My god…it’s full of memes.
In the late nineties, pop culture was abuzz with the possibilities of what was then called the Information Superhighway. After all, once armed with an infinite, easily-accessible repository of all knowledge past and present, how could humanity not reach a new age of technological enlightenment and understanding for our fellow men? Our hope for the Internet was matched only by our fundamental non-understanding of how it worked, as perhaps best demonstrated by this song sung by a computer with floppy disks for breasts.
Of course, that age of enlightenment didn’t happen. It turns out that humans with a wealth of infinite knowledge are still, basically, humans, and just because it’s really easy to find all the Simpsons trivia you could ever ask for doesn’t mean you’re actually a better, more empathetic person. And in a year marked by heavy debates about what role sites like Twitter play in preventing online harassment, what appropriate Internet use by public officials should look like, and must be done to stop the horrifying rise of the so-called “alt right,” there’s never been a better time for Rage Quest, a game about fighting the worst, most hateful parts of the Stupidhighway. I didn’t expect much when I picked it up for review, but I thought there was potential in the premise. You could make a really interesting game about making the fight against online hate into literal RPG combat.
This is not that game. Rage Quest, I’m sorry to say, is a game about memes. Dank memes.
Which might not be that bad if it wasn’t also so freaking boring.
Our story begins when Zye (which is a great way to cheat at Scrabble but a pretty wack name for a human being) wakes up in a five by five grid of Internet. Beset by Youtube comments and malware, he meets with a mysterious Oracle who tells him that the only way to escape is to harness the Internet’s most bountiful resource – hate.
And…well, that’s it, basically, as far as the story goes. The whole game can be finished in a few hours (four, according to the developer.) The Internet references never go beyond the surface level – the final boss of the social media world is a “Hive Mind,” and there’s another boss called “The Gamergate,” but the game doesn’t actually have anything to say about the Internet or the phenomenons it half-assedly references. In fact, sometimes these references are a little troubling – Gamergate is a villain not because it was a targeted campaign of vile online abuse or because it might have helped kick off the rise of online Neo-Nazis, but because it “makes the rest of us look bad.” And wait, what “rest of us”? Isn’t the premise of Rage Quest the idea that the whole Internet literally runs on hate?
I understand that Rage Quest is a parody, but the first rule of parodies is that they only work when they’re better than the thing they’re making fun of. The LEGO Movie, for example, could only make fun of how formulaic Hollywood “Chosen One” narratives have become because it was one of the most original animated films of all time. Rage Quest can point out – not unrightly – the vapid insipidness of Internet culture all it wants. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s just as vapid, insipid, and ultimately pointless as the things it seems to think it’s better than.
Case in point: the memes. If you like memes – particularly old, stale, irrelevant memes – than this is the game for you. Rage faces, insanity wolf, Scumbag Steve, that one penguin that means different things when it’s looking different directions, double rainbow, etc. If the phrase “Before YOLO, there was Leroy Jenkins” (found in an item description) makes you laugh, then you may find more enjoyment in Rage Quest’s story than I did. Because personally, it just makes me think that You Only Live Once might be one life too many.
Enough about the story – if the developer obviously didn’t care about it, why should I? Rage Quest’s biggest selling point is its unique combat system, a mix of real-time and turn-based RPG mechanics that reminds me quite a bit of the first two Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness games, which isn’t a great comparison because I don’t think anyone but me has actually played those. In essence, you have three “slots” for abilities – red, blue, and green. You can assign any ability (or item use) to any of these slots. Once you begin an ability, it will take some time to activate and execute, and the fact that you only have three slots means that you can only have up to three abilities “charging” at a time. Each ability also has a cooldown time.
In theory, this allows for some interesting predictive behaviors. For example: you can see when an enemy is planning an attack against you, so if you’ve saved a quick move or block action you have time to jump out of the way. In practice, however, it just means that the vast majority of the game is spent waiting for loading bars to run down. There’s an option to make the game go faster, but it is not fast enough.
There’s also a “pause” button, with a limited number of uses. The pause button is much-touted by the tutorial tips as a way to pause the game and think through your next action, and buying additional uses is the most expensive stat upgrade. I never even considered using it, but I can see why such a thing might appear necessary because the UI is an indecipherable mess of bad design. Each ability circle is covered with numbers showing their countdowns, AP costs, etc. There’s also other abilities in the top left, showing what’s assigned to the slot you’ve currently clicked on. Then there’s your health, mana equivalent, defense, and POW (which is never adequately explained but seems to be a measure of how much damage your attacks do.) Then there’s the loading bars for each ability, the pause button, the speed up button, and the loading times for all three slots for every other enemy on the screen. Having a hard time telling what loading bars apply to each enemy? The problem is solved in the worst possible way by having small boxes of color next to each health bar and an arrow of that same color hovering over each enemy. The boxes also have numbers in them. I have no idea what the numbers mean.
There is literally no way for a feeble human brain to process all of the information Rage Quest is constantly throwing at you. The tutorial mission tries to explain it by throwing wall after wall of text on the screen, but even then I think it leaves some things out – despite having completed the game, I’m still not sure whether the bars ticking under your feet refer to the amount of time until you execute an attack or the amount of time until an attack is executed against you. Fortunately, none of it matters , because the game is almost insultingly easy. All abilities and items are unlocked from the start, so long as you’ve got the coin to buy them, so go ahead and grab the most powerful attacks in the game and dump all your stat points into DEFENSE and HEALTH, and nothing will ever come close to hitting you. The only thing that offers anything like a challenge is the fact that you barely ever get any mana, which means that the last half of every single level is you and the last couple of enemies slowly trading free, basic attacks until you win. Only not as fun as that sounds.
If I can say anything about Rage Quest, it’s that I guess it’s competently made. There’s no technical issues and the graphics and music were clearly made with some amount of talent. It’s just that that talent has been put towards the most utterly dull, uninspired game I’ve played in a long time. The long story sections – sequestered in frustrating-to-even-navigate “safe zones” – are dull. The combat is dull. The humor is dull. And as soon as I’ve finished editing and uploading this review, I doubt I’ll ever think about the time I spent with it again.
In that sense, maybe it is the truest expression of everything that’s wrong with the Internet. Rage Quest is a brief, utterly forgettable blip of nothing, drowning in a vast ocean of superior yet equally transient content. It’s a mediocre Tweet or yet another Facebook ad, forgotten as you scroll through your feed, trying to find something meaningful, something that will at least stave off the crippling fear that everything we do is pointless, that we’re slaving away producing content for people who profit by doing nothing, that we, too, will be forgotten in the endless scroll of time.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Nicholas Fisher; Developer: Nicholas Fisher; Players: 1 ; Released: Nov 8, 2017; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $7.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Rage Quest provided by the publisher.