Dragon Rage comes down to being a very basic shooter with a number of flaws thrown in at no extra cost.
While being easy to pick up and play increases the chances of a game reaching a wider audience, sometimes a game can be crippled from the beginning by having too much of an emphasis on ease of use and nothing to keep the interest of those who play it. Dragon Rage is a game that relies on simplicity as a function, and the result is a game that doesn't attempt to go beyond what is to be played in the first level. Riding shotgun with this flaw are subpar visuals, while uninspired music and poor voice acting take the two backseats.
The game's only strong point lies in the story. Dragon Rage takes place in Ardon (though the world is called Zeen on 3DO's Web site), a world in which orcs have enslaved all mystical creatures that would return the world to the way it was a thousand years ago. Presumably, Ardon was more peaceful before the orcs twisted dragons and sprites into the means by which they implement their destruction. Dragons and sprites use the magical powers of an element called zeenium, which grants them the power of magic and fire. The only way for the orcs to bend this element to their will is to harvest it from the dragons and their eggs. They do this by slaughtering every dragon and cracking every egg they can get their hands on.
The story opens with a CG sequence in which the main character, Cael Cyndar, is about to be harvested for zeenium. As he approaches his fiery demise, he regains consciousness, and in a fiery struggle he breaks free of his bonds, destroys the slaughterhouse, and escapes in the nick of time. The game kicks off with a tutorial mode, where Cael is transported to the magical equivalent of virtual reality, where a sprite guides him through a number of trials that should get you accustomed to the game mechanics in no time.
Cael's control is simple. He remains airborne throughout the game, and flying around is an easy endeavor. The left analog stick controls direction, pitch, and yaw, while the right analog stick can make him hover when you press R3. L1 and R1 let Cael strafe left and right, and L2 and R2 let him flip 180 degrees and do a complete loop, respectively. The control is easy to get used to, but the game would have benefited from a more complete system. Airspeed remains at a constant pace, and the only way to speed up is to use magical powers, which in turn drain mana. Similarly, the ability to slow down is absent. The only option available is to risk a complete stop, which makes Cael an easy target for the ever-present orc archers on the ground.
The most damaging weapons in Cael's arsenal require some restraint to be used efficiently. Your offensive powers range from the dragon attack, which causes Cael to swoop close to the ground and physically attack or eat enemies, to the breath weapon, which changes according to the most recent elemental gem you've picked up. A red sphere grants the power of fire, a green sphere gives you the power of earth as an earthbound rolling ball, a blue sphere is the power of water in the form of high-velocity ice shards, and a white sphere gives the power of air, which manifests as lightening bolts. Holding down the square button while using a breath weapon releases a more powerful version of the basic attack, but it also drains more mana.
The game uses a very robust auto-aiming system when you're using projectile weapons, which is to say that the game aims for you. There is no reticle that you can use to aim--you can only point Cael in the direction of the bad guy and hope for the best. This works well enough when there are only a few enemies onscreen, but when you're strafing a town, Cael's neck will be pulled from side to side while his attack is steered toward the nearest target. This is particularly frustrating when you're trying to take out orc captains--much more powerful enemies who are typically surrounded by a group of less powerful orcs. Sometimes the only option is to destroy every surrounding target until the captain is the only thing left to shoot at. Later on, as your weapons become more powerful, this is less of an issue, but for the first half of the game it can be a pain.
In sticking to its obvious shooter roots, Dragon Rage also has a powerful attack that can be used once before it needs to be recharged. This attack is aptly named the fury attack, and it lets Cael inflict massive amounts of damage on everything in his immediate vicinity. Like the basic breath weapon, this attack changes according to the element you're currently using and is typically a much more powerful version of the regular breath weapon.