A little over a year after id Software launched their impressive DOOM Resurrection into Apple’s iTunes store, their following up that mobile masterpiece with the even more impressive RAGE: Mutant Bash TV, an on-the-rails shooter prequel/spin-off from the full version of their next franchise due next year. Unlike DOOM’s mini-narrative that attempted to tell a fully story set inside that universe, RAGE isn’t as concerned about your nameless ‘hero’, as the goal here is to survive a trio of macabre levels by simply obliterating mutants and scoring big along the way. The only real character is J.K Stiles, the putrid, festering blob who just happens to host the popular Mutant Bash TV program, and provides running commentary throughout your journey through the game’s three mutant-infested stages: The Tenements, The Asylum, and the Not-So-Abandoned Bunker. Each is swarming with freaks and circle targets to shoot, cash to pick-up, and lots of eye-popping scenery to take in.
Fans of DOOM Resurrection will feel right at home with the game’s controls, as RAGE employs a similar interface that maps the primary functions (fire, reload, weapon change, dodge) to specific icons to the four corners of the screen. In the default control setting aiming is handled entirely by using the built-in accelerometer and tilting the device to point your reticule at what you want to die, while Touchscreen mode lets you aim by sliding the reticule manually; it’s a new choice that wasn’t in DOOM and probably the best choice for those looking for a more ‘traditional’ experience, though I preferred using Tilt as my hands kept hitting the Pause/Resume button in the thick of mutant destruction. One big difference is that extra ammo, health, and cash (Bash Bux) are now picked up by aiming and ‘firing’ on them; it makes sense but is definitely less friendly than DOOM’s simple tap-pickup method.
Splattering the endless horde of mutants will definitely keep you on your toes, err, fingers as there’s no shortage of the freaks to blast with your stock pistol, requisite shotgun (naturally), and machinegun, all of which are available up front and run through ammo like melted butter. The pistol may be the single-worst default weapon in FPS history as it takes forever (two seconds) to reload and only holds a measly dozen shots per clip, making those closer-than-comfortable encounters with slapping freaks truly scary. The shotgun and machinegun are almost essential for late-stage survival, though you’ll have to aim your shots expertly not to waste what little ammo you’ll pick up along the way. Strategic reloading will be your best friend as RAGE borrows Gears of War’s timed-reload method; hit the reload icon at just the right time and you’ll happily mince more mutants into meaty mush.
While there’s only three levels to survive and blast your way through, each have been constructed to keep the action full-throttled throughout. The game handles camera movements while you handle aiming + shooting, although you’re given slight control in specific angles at certain moment. The swarms of mutants you’ll come across probably won’t be as varied as you’d like, but that won’t stop them from trying to chomp on your brains or smack you up a little bit. They’ll creep from cracks, slink down walls, and even somersault (!) through the cavernous tunnels as they try to best to violently end your winning streak. Most will opt to mindlessly run towards you for a little thrashing, but the real threat comes from brick-throwers, as you’ll have to strategically dodge their attacks while taking care of business elsewhere. Honestly, it’s really as straightforward as it sounds, but still glorious fun as each level has been expertly designed to keep your pulse racing and your nerves pumping. Death will be a constant on your first couple of runs through, but no worries, as generous mid-level checkpoints will help you pick up where you left off.
Of course, one of the best reasons to play RAGE: Mutant TV Bash is to soak up the glorious visuals that id’s been able to push on Apple’s devices, as the game is unquestionably the best-looking mobile game ever made. That’s a bold statement, but one supported by the facts, as it runs on a modified version of the developer’s id Tech 5 engine, which allows for fully rendered graphics that are as impressive (if not more so) than anything we’ve seen on previous-gen home consoles like the PlayStation 2, Gamecube, or the original Xbox. The visual leap from DOOM Resurrection to this is almost astonishing, with superbly detailed 3D backdrops and complex characters all running at silky-smooth frame-rates that would make even current-generation HD consoles blush in envy. The HD version looks best and has been optimized for the higher-spec iPhone/iPod Touch 4 devices, and should be the one iPad users pick up. But id was thinking of older iPhone (3GS) and iPod Touch (2/3G) users, too, as the SD version looks phenomenal running on the older hardware.
My only real complaint is the curious lack of online or Game Center options, which is strange considering the whole game is built around high-scores and bragging rights. Perhaps they’ll add these features in a future update, but I wouldn’t let such a minor inconvenience discourage you at this point.
RAGE: Mutant Bash TV may be little more than technical demonstration of what the myriad of iOS-compatible devices are capable of, but what a demo! id Software’s mastery of the hardware is on full display in the most visually impressive mobile game ever made, and it will be interesting to see how fellow graphics-pusher Epic Games can hope to match with their own upcoming titles for Apple’s devices. With just three levels to survive, it may not be the longest game out there, but something tells me the experience will stick with us for some time to come. It’s almost like we’re witnessing the future of mobile gaming on the ascend, as this is such a compelling package that it effectively ends the argument over whether the platform should be considered a true ‘gaming console’.
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