Pros: Varied gameplay, stable framerates, promising game engine
Cons: Low resolution textures (update has been promised), static sky, still some texture pop-in after first patch, lack of atmosphere
Graphics and physics:
id's brand new Tech® 5 engine is something of a bizarre thing as of this writing. It promises the following:
The fact however is that the game for the PC is still pretty much a barely polished version of what the consoles got. For starters, the sky is static, and that, combined with the low resolution textures that can be seen in almost all objects throughout the game, ruins the atmosphere. While you are out in the Wasteland, you can hear the wind, but the sky is made up of a panoramic picture of the sky. It doesn't add up. Just for comparison, Crysis has a dynamic sky, and the only way you can make it revert to a static sky is to lower all the graphical settings to low. But you just have to increase the shaders to medium and you get back the dynamic sky. And this was four years ago.
Truth be told, the sky is much higher quality than the static sky you can observe in many Call of Duty games, but it's still static. This is what it looks like (click each picture to enlarge):
And, of course, because this is a picture, this is what happens:
When it comes to the promised mega texture, it may be doing it's work around the Wasteland, but it's not really doing anything to improve the objects' quality. John Carmack already aknowledged that they screwed up the launch of RAGE for the PC and an update is coming to bring high resolution textures to the game. As of the writing of this review, the update still hasn't arrived. You can find a thread over at the Steam forums with examples of low resolution textures, so I'll just leave a few here. A few games from 2004 have better textures than RAGE.
One of the disconcerting things about it, as you can see, it that next to low resolution objects, like the gas can and the lamp, you'll find highly detailed objects, in this case a weapon, or in many others, a character. This huge discrepancy also helps break the immersion.
The game is 25 GB big, but I sense that it should have been 50 GB for the PC (and it probably will once the update is available). Some objects like phones or this TV appear in other places and since the model is low resolution, this is what you will find throughout the game (also notice the extreme texture compression clearly visible on the TV and the stand it's on - click to enlarge):
One of the many examples of low resolution textures:
Also, physics is something that is lacking. If you shoot an object, it won't break or shatter. It will just display a slight sign of damage from the shot, and even that sign will disappear after a few seconds, making it even more disconcerting. Even Return to Castle Wolfenstein, from 2001 (!) has better physics than this. But it's not only small objects.
Even cars can look terrible:
This one is just opposite to the guy you can buy stuff for your cars in the first city you get to visit.
But then, showing that RAGE is capable of the best, this is how your buggy looks like with updated wheels. The shock absorbers still look like crap, but the wheels look very nice.
Also, as of this writing, even with the first game patch and the latest Nvidia drivers (285.79 Beta), and having GPU transcode enabled in the settings, there is still some texture pop-in in many places, which is also disconcerting because the game is not using anywhere near the VRAM limit of my GTX480.
With everything maxed out at 1680x1050 and AA at 4x, it uses at max 780MB of VRAM; if I use 8x AA, it jumps into the 800's and into the 900's if I set AA at 16x. From a visual point of view 4x and 8x look virtually the same, and there is no noticeable impact on GPU usage between both. 16x however makes things look a bit blurry and it adds GPU load, but it doesn't reach 70% GPU usage. Taking this into consideration, I game at 4x AA, which sees GPU usage around the 30's %, with room to spare on CPU usage too (less than 70% globally, on my Q9550 at 3.4 Ghz), all with constant 60 fps.
As I was saying, the engine algorithm needs to be revised, as it is too quick to (unnecessarily) remove textures from VRAM that just went off screen and then not quick enough to put them back as soon as you turn around, making the re-texturing visible.
This is to say that the engine still needs some polishing, along with better textures and a dynamic sky for it to truly shine. As it is, it can already produce some very nice visuals like this one, which is almost photorealistic:
If only the game looked this consistently good (and from all distances)...
As I said earlier, the characters are quite detailed. In some cases they could be better, but I'd say it's pretty much acceptable all-round. And the character animations are quite good, with good lip-syncing. There is however a problem which is noticeable in some characters: when it stops saying what it has to say, there is no smooth transition to it's idle state, and it's clearly noticeable, again breaking the immersion. You can first notice it when you talk to the lady that is sitting next to an ill character in the first stages of the game. You can also clearly see it with your mechanic in the first city (in the garage / workshop where you are first able to store all your vehicles).
Sound is another area that fails to create atmosphere. id didn't know how to manage silence in this game. There is always some generic and generally forgettable (I can only remember of one particular piece that is quite good) music as background to your actions, and it's not even very dynamic at it, as it just loops, with the same problem I wrote above with the characters: you can clearly hear the transition when it starts again, which is also something that breaks immersion.
The game does not reinvent the wheel, but I'd say it is quite competent at what it does, mixing FPS with driving armored cars (makes me remember Death Track from the early nineties) and some RPG elements. You can also build many different kinds of objects from parts you can collect or buy, in order to help you achieve certain things, like destroy a door lock or build an R/C car with explosives that you can guide to your desired destination.
The weapon selection for both your character and your cars is good, and having quick slots for secondary types of weapons / defense for both (character and cars) also adds up to making a good gameplay experience, altough you will find some gameplay elements / tasks a bit repetitive, which ties in with the lackluster story in general.
I haven't played the co-op or multiplayer part of the game, but that part is reserved to driving only, so you miss out on the FPS part of the game.
At the time of writing, and after the first patch and driver updates (I'm only speaking for Nvidia drivers), there is no show stopping bug, altough I should mention some annoyances: you can't skip the first three screens with the Bethesda, id and engine,etc, even after you have started the game many times. Usually games only make it mandatory the first time, and then you can hit a key to skip the next time you start the game.
Also, sometimes the V-sync turns itself off the next time you start the game (edit: I have noticed it happens all the time if you pause the game and let the screensaver kick in. The game will always return with V-sync off). I have no idea why it happens, but the fix is simple: just go into the menu and enable it again.
Another annoyance is that the mouse moves incredibly fast in the 'accept mission' dialogues. It doesn't happen in all types of dialogues/menus though. I remember this happening with the game Dead Space, and it is quite annoying. It doesn't happen in the main menu, for example or when you press Tab to acess the in-game menu, altough it does not feel as precise as when you are on the desktop. This is all probably due to a lack of polish for the PC version of the game.
And lastly, when you alt-tab out of the game, the desktop retains the resolution you are gaming at. It goes back to normal when you exit the game though. For people that game with a different resolution than their desktop like me, it can be an annoyance. This is probably a driver problem though. I have to say that, despite this minor problem, alt-tabbing works fine otherwise and the game never crashed.
All in all, the new id engine is still not showing it's best in the current RAGE version. Carmack promised a texture update and other updates in the future too, so who knows what the game will look like in a few months.
From a gameplay perspective, the game is certainly very playable, with many types of enemies and interesting choice of weapons and upgrades, but there are also many things that break immersion, like the low resolution textures, the texture pop-in, the static sky, the almost constant soundtrack (silence, with just natural sounds - wind, water and other noises - is also a great way to create atmosphere, but id didn't do any major exercises on that), character transitions and in general an uninspiring storyline, make RAGE an enjoyable game, but you end up with the feeling that it could have been much more. Not worth the full asking price as it is now, but future updates might make it worth it. I got it on Steam with a 33% discount, which, after a little over 12h30 of consideration, feels like a more reasonable price to pay for it.