half-Life, a spray-can that looks more like a marshmallow, a poster smeared with compression artifacts, every detail of Rage is an illusion. It’s a mistake to assume players will always view your world in the best light, and that assumption is the foundation of Rage’s visual appeal.