I remember 1994 well. OJ Simpson debuted a new kind of TV show running 24/7 on every network. Ace of Base proved that Swedish musical artistry didn’t die with ABBA. And Id Software released its last game that didn’t disappoint me.
I’m not saying that Doom II was Id’s last game of any value, but that it was its last game that met expectations. Everything since then has marked Id's gradual slide into game design mediocrity—a slide that reaches its nadir with Rage.
Since Doom II, Id’s game design sensibility has hardly progressed at all. The Quake games added almost nothing to the basic Doom formula, while Doom III milked every cliché in the design book, from monster closets to a tedious obsession with sudden darkness.
I’m not talking about the technology. A new Id game is a chance to see technology tools that push PCs to do wonderful things. But if you’re writing a review of an Id game, and you’re lingering over the wonders of curved surfaces, volumetric fog/lighting, or nice, smooth shadow maps, you’re not reviewing the game, you’re reviewing the engine. Each new Id release is the greatest tech demo ever, but as games, they just don’t offer much.
Not even AMC's Breaking Bad product placement or fake light gun mode could save Rage from its own mediocrity.
With Rage, the Id formula finally comes completely undone. It’s as though the developers studied other games with more depth and innovation (namely Fallout 3 and Borderlands), and then attempted to squeegee a thin film of those gameplay elements over their old formula. They didn’t even nail their two strongest areas: The tech is impressive but glitchy, and the multiplayer is weak. Oddly, Rage's visual design is the most aesthetically unappealing Id has ever done. It’s hard to recall a more lovingly detailed, ugly environment.
Something good will come of this. Quake III gave us Call of Duty; Doom III gave us Prey; and something worthwhile will come from Rage. It just won’t come from Id.