id Software has spent years in the limelight of Doom, often hailed the greatest game in existence, though their track record as of late has been sketchy at best. PC gamers everywhere know the company as brilliant, and the past five years have not been kind to the developer. Besides for Quake Live and a few iPhone remakes of classic titles, id has produced nothing.
And then there was Rage.
Albeit, not the one we were promised, Rage: Mutant Bash TV is a sort of prelude of what to expect from id in the future, both from the long awaited console title and the iOS platform. It pushes what Rage meant to offer in a miniaturized form, and does so with tremendous results. Last week I said that Rage and Infinity Blade were neck-and-neck for best graphics on iOS. I was wrong and say so plainly. Rage, specifically Rage HD (the HD counterpart with higher resolution graphics, intended for the iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4 and iPad), is by far the most stunning graphical display of a videogame available on Apple’s iDevices.
What Rage HD does for the platform is simply amazing. The graphics are just incredible. Just look at the screenshots and see for yourself. It’s not a sight to take lightly, because remember, this is all running on an iPad or iPhone. It’s not farfetched to think that seven or eight years ago, you’d need a powerful PC to run such a game. The main difference between Rage HD and Infinity Blade, graphically, is the tone (dark vs light), blockiness (Rage is far smoother around the edges, literally), and levels of detail. When having both games running in front of you, it’s clear as day that Rage HD spares no expense with detail, from the money bags wearing dollar signs to the belts on attacking mutants.
It’s the gameplay where Rage suffers. Mutant Bash TV is a one-man-army playing in a post-apocalyptic gameshow fighting for his life against mutants, for money. With three weapons (pistol, assault rifle and shotgun), players go through a rail-shooter maze, killing everything in sight and collecting as many bonuses as possible. All movement is restricted save for a dodge command, and all players have to do is aim, shoot, and repeat. The Gears of War minigame of bonus reloading also keeps gameplay moving, with 2x damage for reloading with perfect timing.
There’s nothing wrong with rail shooters, though only with rare exception do they not include the standard arcade handgun, or at the very least a mouse for aim. The iOS devices prove uniquely qualified for rail shooters, though the current implementation is difficult to control and, at times, more frustrating than fun. The struggle Rage throws at players closer to fighting the controls than it is fighting mutant hordes. Aiming requires holding a finger on screen and moving it to turn the screen, and pressing the fire button to actually shoot.
This fight against the controls turns out to be the falling point of Rage HD, one which some gamers will not enjoy. Polarizing gameplay is always difficult to rate and to express opinion over, because while some are fascinated by it, others equally loathe it. I believe the game may have been more acceptable to mobile gamers as an aggressive tapping rail shooter, where each tap or hold fires the given weapon wherever the screen is tapped. That way it would be more accessible to everyone, and levels of difficulty wouldn’t require wrestling point of view controls as well as eliminating hordes of mutants.
That is, at least, for the iPad. Both iPad and iPhone versions are identical, but thrusting the larger, 9″ display to aim using the accelerometers is too much. On the iPhone or iPod Touch, however, turning the device to turn in-game works pretty well, but not with the dexterity as moving the screen manually. I’ve found that it doesn’t go as far as manually turning the screen, and in some cases this limits the field of view and the ability to target enemies. But setting the game to use tilt is much more convenient, and exciting, than just using the touchpad.
Still, Rage HD proves to be a fast paced and exciting title, one only limited by its short length of three levels. A wonderfully rendered sportscaster delivers dashing dialog before each level as part of a season of Mutant Bash TV, and these brief 30-second clips end up as the best exchange of words – albeit to oneself – ever in an iOS title. Mountains of money, ammo and health scatter well-built and heavily-detailed levels, and enemies are fierce but also tender with precise aim. And at just $3 (or $2 for the low-res version of Rage), it’s a strong title that provides an even brighter future for games, even if the gameplay isn’t suited to your style of play.