Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods review

I don't know if Cabin in the woods should be considered a spoof or not. Typically a spoof is like a funhouse mirror; it shows a distorted reflection of the subject being spoofed. Ideally this is a commentary or analysis; rather than an essay that dissects the shortcomings of the subject, the plot flaws and tired tropes, it simply makes them more obvious so we can identify and recognise them ourselves. Of course, sometimes it's nothing more meaningful than a funny reflection.

Cabin in the Woods doesn't do that. Rather than just parrot back a generic backwoods horror story in a funny voice, it writes a new story. A typical spoof would tell us how overused these horror story elements are, Cabin does so while actually still using them - and using them effectively too. This arguably makes it a homage rather than a spoof.

If you consider Cabin in the Woods a spoof, then it's an intelligent one. If you consider it a homage, then it's a very original one. Regardless, it's a fun movie with a clever plot. It kept me guessing right up to the very end, which not many movies do these days.

I give it a 9/10; fun, clever and original. Note that there is a fair amount of blood and gore and a little nudity. You have been warned.

I love how drugs cause the end of the world.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Binary Domain review

The first thing I heard about Binary Domain was that squad members might refuse to take orders if they didn't trust you. I was mildly intrigued, but when I heard more about the story I started to get quite interested. The plot reminded me of some Anime movies I had seen (Vexille comes to mind), but I didn't feel that made it derivative, rather I was curious to see it's treatment of the subject matter.

Let me start by saying the story doesn't disappoint. It manages to function as both the driving force for the game, and as a great story in it's own right. It gives you excellent reasons for being where you are and doing what you're doing every step of the way without feeling either padded or too short. You're encouraged to care about your teammates opinions of you, and to care what happens to them. It has some unexpected twists, and some moments that genuinely keep you guessing. And what's more, the story is not black-and-white, raising some questions that aren't easily answered.

The characters are mostly very well developed, with excellent dialogue and voice acting and good facial animation really helping to bring them all to life. There's quite a large and varied cast, and by the end of it I was quite fond of every one of my unit members. This is actually core to the game itself, with your interaction with your teammates being one of the main gameplay mechanics.

You see, each of your companions has a different degree of trust in you. The more they trust you, the more likely they are to follow your orders in battle. You earn or lose their trust based on what you say to them, and on how well you do in combat. This not only encourages you to think about how you use them in a fight, it also means you pay more attention to what they say and what they expect of you, so you get to know them better than you otherwise might. It's an ambitious idea, and it did work for me in that I found myself quite invested in all the characters, but it does have some problems.

First of all, communication is achieved through a microphone and voice recognition. I understand the idea; to be able to actually talk to them and hear them reply, but in practice it doesn't quite work. You see, it's functionally impossible for the game to be able to recognise and deal with every sentence we might want to say (it's still a little early for that...), so it has to limit your speech options. Now, in a game like Mass Effect, those options will be displayed on screen for you to pick one. But it doesn't make sense here to show you a selection of sentences; apart from ruining the immersion you're going for by having people read something out rather than respond naturally, the player would most likely prefer to simply press a button to select an option rather than reading out a long sentence he's already read to himself. So instead the game gives you a limited set of accepted responses to use, things like "yes", "no", "dammit", "thanks", "I got it", and so on. The idea I believe is that initially you'll press the button that shows you your choices then speak one, but eventually you'll have an idea of what they are and so you'll just respond naturally.

But this limited selection is a problem. Your teammates dialogue is quite complex and varied, at least enough that answering everything with "OK", "Thanks" or "Dammit" doesn't feel natural. To me, the shortcomings of voice recognition here made it feel more like a barrier to communication rather than an aid. Without the compromises needed for voice recognition, the game might have been able to offer more detailed dialogue options, and would be able to vary the options more based on the situation.

However, I should clarify that I decided early on I didn't feel like talking into the microphone (maybe it was because I was checking my dialogue options all the time anyway, or maybe I felt silly talking at the wrong times when the game wasn't expecting it), so I turned it off and made manual dialogue selections. Perhaps if I had stuck with it I would have gotten used to the limited options and it would have felt more natural?

I imagine it would help a lot in combat anyway. I did not cooperate with my teammates very well, one reason being the limited number of voice commands I was initially presented with, but the other was obviously that I was usually too busy to open the dialogue selection - a problem I wouldn't have had if I had been using verbal commands. I regret that now, and I'm considering giving the game another try with voice recognition on, to see if I can figure out how to make the most of it in actual combat. I'm not sure how well it will work considering what I really want them to do is usually rather more complex than I expect them to understand, like "You go left I'll go right" or maybe "I'll keep it busy while you shoot it", or perhaps "Distract the giant gorilla robot while I reload the big gun! No, don't lead it towards me, go the other way! What the hell are you doing? God, why are you so useless!". Ah-hem. Actually, it's probably a good thing that they can't understand everything I say.

Despite this issue, I thought it a very interesting system that was well integrated into the game. I found myself trying to understand what each character was really like, what really made them tick, so I could select the best responses to endear myself to each of them. Then I realised I was so trying so hard to earn their approval that I was saying what I thought they wanted to hear rather than what I wanted to say, or what I thought my character should or would say. How many games can make you say that?

Actually I'm quite impressed by how much of a difference the trust mechanics made to how much I care about other characters in the game. I can't help but wonder what difference it would have made if the main character was a silent protagonist. As it is, his own personality and dialogue are an important part of the story, but in a different type of game would it have led to an even stronger connection with the characters? It's an intriguing idea.

The graphics are good, though not amazing. Generally environments are clear and detailed without being noisy, perfectly fitting to the futuristic setting while looking good and running at a solid framerate even with a decent number of enemies rushing forwards. In fact some larger enemies and set pieces look very impressive, and as I alluded to before the human characters look great, with plenty of personality and detail. Worth mentioning is that it's quite easy to spot enemies, even when they're behind cover (you can see my Rage review for the full rant, but suffice to say I find enemies tend to blend into the environment in many games these days, making them hard to spot).

The rest of the game is a standard, though well executed, third-person shooter. The weapons are nothing special, with the normal assortment of assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, and missile launchers. Unusually there's a variety of each, which is a rather nice change. You can carry several weapons; specifically you always have a pistol, your own special assault rifle, and one other weapon, plus an occasional extra heavy weapon. Your teammates each have a specific weapon, such as a heavy machine gun or sniper rifle, which of course controls what they are best at and hence how you should use them on the battlefield. Your assault rifle has a special secondary 'burst' weapon, which comes in handy against bunched up groups of enemies or some of the larger models. Pistols are weak but have infinite ammo, which is a good thing as you don't want to get into a punch-up with a robot if you can avoid it. Other weapons work as you would expect, but some are more fun to use than others.

Overall firing the guns don't give you as much of a feeling of impact as in some games (coughAlanWakecough), but this is made up for by the enemies. Robots lose armour and body parts to sustained fire, jerking and sparking as you lay into them. What's more they try to continue to function despite the damage: blast a robot's gun arm off and they will run over to the fallen weapon and pick it up with their other hand. Knock them off their feet and they'll come crawling towards you, hanging on to your legs and leaving you vulnerable as you try to shoot them off. But blow their head off and they get confused and start attacking their friends, drawing their fire. You soon learn to recognise and enjoy the distinctive 'ping' of a robot's head flying off, as it's an effective tactic when your enemies are dug in.

I did have some trouble with the cover system and related context sensitive controls; occasionally I would sprint into the open when I was trying to snap to cover, and sometimes traversing complex terrain while in a hurry could be frustrating. It didn't affect me very often though; the truth is these issues are common to third person shooters, Binary Domain is no worse than most.

As is common in such games, you and your teammates can survive for a while after being downed, giving others time to get to you and heal you with a medikit. Binary Domain has a more involved system, however. When knocked down a teammate will ask if you need help or not, you can either accept their help or heal yourself. Likewise, when a teammate goes down another may ask if he should help them, you can of course chose to do it yourself. Medikits are limited (you can see how many each of your friends is carrying, but for some reason you can't swap them between people), so part of the issue is deciding how to keep the supply distributed. But the real advantage of the system is that it makes you more involved with your teammates during a battle. Do you rush over and help them yourself when they go down, or do you expect them to take care of themselves and not bother you while you're busy gunning down robots? Do you accept their help when you're wounded, or is it important to you to carry your own weight? It's all part of the connection you form with the characters.

You can upgrade both your own primary weapon and those of your teammates. There's also some enhancement modules you can buy to improve a character's health or let them carry an extra medikit or the like. Neither system is terribly deep, but together they do add something to the team-centric focus of the game. Do you spend your money on yourself or your teammates? How best to equip them? Will you display favouritism by spending more money on some characters than others? For example, one of my teammates annoyed me once by telling me off after a tough fight, so I removed all their enhancement modules as a way of exacting some small measure of personal revenge. I would have liked to see the enhancement system especially fleshed out a little, but the weapon upgrades certainly work well: even though I spent a lot on my teammates, near the end of the game my assault rifle had the power and ammo capacity of a heavy machine gun while being accurate, controllable, and still quick to reload.

Even in hard mode you can take a fair bit of fire without going down, and fortunately the screen only darkens and reddens at the edges and never the center (not while you're still standing anyway), which I am extremely grateful for - if you've read many of my reviews you probably know how much I hate the "one bullet and you're blind" nonsense that plagues modern shooters. This means that it's actually possible sometimes to walk towards enemies, laying down a barrage of fire, without dying. That's not to say it's too easy, only that you don't have to spend the whole game cowering behind cover; I found the game more dynamic and exciting than most cover-based shooters I've played. In fact I had more fun than I initially expected to, walking forwards laying down a stream of bullets and watching the robots in front of me getting blown apart bit by bit.

Worthy of mention are the game's boss battles and other set pieces, which strike an excellent balance of visual punch and player interaction. Some of those boss robots are immense, and unlike many games beating them isn't as simple as learning a couple of patterns and hitting them a couple of times in the right spot - these guys can take a hell of a lot of abuse and avoiding them isn't easy, which makes each fight a real battle.

The set pieces, cut scenes, and slower moments of gameplay do a good job of giving the characters personality and generally mixing things up and enhancing the feeling of adventure and danger. When I reached the end of the game I felt as if I had done more than just shoot through lots of robots, I felt as if I had been through a hell of an adventure, in fact I felt as if it was amazing that we had gotten so far. That's certainly not something I can say for every game I play.

I'm going to give it a 9/10. Yes, some of the squad mechanics didn't work so well for me, but I still had far more fun with it than most games I play these days, especially third person shooters.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Eat Lead review

I recently picked up some old games I missed first time, including Matt Hazard - or rather, Eat Lead: The Return Of Matt Hazard, to give it it's full title. While the reviews I read did not speak too highly of it, I thought it looked like a game with a sense of humour, which is exactly what I wanted.

It goes without saying that humour is subjective, so I can only speak for myself when I say that I found Eat Lead to be entertaining. The game is very self-aware - while it doesn't exactly break the fourth wall, Matt Hazard knows he's playing a videogame, and most of the humour might be considered "in-jokes" - at one point Matt visits a familiar looking carpenter in a factory that produces all the exploding barrels used in videogames, to give an example.

You might not think it very witty, or you might appreciate the nod to the fact that so many games try to hard to be so realistic and to justify every little detail, when the truth is we all know none of this is real, it's just bright lights dancing across a screen for our entertainment. Personally, I thinks it's nice to see a game that remembers why we're all here: to have fun.

And that's exactly what Eat Lead tries to do, by taking advantage of this self awareness to liberate itself from some of the rules that modern videogames impose on themselves. Zombies battle alongside space marines and Russian soldiers in seedy night clubs as you gun them down with super-soakers and plasma pistols. You might be in a Japanese restaurant one minute, then walk through a door and find yourself in a Soviet nuclear missile silo. Saloon doors open in mid-air to admit gunslinging cowboys while Nazi "Waferthin" troops seems to appear out of nowhere as their 2D sprites turn to face the camera.

You will have noticed that I said "tries". Unfortunately Eat Lead's gameplay is mediocre at best. It's a basic cover-based third person shooter, and never anything more. The weapons aren't particularly satisfying to use, and sadly the most unique weapon in the game was a rifle that could be charged up for a more powerful shot. There's a few special abilities and temporary power-ups, but they don't really add anything to the game. What's worse, for some reason I found aiming very hard to do, at least at speed; achieving headshots at distant targets hiding behind cover with a humble pistol was far easier than trying to hit an exposed enemy right in front of you with an assault rifle if that enemy wasn't standing completely still.

Strangely, despite the mediocre gunplay, Eat Lead has the best implementation of a cover system that I've seen. It's quick and easy to move between and around cover without exposing yourself - something that's not true of some high-profile big-budget third person shooters I've played recently - and there's even a streamlined, if not really necessary, "point-and-click" cover system for advancing into cover. What's more, this is the only game I've ever played where you could smoothly look or aim all the way around your position in cover without the camera fighting you, which is a very nice feature.

While enemies are visually interesting, there's very little different between them in game terms. Zombies spring up where normal enemies die, Nazis disappear by turning away from the camera after taking a few rounds and can't be killed until they turn back, space marines are very resilient, fembots have to be finished off up-close. That's about it. Actual level design doesn't vary much either, as you can imagine it can all get a little repetitive. It's a shame that the same creativity that went into the writing wasn't applied to the actual game design.

Despite these issues, I actually found the story and characters entertaining enough to keep me playing all the way through. Little moments kept things interesting, like a character from a different type of game who spoke with speech bubbles that Matt has to click on to advance through, or a part when I genuinely wasn't sure if the game had glitched or not (it hadn't). Not wanting to spoil anything, but... gunning down developers who didn't know how to play their own game? Genius!

In the end I've settled on a 6/10. If the controls had been just a little better, or the gameplay just a little more creative, I might have given it a higher score. Unfortunately it takes more than a sense of humour to make a good game.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rage review

I have spoken previously about how impressed I was with the Rage demo, so it should come as no surprise that I bought and played through the full game. You'll forgive me I hope if this review is even more long-winded than usual.

I played Rage on the X-Box 360. Now, the X-Box is a console with no lack of first person shooters, however most of these in recent times could be termed "console shooters". That's not to say that you can't get these types of shooters on the PC, but simply that they've been designed to work better for consoles and console players. This comes down to factors like the controller, the use of a television some distance from the player rather than a high resolution monitor a mere arm's length away, and perhaps the kind of players who predominantly play on one system or the other and the kind of experience they are looking for. My point is that on the PC, Rage may not stand out. But on the X-Box, it really does.

Lets start with the graphics. These are the best graphics I have ever seen on a console, at least in a first person shooter. I don't know if Rage's graphical engine is more powerful than, say, Crisis 2, and there's games with unique art styles or full of beautiful imagery that are more visually pleasing. But Rage's combination of high resolution graphics and unwaveringly high frame rate just make it a joy to play. But there's more to it than that. The environments are bright and detailed without being too noisy, and most importantly it's never hard to see what's happening.

Now, I'm going to go off on a tangent for a moment, so please bear with me. As you will know if you've glanced at my other blog, I occasionally paint Warhammer miniatures. When I first started, I obviously painted things in simple primary colours; to paint a model I would probably use one shade of blue, one shade of red, and some pure black. But reading painting tutorials and looking at pictures of competition-winning models online, I slowly started to understand a more about the use of colour. I saw how analogous colours that softly blend into each other are so visually pleasing, blues blending into greens or reds into yellows, that sort of thing. I saw whole models that were painted entirely in different shades of the same colour that looked amazing.

So I started to try to use more uniform colour palettes, to use common "wavelengths" in different colours. The idea (at least as I see it) is that a colour is a mix of different wavelengths of light, so by having different colours that share some wavelengths they would better tie together. For example I would paint two different colours, say an orange and a light brown, then stain them both with the same reddish wash to introduce those shared wavelengths. I'm sure I'm doing an awful job of explaining this and any artists reading this are shaking their heads at how ignorant I am about colour theory, but I'm not an artist, I don't know much about this stuff except what I've recently started to learn from experience. What I found was that my models started to look too uniform; they lacked contrast and definition. That's not necessarily to say that they looked bad, but it wasn't easy to make out the individual parts of the model because it all tended to blend together. So now I'm trying to find a balance; colours that look like they belong together but are distinct enough that the model's details are easy to make out at a glance.

The reason I'm talking about this is because I think games are going through the same process. The limitations of the technology meant that games started with simple, brightly coloured sprites. As the technology has progressed and the art started to mature, certain artistic sensibilities started to appear. Bright primary colours were replaced with more realistic muted tones and uniform colour palettes, aided by the use of post rendering filters to tinge the entire screen with that shared wavelength. Take for example this screenshot of Killzone 2:
A veritable cornucopia of colour.

Now, this all creates some very pretty screenshots. However, a problem I have found is that I sometimes have great difficulty actually reading the screen. I literally can't see the enemies much of the time. It may sound silly when you look at a screenshot, and it's my understanding that not everyone has this problem, but when the bullets are flying, my screen is filled with muzzle flash and smoke and is being coloured red by the damage indicator and blurred by motion blur as I'm running and turning and so on, in that split second that I need to identify and target my enemies, I can't seem to make out the grey soldiers from the grey ground, grey walls, and grey sky. This is sometimes made worse by busy textures and unhelpful lighting. And of course there's the military shooters, where it's dark, the bombed out environments are incredibly noisy, your enemies are wearing camo that's the same colour as the environment, they're almost completely behind cover, and your screen goes dark red as soon as you get hit.

But if Rage is any indication, the games industry is starting to understand the problem. Whether it was under the harsh desert sun or in a dingy rubbish-filled sewer pipe, I never had any trouble spotting enemies. Part of this is thanks to the high frame rate and texture resolution, but that's certainly not the whole story. I can't tell you what's really responsible because I don't really know, but even though environments are very detailed and non-uniform, filled with piled up garbage and the like, and your enemies are similarly clothed in a patchwork of detailed, mismatched garments, and they spend plenty of time hiding behind cover, they aren't hard to see.
Looks good AND I can see the enemies.

Artistically the imagery is fitting. Desert wastes hold both crumbling abandoned cities and sleek, high-tech Authority installations. Inhabitants, both friend and foe, wear random pieces of shabby clothing and protective gear and carry rusted old makeshift weaponry, while Authority enforcers wear head-to-toe protective suits and carry shiny new guns and energy weapons.

The graphics and art style, therefore, are both visually impressive and perfectly suited to the game. You do need a significant install to the hard drive for best results, and if you look there's occasionally some noticeable texture streaming as you turn the camera, but I personally never found these to be a problem, not even a minor distraction.

Of course, graphics alone don't make a game. Happily, Rage has some of the best gameplay I've experienced on a console shooter. The game is fast, the controls as extremely precise and responsive, weapons are satisfying to shoot, as is the way enemies react to being shot. You can advance slowly and pick enemies off from a distance or run and gun up close and personal. Enemies are no pushovers, but regenerating health and the defibrillator makes it forgiving while letting you know that you're making mistakes, there's challenging sections but enough tools at your disposable to fight your way through so you should never get stuck.

The speed of the game reminds me of Unreal Tournament 3, which of course is a port of a PC shooter. Unreal was very fast paced, characters moved quickly and smoothly leading to very intense high-speed combat. It's worth noting that Unreal did not have an "aim" button, and it didn't need it. Rage does have the aim button, but you can manage pretty well without it if you want to, which is a testament to just how well the controls work.

Unlike many modern shooters you're not limited in the number of weapons you can carry. You can't just pick them off your victims corpses however; like older games you buy or unlock weapons as the game progresses, at which point they are yours to use at any time. I quite like this; no more having to constantly stop and decide which of the weapons scattered around the floor to use until the next time you run out of ammo.

The weapons themselves are mostly standard; pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, missile launcher, minigun, and of course the BFG. Perhaps the most interesting weapon is actually the crossbow. In addition to regular bolts, which are powerful and silent, it can also fire charged bolts for electrocuting multiple enemies standing in water, mind control bolts, and sticks of dynamite. Having said that, my pick for the most enjoyable weapon/ammo combination in the game is the shotgun with exploding slugs. I can't really describe how much impact this thing has, it's just devastating.

In addition to your firearms, there's a range of secondary items which include bandages, RC car bombs, automated machine gun turrets, and even small machine gun droids that fight alongside you. All in all, there's a satisfying range of options for dealing out death.

All these weapons, ammo types, and tools would get confusing to use in actual battle, but luckily there's a very intelligent control setup for switching between them. Worth mentioning is that holding the weapon change button open the weapon wheel, but tapping it just switches to the next weapon. With a little thought you can arrange weapons to make the most of this, for example you can put the shotgun after the sniper rifle so if you're using the sniper rifle against a distant foe when suddenly someone pops up right beside you, one tap will whip out the shotgun for some fast close-range power.

There's some scope for upgrading weapons, but this is very minimal and almost feels like an afterthought, without even a dedicated interface in the equipment menu. For example, once you by a monocular you can't "unequip" it, so you'll always zoom in when aiming your pistol. More developed is the crafting system, which allows you to craft tools and even fancy ammunition from random junk you can pick up in levels or buy in shops. You need recipes for this, which you find, buy or unlock as the game progresses. It's an interesting diversion, if you wish you can ignore it completely and simply sell any junk you pick up, it's entirely up to you. It's worth mentioning that you can buy or craft most types of ammunition, so you don't have to be conservative with the fun stuff that way some games force you to be.

There's a good variety of enemies, with bandits, mutants, and soldiers of various types. Some will hang back behind cover, but other will charge forward, yelling and screaming, climbing up and swinging and doing whatever it takes to reach you - it's all very impressive, as well as somewhat scary. The way they react to being shot is also very cool; the more reserved enemies scramble for cover while the more aggressive ones stumble but try to keep their feet and maintain their forwards momentum, overall it lends weight to your shots and just makes the experience more engaging.

The game also features some driving segments and side missions. These include racing and vehicular combat, plus you'll have to fight off bandits when driving to and from mission locations. You pick up several vehicles over the course of the game, these can be upgraded using credits won in races. I am not a particular fan of driving games, but I found the racing and combat to be easy to get to grips with and fairly enjoyable. It might not be for fans of more realistic racing games, and unfortunately for them there's no getting away from spending a fair amount of time driving. For everyone else, it helps to break up the action segments and stops the game from becoming repetitive.

Which is not a bad thing as the main story has a decent run-time; It took me about 14 hours to finish Rage, at least according to my last save game. There's a fair number of side missions that I didn't do, and I didn't really get into the racing, so there easily several more hours worth of gameplay in there, and I'm not even considering multiplayer. So it's good that there's ways to take a break from the killing; in addition to driving there's a few minigames to try. The most involved of these is the card game; in addition to the starter deck, you can find cards scattered around levels. The rules are simple, which makes it easy to get in to and quick to play, but after you've played a few rounds you realise that you don't have much control over the game itself, all the skill is in building the deck. It's entertaining while it lasts though.

So the graphics and gameplay are great, the game is a good length and there's a fair variety of things to do. Is there anything wrong with the game? Well, it does have a few weaknesses. Perhaps the most obvious is the story. The basic plot isn't very well told; it's post-apocalypse, there's these arcs with people from the past in them and something about meteors and the only surviving government is actually evil. Or something.

The story never really gives us very much substance. Despite the good voice acting I never got to know any of the characters enough to care about them. The Authority are supposed to be evil, but that doesn't really tell us very much about them, and what's worse is that they are faceless. We never even see their leader, General Cross, we only hear him mentioned. It just felt a bit distant to me.

I never felt that I had a personal stake in events, I was just doing what random people asked me to do. This is partly a result of playing a silent protagonist, but other games have overcome this problem and made the fight feel personal - take Singularity for example, where I felt a personal responsibility for everything that was happening. Rage just never managed to give me that sense of personal motivation.

Furthermore, the game felt as though it ended too soon. I understand leaving narrative hooks for a sequel, but this felt almost unfinished. I would have at least expected a showdown with General Cross, even if it wasn't a final showdown. In fact the end-of-game battle, while intense, was a little non-memorable as it was against the same enemies you had been fighting the entire level. There's only a handful of what might be termed "boss encounters" in the game, and these peak about halfway.

Another thing that I wasn't personally a fan of was the very linear level structure. Which you have a large open world to drive around in and towns you can wander around and explore for a while, once you arrive at a mission you are typically just walking down a single corridor. A very thematic, decorated corridor with plenty of twists and turns, but a nevertheless a narrow corridor with absolutely no branches. It's not such a bad thing, but in this case it feels a little strange because of how it contrasts with the greater freedom you have outside of the missions, it would have been nice to have more open levels that you traverse rather than a single path that you travel.

The levels also felt somewhat static. It might just be me, but there's some games where the levels feel more solid and interactive, almost more real. Some of this has to do with physics objects that react to your presence or to being shot at, some of it might be that bounding boxes more closely follow the visible geometry, so when you jump around you interact with the environment the way you expect to. But in Rage, I felt as if the levels were less real, less solid, more of a backdrop that I couldn't effect or interact with. Bounding boxes seemed to be more general; a pile of garbage felt more like a featureless wall than an actual collection of different objects when I would walk into or along it. I suspect this is a sacrifice made for the sake of the high framerate and graphical quality, in which case it's probably a sacrifice well worth making. It's never a problem, but when there's games these days with fully destructible environments I felt that it was worth mentioning.

So after all that rambling on, what's the verdict? I give it 9/10, it focusses on what's important and as a result is easily one of the best first person shooters I've played on a console.