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Rage is a graphically stunning new shooter, a fantastically realised world in retreat. Although this created a genuine sadness for me, Rage seem unaware or unwilling to engage with these life and death realities, preferring instead to just keep me shooting.
There are some powerful words in the English language. Rage is one such word; it is almost Onomatopoeic, its sound perfectly summarising its emotion. Powerful, abrupt and vicious, just saying it begins to stirs the feeling. So it was odd that as I played Rage, a game with such an evocative title, I felt none. Instead I was taken on a ride of emotions that eventually left me feeling empty.
With little preamble Rage dumped me in a state of confusion as I found myself waking up from a subterranean slumber. Stumbling from my craft I was greeted by a devastated world but also one of the most detailed digital landscapes I have experienced; sun-bleached, desolate and barren, yet strangely peaceful. High above the floor of a canyon I began to guide my voiceless avatar towards the ground.
Ducking under a rocky overhang my sense of awe was quickly dispelled. Snarling snapping teeth descend upon me; unarmed I panicked, sat in my chair I let out a cry of fear as I realise I am trapped.
My panic lasts no more than a second as a gunshot cracks and my attacker falls limp across my prone body. Regaining my lost composure I inspect my furious attacker; an emaciated man with wild eyes lies slumped across me, almost pathetic now dead. This is a hostile and scary place, but at least my sniper rifle-wielding saviour appears friendly.
It is the antagonism between the civilised and feral societies that makes for the majority of Rage's action.
Rage's vision of the future is a depressing one, but not without hope. I find myself in the camp of a tiny band of not-psychotically-deranged individuals who are trying to forge themselves a new life. They are one of many small developing communities in this devastated earth but not all of the burgeoning societies are as welcoming.
It is the antagonism between the civilised and feral societies that makes for the majority of Rage's action. I was soon sent out by friendly camps to perform tasks that regularly put me at odds with these wilder groups. Some looked like my original crazed attacker; nimble and quick climbing over ceilings and walls as they spiral their way towards me. Others were more advanced and came wielding make shift armour and weapons, using cover and flanking tactics to close in on me. But for all of their rage, I found myself feeling just pity.
Games rarely explore the details of death and perhaps with good reason, it's disturbing. Most of gaming's core interactions circle around killing, to explore the emotional reality of this is understandably difficult to square with entertainment.
My first confrontation saw me leaving the vast desolate landscape of Rage's hub world to enter one of the distinct combat areas. Armed with a satisfying array of weapons I felt empowered as my opponents pirouette towards me. I shot the first sending him spiraling to the floor. The next rushed me even after the first hit sent him to the floor but another round silenced him. The reaction of the third underlined the desperate sadness of this world I was fighting, even once I had dropped him to the floor he painfully dragged himself away.
In this moment Rage had shifted emotional gears.
In this moment Rage had shifted emotional gears. To see a realistic response, was enough to bring compassion from me, a stark contradiction to the game's intention. Pain was evident in my target and it instantly transformed him. He dragged himself away calling out for help.
His animation, so effective in creating his fluid threatening attacks became agonised and pathetic. Even with his savagery he was suddenly just as deserving of life as those whose orders I was acting upon. Firing nearly blindly to defend what was left of his life I had to kill his helpless form, but I didn't want to and I wasn't sure I wanted to continue.
I've not found this in a game before, but with no free will in the direction of Rage's story I am forced in to becoming a cold hearted killer, a fact that upsets and angers me. My enemies were just people struggling survive, driven to become territorial due to the harsh condition. Sure, they were snarling monsters that attacked with little provocation, but as I tear through their entire clan perhaps they had a point to react as they did.
I am forced in to becoming a cold hearted killer.
It was a rude awakening to just how much of a game Rage was, despite its wonderfully realised environments. My silent character had to murder his way through the world with no relatable motivation. While the landscapes were beautiful and absorbing the fiction seemed unaware of the emotional well it left untouched. It left me only with the choice of continuing the senseless killing or turning off the game. I no longer felt like a champion or hero, I didn't even feel like villain, just a robotic killing machine and that really frightened me.
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