RAGE - A Different Kind Of Wasteland
It's apparent from the opening cinematic that RAGE is going to be something special; when it comes to crafting perfect sci-fi adventures no one does it better than id Software. Not only were they the studio that invented the first-person shooter, but over the past twenty years they have produced some of the biggest gaming franchises of all time. It's been a long time in development, but the wait has been well and truly worth it.
For those of you who haven't been following the story of RAGE let me get you up to speed - on August 23, 2029 an asteroid by the name of Apophis strikes Earth, destroying the world as we know it. Pockets of survivors are left to rebuild a new civilisation, with humans banding together and creating new settlements where they see fit. Unfortunately they have to face off against a series of bandits and mutants who have formed gangs and run riot across the globe.
While the survivors have been busy trying to rebuild their fractured societies you have been persevered in underground shelter know as the Ark. These Arks are cryogenic pods hidden under the surface of the Earth containing twelve passengers, each with a specific ability or trait that would help rebuild a society. Unfortunately the Arks weren't too successful, and the player awakes with no memory of his identity or objective, and he makes his way to the surface to find allies and survive.
On paper the story sounds epic, but the opening cinematic that leads up to your first moments in the game really helps to cement a feeling of dread - you are alone and you have no idea what is waiting for you when you leave the Ark, almost to a point where you don't want to open that door. That is where RAGE excels, it creates an emotional experience.
I soon found myself in a buggy with Dan Hagar - the head of a survivor camp that holed up in a broken down gas station. Instantly you are subjected to the immensity of the game world - wide open plains with dust blowing in the wind, yet managing to create a very industrial feel to some sections as you drive by. Interestingly enough there was also a DOOM bobblehead on the dashboard of Dan's buggy which was a nice touch that will strike a chord with fans of id.
Once we made it to base I was ready to go on my first quest; Dan might have saved my bacon but he needed my help. On our way to the gas station we were spotted by some Bandits out on patrol, and with my noticeable Ark suit on chances are they would be heading to the gas station to take me out. He hooked me up with some bandages, a pistol and loaned me his ATV to make my way there. Things were about to get interesting.
During my interview with Tim Willits he mentioned how much work went into the driving mechanics of the game, and it really did show from the second I started driving the ATV. It like a dream as I made my way across the hot and dusty wasteland, allowing me to jump over dunes, use my boost to gain some extra speed and use the emergency break to pull out some sweet slides. I soon found myself driving around aimlessly just marvelling at the environment, rather than heading to my objective.
Eventually I made it to the Bandit hideout which was a totally different experience. Hiding out in an dilapidated hotel I soon was facing off against a number of enemies who were armed with knives, pistols and shotguns. The combat mechanics were tight, allowing to to shoot from the hip with accuracy or aim down my sights for precision fire. It was immediately apparent just how smart the AI is in RAGE- when firing at an enemy up close they actually whimper, often scampering down and trying to flee to cover. At times an enemy will go down holding their vitals together for just a few more shots from the ground before eventually expiring. It's these little instances that really make the AI seem far more believable than other titles out there.
Before long I was back at the gas station completing a number of other quests that had me going to another friendly outpost, collecting car parts and eventually getting my own buggy. While this may be one wasteland, each section feels very different. There is this overarching sense of dread and despair in the air that really sells the post-apocalyptic feel like no other game has before, and that is half the battle.
Thankfully it's backed up with some rather interesting mechanics that keep things fresh and interesting. During my play through I had access to the pistol which does a great job of dispersing your enemies, along with a shotgun that definitely kicks some arse. I also got my hands on some frag grenades that cleared a room of enemies with ease, and had a great looking explosion to boot, blasting up fragments of dirt and dust and leaving a room filled with a nice smokey haze.
Each weapon is capable of using different types of ammo too which makes for some varied combat situations. I unlocked a powerful set of pistol ammunition known as Fatboys which inflicted some real pain on one of the mini-boss like enemies I came up against. With what looked to be four ammo slots per weapon, RAGE looks set to have some really deep weapon customisation ahead.
That's not where the mix and match ends though my friends - a number of engineering recipes will be ahead of you allowing you to craft a number of items based from objects you find in the game world. I was able to engineer myself a lock grinder using some gears and electrical items that literally grinded through a locked door, along with some bandages that helped me out on a number of occasions.
Health is regenerating in RAGE but a quick tap of a button when it looked like all things were lost and I applied a bandage that gave me a health boost and put me over the edge. Even in normal mode the enemies in the first area posed a bit of a challenge, so chances are bandages are going to be the difference between life and death as you progress through the story.
RAGE from a presentation standpoint is outstanding - the demo was shown on the Xbox 360 and it consistently stuck to a silky smooth frame rate regardless of the amount of action on the screen. The character models were some of the best I've seen on the console, textures were smooth and detailed and I didn't notice any amount of pop-in. The lip syncing of characters during game play is fantastic too, something that a number of games seem to get wrong time and time again. id have created what looks set to be a major player in cross-platform graphical engines, and we can't wait to see what they do with it next.
The audio is another triumph - whether it be the harrowing whispers of wind you can hear in an abandoned area or the hustle and bustle of the social are of Wellspring I was constantly impressed by what I was hearing. It's also worth mentioning that the shotgun sounds absolutely brutal.
By the end of my hour long session with RAGE I had made it to the town of Wellspring - a place that looked like a mixture of the Wild West meets Mad Max and I was definitely intrigued to see what it had to offer. It was here that I started to meet some more characters and pick up a good number of side-quests which had me wishing for just one more hour with the game.
While we haven't had a shortage of post-apocalyptic, wasteland shooters in recent years RAGE looks set to create its own path. Combining what id Software are already renowned for with a much larger scope than any of their previous titles, RAGE looks set to offer something for everyone - a fantastic sci-fi story, extremely tight and fun combat, plenty of exploration elements, racing and car combat and finally some RPG elements. Very rarely can a developer combine so many game types into a fully functioning archetype, but id Software have always been at the forefront of making the impossible a reality.
By Stephen Heller
Check out our RAGE Discussion for more information about the game. RAGE is set to unleash in Australia on October 6th.