id Software have been around a while. How long? Well, you know that first person shooter you like - it's based on their idea; they invented the genre. In fact, John Carmack and his team have been making games since 1991, with legendary franchises like Doom and Wolfenstein in their stable. Rage, announced in 2007 and due for release in October, is their first new franchise since Quake - which came out way back in 1996!
Now that we've spent some serious time with the singleplayer part of the game, our short summary of our experience is this: it was worth the wait. Wanna know more? Read on...
For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, it's a pretty straight-forward one. A post apocalyptic tale, it follows the fortunes of an unnamed protagonist (that's you!) who starts the game by waking up from a cryogenic storage pod. He went into cryo-storage deep underground, you see, to endure the Earth impact of a meteorite called Apophis and the worldwide devastation that followed. The world on his return is not what he expected; instead of waking up in a controlled state, ready to rebuild society, he's assaulted by some oddly dressed thugs that are acting strangely...
You control the action from a predominantly first-person point of view, with the action pulling out to third-person when controlling the various vehicles you get to drive throughout the game. The action is split fairly evenly between the two different types of gameplay, with the gunplay seemingly slightly dominant in the bit we played (which could be because we were tentative in our exploration of the various areas, who knows).
If you don't want to read any spoilers, skip ahead to the final paragraph. There are spoilers in the gameplay descriptions that follow, however we've restricted the story information to that required in order to set the scene so that we can adequately describe our experiences.
After escaping from the cryogenic storage facility (a non-interactive sequence), we were immediately set-upon by some bandits that were milling around outside. Just as it seemed our emergence into the wasteland outside the facility would also mark the end of our adventures, dead at the hands of random villains, we were saved by the leader of a local band of survivors - Dan Hagar, as voiced by iconic actor John Goodman.
He brings us up to speed on the state of the world, which has devolved into your typical post-apocalyptic scenario: humans, banded together in small groups, are trying to survive the harsh new environment and fend off attacks from their semi-human (at least, initially) enemies. Rebuilding the human race has to take a back seat to simply staying alive - which is no mean feat, as we quickly found out.
This isn't just another first person shooter, though, with quests, inventory management and character upgrades that will feel familiar to role-playing gamers the world over. The game itself has more than a skin-deep resemblance to Gearbox's Borderlands, too, although this can only be coincidence - Rage was in development long before Borderlands was even announced, and Borderlands was released before it was known just how similar Rage would prove to be. Regardless, if you like shooting things in an apocalyptic wasteland, completing quests to drive the narrative forward, there's a lot to like about the structure id have used here.
After establishing ourselves as a genuine member of the human resistance, thanks to an opening quest in which we eliminated a nearby group of bandits, we're introduced to the way things work in this brave new world: barter, with the price of goods and services influenced by the danger in which they're acquired or executed. What this generally means is there are a bunch of people with stuff you want, and they don't want to put themselves in harms way to get what they themselves need. So they send you on quests - help them out, and they'll help you out - quid pro quo.
The quests, based on our experiences, adhere to the "go here, collect / kill x of y things, then come back for your reward" pattern that will be familiar to any MMO or action-RPG gamer. There are quest hubs for you to operate from, each staffed with a number of NPCs you can interact with (including obligatory shop-keeper types), an enemies drop a variety of loot-like items that you can manipulate to increase your power (or cash reserves) in some way. That doesn't mean it feels hollow or derivative, though; it's simply the way the genre traditionally works and id haven't strayed far from the formula.
The settings in which we quested each felt distinct from one another and worked with the enemies that dwelled within them to paint a rich tapestry into which the game's narrative is woven. The visual detail and "clutter" that makes up the dystopian environment in which the game is set is nothing short of platform-defining; id's tech is on display loud and proud, with the fabled mega-texturing helping to create a visual package that really is mind-blowing to see in action. Actually exploring this mega-detailed world, complete with characters that behave like they live there, gives the experience a lot of weight - you really believe this could be humanity's future.
Driving, which is how you'll typically get yourself from hub to quest or another hub, is far from a tacked-on experience. The vehicles look amazing, actively animating in response to every bump and rock in the surface of the road you're winding your way along. They also feel intangibly real, reacting to every nuance of controller input in a predictable, visceral way, resulting in that indefinable rush that's the hallmark of every good driving game. If you have any fear that the driving sequences are going to be a Wind Waker-like snorefest, think again. We didn't get into any vehicular combat during our play test, but we did spend a lot of time blasting around at high speed (thanks to the turbo function) and can't wait to get back in there for more time just ripping it up in the wasteland. It's fun as hell.
The shooting stuff, too, had a great feel to it. id Software have always made a great-feeling shooter, and Rage is no different. The few weapons we got to play with felt right, with a good mix of traditional and "number 8 wire" feel to them. The enemies behave differently depending on their type and the environment they find themselves in, with enemies doing outlandishly unexpected things like one that strung himself along the ceiling via a series of pipes, as if the world was one big set of monkey bars.
The game is big, and we've played far too little of it to make any real claims as to the quality or depth that the full game will include when it ships in October. What we can tell you, though, is that it's shaping up to be one of the must-play games in a very crowded holiday lineup. We had an absolute blast with the game and simply can't wait to play more of it.
The Good: Vehicle and shooting mechanics feel great
The Bad: May be written off as too Borderlands-like
The Ugly: Running out of ammo, deep in a bunker...