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TVG takes on the might of id Software's first new intellectual property since Quake...
At E3 earlier this month, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the carefully structured demo of id Software's upcoming apocalyptic shooter, Rage, which featured a number of different gameplay sections cherry-picked from various moments in the game.
The mad setting for this bizarre mash-up of genres is Earth during the 2030s, not long after a catastrophic meteor strike decimates the planet's ecosystem and the life it supports. Remaining survivors have huddled together to form societies bound by racing buggies across the sandy wastes. Other groups have become bandits or crooks, and there are also an unknown amount of people that have become somehow mutated and aggressive.
Rage's core mechanics are a cocktail of shooting and racing, with a splash of RPG for good measure. This free-roaming title is framed from the first-person perspective, apart from whenever the player chooses to enter a vehicle (the only sensible means of transportation across the fairly vast maps). The inspiration from the likes of Fallout, Borderlands and even Mad Max or Waterworld are omnipresent, and the increasingly crowded apocalyptic space is becoming ever more refined as each IP attempts to carve its own niche within the genre. Rage has gone for a somewhat light-hearted angle, with whacky characters and a colourful American feel to its dustbowl aesthetic, in a stark contrast to the more sombre Fallout 3.
Races constitute a large portion of the game, and a section we were able to play was called the Dusty 8 Rocket Race; three quick laps around a dusty canyon against other buggy drivers. The cars were modified to include rocket launchers to blast the car in front, and featured a basic homing device to make sure the explosions connect. There was also a recharging boost bar, and the track offered multiple routes of navigation through the canyons. Race modes have echoes of Motorstorm, and not only does the game resemble Sony's racer in visuals, but also the light, floaty handling is possibly a nod to that title as well. These driving distractions were certainly competent enough and exhibited a manic kind of fun, yet unfortunately it is clear from the lack of polish and sophistication that id's attention and expertise is in the FPS genre, and not the racing one.
Luckily then, there is a significant amount of the game dedicated to doing what id does best: shooting things in the face. In one such scenario in the E3 demo, we were presented with an opportunity to talk to JK Styles, owner of the extreme media network Mutant Bash TV. With an offer that fulfilled certain objectives we'd already been tasked with, Styles' challenge was to make it through his horrifying death-trap of a reality TV show alive - a bit more challenging than eating bugs in the rainforest, then.
Armed with an arsenal of a pistol that could be adapted into a scoped weapon, a rifle that fired hardened steel bullets, a shotgun and some good old fashioned fisticuffs, we found ourselves in a small, symmetrical arena full of lethal hazards. Swarms of mutants soon attacked and panic set in as more and more of the creatures charged towards us. If anything, a few shotgun blows to the face actually improved their appearance, and it was on to the next room for some even more frenzied shenanigans.
Here, another stronger type of enemy attacked, and the floor was laden with even more perilous obstacles, including piercing spikes that sprang up from the ground beneath us. This unrelenting procession of nasties ramped up in complexity with each room, and climaxed with a tough battle against a massive mutant intent on caving in our skull in the final stage. The garish insanity and weird jolly colours of the setting juxtaposed nicely with the monstrosities of the action unfolding, and it was nice to see a good deal of effort had been taken into dressing up what could have been a boring series of challenge rooms.
Rage's gunplay certainly felt powerful, and the enemies attacked with violent intent. Qualities handed down from the likes of Quake and Doom were keenly felt, and there was a definite scary aspect to the shooting. The manic behaviours of the enemies, as well as the carefully placed spawn points and triggers meant that we were always on edge when exploring new areas. Controls have been evolved from the systems employed in other id series such as Wolfenstein, and a wide degree of movement is granted to the player. Strafing feels unusually liberating, giving the player a decent toolset to dodge and avoid confrontation, a mechanic that was at one stage essential in order to defeat a huge mutant in the demo.
The endless bits of loot and junk from Rage's forebears are also scattered about the place for the player to salvage, steal and modify. Item trading between quests and the upgrading opportunities presented by the world's many merchants suggest that Rage will very likely have its own economy, and that such dealings will become a major focus in the game.
While the main free-roaming landscape does suffer from fairly poor signposting, it's important to remember that this game is still some way from the complete product. Rage shows a great deal of ambition, and draws upon successful and interesting sources to craft a world-story of its own. id's accomplished FPS skills add weight to the gameplay, and further distractions such as trade and racing flesh out the experience. RPG elements remain at large from what we saw but should also add weight to the quality of the gameplay, and if id can pull off what they're attempting to do here, then we'd put money on Rage being one of the hits of the year.
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