Review: Rage HD (iPhone/iPad): Top Dollar Production for a Bargain Basement Game

photo 2Rage HD was released by id Software, arguably the creators of the first person shooter genre, for two reasons: The first was to show off their new graphics engine for mobile devices. The second, to build anticipation for their upcoming console and PC game Rage. Rage HD certainly succeeds on the first count. The engine is highly detailed and runs at a breakneck frame rate on iDevices. As for the second… Well, let’s just say that this was the final nail in the coffin of a franchise that already had me yawning from the first screenshot.

Rage HD is a ‘rail shooter’. Your viewpoint bobs along a predestined route and it’s up to the player to fight the camera in an attempt to shoot as many targets, power-ups, and enemies thrown in your path as possible. It’s a game style popularized by arcade light gun cabinets and designed for the quick, vapid, one-off fun of playing with plastic guns, dragging your finger around on a piece of glass and tapping the virtual fire button only emphasizes the shallowness of this genre as a whole. While some games have managed to use this limited format to their advantage to create elaborate cinematic moments, such as Time Crisis or the criminally underrated interactive movie Dead Space Extraction, Rage settles for nothing more than a shooting gallery set in hallways. To its credit, Rage HD does feature a “Virtual Window” mode that adds some fun back into the game. This control mode works a lot like an AR (augmented reality) game and has you spinning around and tilting your iDevice in real space to line up a shot. If there was anything interesting on display here, it would be a great mode to play in. The only other unusual addition is that of a dodge button, the perfect excuse not to balance the difficulty or pacing.

RAGE_HDAs if the rail shooter nature of the game were not shallow enough, id felt no need to include more than the most basic setup or story. You are a contestant on Mutant Bash TV. It is your job to walk down corridors and shoot things. That’s it. Each level begins with a pre-rendered video of your fat, ugly TV host sitting on some kind of post apocalyptic robo-potty blathering on with dialog neither entertaining nor enlightening. You’ll be treated to such mundane commentary like “Countless mutants were harmed in the making of this episode. Whoopee!” Actually, I added the “Whoopee”. The designers couldn’t even muster that level of interest.

While the graphics technology may be state of the art, the art of the graphics certainly is not. Level design is Shooter 101. Environments are strictly indoors with worn out settings such as Brown Dilapidated Apartment Building and Beige Ruined Bunker. The only strange twist is that these settings are brightly lit as opposed to the dark, moody atmosphere used by most games. The change does Rage’s pedestrian art style no favors and instead highlights exactly many shades of brown, tan, beige, and khaki there are in the world.  Collectables and enemies alike blend into Rage’s brown morass of blah. There isn’t even a clich├ęd red exploding barrel to cause some havoc.The only stand out ‘detail’ comes in the form of ridiculously out of place red and white target markers you can shoot for bonus points. Characters fare no better, featuring one gaunt, humanoid mutant after another in some shade of tan. They are as wonderfully animated as they are dully designed. The way mutants crawl out of a sewer hole, swing in from holes in the ceiling, or clamber over piles of debris would be a delight to watch… if the mutant designs were worth paying attention to at all.

photo 1Then there’s the sound. It is this aspect of Rage HD, more than any other, that forced me to stop. The sound design in Rage is simply awful. Your enemies snort and squeal in a pig-like manner constantly amidst the steady pounding of the generic pistol/shotgun/assault rife weapons fire. Occasionally a ear splitting “CLANG!” erupts from a bonus target being hit or a spent clip ejecting. The quiet soundtrack is composed of low discordant strings and much more suited to a horror game than an action one, let alone one that is setup as a wacky, bloody game show. I should probably be grateful, as the music is the only aspect of Rage HD’s audio that didn’t saw through my nerves with a cheese grater.The afore mentioned commentator's voice suits the character well. It is just a shame no one could be bothered to give the poor guy some interesting lines. Taken as a whole, Rage’s soundscape is just as ugly as it’s art. While I could get used to the dull, uninspired visuals, the sound actually offended my ears. “Snort squeal Bangbangbang CLANG! Snort “Our contestant is on a roll!” Sque-Bangbang CLANG! CLANG! Squeeeeal snort bang snort” and on and on and on. I’ve certainly done my couple thousand hours with the constant screams and gunfire of shooters before, but Rage’s symphony of destruction is simply one of the worst, most offensive soundscapes I have ever had to tolerate. It is atrocious through headphones and intolerable blasting through the tinny speaker of an iPad.

This video, starting at about the 7 minute mark, should give you more than enough of a taste:

photo 4Rage HD is a bland, boring, brown throwback of a game somehow blessed with some of the best technology being offered on the platform. The spectacular engine only serves to shine a spotlight on how dull and uninspired every aspect of Rage HD truly is. And the sound designer should be fired. Out of a cannon. Into a porcupine nursery. Rage HD is worth neither the 1.2GB download nor your time, let alone any asking price on the App Store.

Rage HD is available now for iPhone 3GS or better, iPod 3rd Gen+, or iPad via iTunes for $1.99

Reviewer Rating: 2/5 Stars – Bad2star

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