First Look: Rage

Coming from a company often accused of recycling its unmatched heritage, Rage is a surprisingly ambitious game - arguably the most ambitious iD has produced since the glory days of Quake. From its open desert landscapes to its dingy, mutant-filled caverns, it’s a game that seeks to unite a new, more freeform, RPG-influenced school of gameplay with the hard-hitting action that has always been iD’s hallmark. From the hour-long stint we enjoyed as Gamescom 2011, it looks like the company has succeeded.

RPG elements, you say? Well, yes. From the moment your hero - sole survivor of a mission to reconquer a post-apocalyptic America - hits ground, it becomes clear that Rage is a game of exploration and adventure. It comes complete with settlements to discover, characters to chat with, quests to complete, items to craft and weapons to customise with different ammo types, even if there’s no experience points or character upgrade system as such.

Your quests might involve riding around in the desert in a buggy or on a quad-bike, then infiltrating some ghastly mutant hideout and blasting the inhabitants, but they help give the game a less linear feel than a straight shooter. Meanwhile, optional side-quests can provide you with new weapons and equipment to help you on your way. Vehicle handling feels very solid, with the quad-bike and buggy weighty, but easy to handle, with a nice sense of interaction with the rough terrain. We can’t wait to see how iD uses vehicles later on.

Once violence erupts - when you’re in the tunnels fighting gruesome, pallid "ghost" mutants or thuggish, Brit-accented punks - Rage still feels like an old-school iD classic. There’s something about the movement, the aggressive enemies and the high-impact weaponry that instantly brings to mind Doom or Quake III; even more so when you get your hands on the good old boomstick.

Mutant foes take in a range of types, from your standard duck-and-cover merchants to creepy, acrobatic knife-wielders and rampaging, club-wielding bezerkers. The slick level-design shows iD’s old knack for building interesting spaces and intense encounters hasn’t deserted them. Rage aced the big test for us; it made us jump backwards in our seat at least three times during the hour we played under the sheer ferocity of enemy attacks.

In our limited time with the game, we saw signs of the flexibility of the new weapons and the new weapons systems. Even your starter pistol can be upgraded with a makeshift scope and a useful supply of incendiary ammo. Better still is the wingstick: a deeply lovable three-bladed, razor-edged boomerang that intelligently returns to its owner. Fail to decapitate your target on the initial throw? Just shift your position and you might get lucky with the second one.

And while the time Rage has spent in production means that its iD Tech 5-powered visuals are no longer quite as astounding as they were when we first clapped eyes on them, it’s still one of the finest-looking shooters we’ve ever seen. The level of detail in the landscapes or the rusty, patched-together settlements is genuinely wondrous, and the whole world is an incredible sense of place, as Rage turns dust, wind, harsh-light and stark, Monument Valley scenery into your blood-splattered playground. We can’t wait to get back in our buggy and explore.

Things are just as good in indoors, with a tangible sense of grime and post-apocalyptic decay, and some fantastic, creepy detail in the mutant lairs. The lighting is sumptuous, and has been used with a cinematographer’s skill. It’s hard to describe an ultra-violent, post-apocalyptic world as beautiful, but it’s certainly a dazzling bit of work. Our only concern? There’s a fair bit of texture pop-in in the PS3 version we were playing, though of course, we’re still a couple of months from release.

Going with a new IP and a new engine at the same time has been a risky move for iD. John Carmack and co could have played it safe with another Quake, another Doom or another Wolfenstein, but instead it’s produced something that has the iD look and feel, but a different flavour as well. And the best thing is that we still haven’t experienced much that the game has to offer, with only time to see a small area of the game’s wide landscape, and no sign of vehicle combat or the rest of the game’s potent arsenal of weapons and ammo types. iD’s latest is up against some stiff competition this Autumn, but we think it can handle it. Come October, slaying mutants in the post-apocalyptic sun is going to be all the rage.  

Verdict

Rage looks every bit as spectacular, brutal and compulsive as the best of the Quake and Doom games. The RPG-level of exploration will make this a game that will have broad appeal and the trademark iD style will have everyone cowering with terror as they play alone.