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TVG wades deeper into the post-apocalyptic wastelands of Rage in our latest hands-on...
The slug slices tendon and sinew, plucking open his biceps like an overstrung ukelele. Clasping his inert, dangling limb, the wastelander slumps against a nearby wall, grimacing and howling as you close in. A crushing rifle blow to the cheek shatters his tawdry face-mask and sends him crashing down into the dust. Babbling with shock, he lurches onto his elbow and waves a shaky pistol towards you, loosing a few futile rounds before his skull comes apart at the muzzle of your shotgun.
id know how to make killing fun, and with RAGE they’ve brought the full weight of their FPS talent to bear. The charred post-apocalyptic landscape is a graphical showcase for their latest id Tech 5 engine, a dustbowl dotted with cyberpunk outcrops and treacherous bandit dens; character models are lovingly sculpted and exquisitely detailed, meticulously crafted down to the very last freckle. But as good as things look in the game, (and they undoubtedly look very, very good) it’s how they move that really sets RAGE apart. Interactions with NPC’s in the survivor camps you come across are natural and unobtrusive - they’ll casually strike up a conversation as you approach, gesturing and swaying in a disarmingly realistic way - and it’s this same attention to detail in the animation of the game’s enemies (the result of countless hours of cleverly blended motion-capture data and AI) that makes killing in RAGE so very, very satisfying. Your foes have character; the various bandit factions you encounter all have their own distinctive aesthetic, method of attack, and set of reactions to painful stimuli. A thug from The Wasted - a group of drunken, cockney petrol-heads - might recklessly charge round a corner wielding a flaming baseball bat, but fire a few rounds into him and he’ll stumble back in pain, grasping his bullet-torn limbs as he crawls into cover.
Such behaviour is anathema to a member of the ninja-like Ghost Clan however; a few light flesh wounds might make him wince but would never deter him from nimbly leaping over railings to strike you down with his sword. Mutants on the other hand, will attack in a blind fury but tend to break under sustained fire, desperately scrabbling back behind cover if they feel out-gunned. And ‘feel’ is the critical word here; the animations are so well constructed and seamlessly combined that it seems almost as if your enemies genuinely ‘feel’ the punishment you dish out to them, such is the illusion of realism crafted by their nuanced, believable reactions. The solid voice acting also plays a part in this suspension of disbelief, with groups of enemies engaging in small talk as you stalk them voyeuristically from the shadows.
Of course, being an id game, everything is so OTT that it never really gets disturbing, so let’s not dwell on why it’s so utterly satisfying to kill these responsive humanoid bots and focus instead on the meaty weaponry with which you do it. In the early part of the game you get your standard pistol, shotgun, assault and sniper-rifle variants – however, ammo types can be switched on the fly, allowing for easy access to more esoteric variations of each. Equipping Fat Boy rounds turns your pistol into a hefty magnum with brutal stopping power, while Killbursts contain “bullets within bullets within bullets”, letting you empty a whole clip into an unsuspecting mutant’s face in under a second (a couple of cranial Killbursts will even take down the be-tentacled, bile spitting Kraken you encounter later on). A crossbow facilitates stealthier tactics: using either standard or electrified bolts, you can sneak through enemy strong-holds picking off guards as you go, or whip out your Mind Control bolts and turn an innocent bandit into an improvised ambling explosive. There’s also a range of quick-use gadgets you can craft from the scattered detritus you find lying around, from sentry guns and healing bandages to a brutal three pronged metallic boomerang, perfect for the occasional impromptu decapitation.
Despite its excellent core combat mechanics, RAGE isn’t content to be just another corridor shooter and encompasses a range of RPG-lite elements within a semi-open-world setting; a structure id describes as ‘directed freedom’. Although in practice (in the early part of the game at least) you’re largely ferried along on a sequence of tasks set by a limited number of NPCs, you’re largely free to choose when you deign to undertake them, and the availability of additional side-quests means that you generally have other options besides pursuing the main missions. The size and scope of the early areas seems fairly well balanced too: just big enough to provide a sense of freedom and exploration in the dusty opening valleys, yet small enough to retain a densely-detailed and coherent design without overwhelming the player. There’s loot, crafting, and driving too – with upgradeable ATVs and dune buggies at your disposal you can race, fight, or simply tear down abandoned freeways through the desert (watch out for bandit ambushes, mind). After your first few hours you’ll reach the settlement town of Wellspring - a bustling network of winding back-alleys and haphazard shanty shacks where stragglers bet on violent holographic board-games, and a range of shady NPCs await with strange missions and illicit goods in side-street shops - hinting at how the game’s structure might broaden beyond it’s opening section.
So far, we’re really impressed by RAGE; the excellent enemy animations and charming character of the free-roam setting point to a potentially outstanding title. There are, however, just a few niggling doubts. Driving through the world somewhat diminishes the sense of scope that it has on foot, and it’s not yet clear whether the vehicle-based sections will prove as satisfying as the core shooting action. Additionally, an early machine-gun-wielding boss seems to have an incongruously static attack cycle compared to the range of behaviour exhibited by his standard foot soldiers. Some might also note the potential tension between id’s focus on visceral blasting - the linearity of the early combat sections - and the purportedly quasi-open-world structure that RAGE aspires to, but others would slap them for being pretentious and call it a clever balance of seemingly disparate gameplay ideals instead. And then slap themselves. Who will have the final slap? We’ll have to wait until the game’s long-awaited release this October to find out.
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