The best way to describe Rage is as an inspired mix of Quake and Fallout with a hint of "Mad Max" thrown in for good measure. Running on the idTech5 engine, Rage is the first original IP to be developed by id Software since the Quake series, and it is also something of a departure for the company. Instead of focusing on deathmatch and multiplayer, Rage is a game focused on a single-player, story-driven adventure. Curious to see how things would play out, we recently sat down with an Xbox 360 copy of the game and jumped right in.
Rage begins with a bit of doom and gloom. There's a big asteroid hurtling toward the Earth. Lots and lots of people are expected to die. Not you, though. You're one of a small group being preserved in an Ark, in the hope that you can one day rebuild humanity. You go to sleep, the asteroid hits Earth, there's a big boom and next thing you know, it's just over a century later. Your companions are all dead, so you wander outside to get caught up on what you missed.
That's the story presented to the player at the start of the game. Everything else, you're expected to glean through the world by way of conversations and interactions with other characters and the environment. Part of the concept behind Rage is to put the player into the character's shoes. When you emerge from the Ark, your character knows nothing about this new world, so by extension, neither do you.
Your introduction to fresh air takes a turn for the violent when you're attacked by a crazed bandit. A man by the name of Dan Hager (voiced by an immediately recognizable John Goodman) rescues you, before tasking you to head out and kill the same bandits from which he just saved you. This initial mission serves as the in-game tutorial.
On the quest to kill the bandits, you'll explore a derelict hotel where the bandits have set up camp. Very animalistic, the bandits attack in groups whenever they have a direct line of sight, but aren't afraid to intelligently use cover when it is available. They also bob and weave when charging, making it more difficult for you to get a bead on them with your weapon.
The path through this initial environment was linear, though the game did tease us with a locked door that would be impossible to open unless we returned later on with a special item. Furniture and other world decoration seemed static, with the exception of weapons and items that could be picked up and used, or traded in at the local store.
Halfway through the initial mission, we were ambushed from above and brought to the bandit leader's killing room, where we got a chance to check out Rage's innovative "extra life" system. As an Ark survivor, your body is loaded with nanotrites. These little guys can literally bring you back from the dead by way of a minigame. Different patterns appear on the screen, and you have to match them with the controller's analog sticks. Make enough matches, and it switches to "defib mode," where the object is to pull the triggers at the right moment. Do it correctly, and you are revived with full health, while the guy who tried to kill you is electrocuted to death. Bonus.
With the first mission out of the way, we had a chance to explore more of the immediate area surrounding the Hagar homestead. A young girl by the name of Loosum Hagar offered up a tutorial on the game's wingstick weapon (basically a boomerang with the ability to decapitate) before we travelled to the Outrigger settlement for medical supplies. Settlements appear to be named after a key feature, as the Outrigger settlement is built on an oil rig, while the town of Wellspring is centered on a water well.
As you walk through Outrigger, mission objectives are presented to you organically. Rather than have big flashing buttons over various NPC heads, the missions are brought up through normal conversation. Some NPCs will bring up tasks when you chat with them, while others will call out to you if you happen to walk within earshot. Missions can be multi-layered, with person A sending you to person B for item X and person B asking you for item Y before he'll cough up item X for you to bring back to person A.
Though you can complete the missions at your own pace, it doesn't seem possible to really ignore the missions for very long. We tried declining one of Dan Hagar's missions, and all that happened was the conversation stopped. Chatting him up again immediately gave us the accept/deny dialogue. Later on, while working an Outrigger mission, we decided to wander off the beaten path and do some exploring. No such luck, as the path out of the local area is blocked until you accept a specific Outrigger mission. In this regard, Rage appears to be fairly gated. Once you have opened up part of the world, you are free to return to it, but don't plan on exploring the world and ignoring the quests.
Combat in the game felt good all around, with controls being quick and responsive. id's experience with deathmatch bots is obviously being put to good use here, and the mutants we fought in the Outrigger missions used different strategies than the bandits from the Hager missions. If this sort of variety keeps up throughout the game, the combat should remain a high point.
Rage also has a useful crafting and inventory management system. Whenever you pick up items, the game categorizes them into type. This way, when you go to the store, you can easily see which are simply meant to be sold and which may have other uses, such as weapons or components for a future crafting recipe. It's a useful option because it means you'll never have to worry about unknowingly selling off a key item.
Crafting is pretty straightforward. Once you learn a recipe, crafting is just a matter of collecting the required components, going to the crafting screen and pressing a button to make the desired item.
Then there are the vehicles. We didn't get a whole lot of time with Rage's vehicles, but we can say this: The vehicle options don't feel tacked on. Whether you're driving an ATV or a highly customized dune buggy, driving in Rage feels just as polished as the combat. Using a vehicle to get around seems to be a key part of the world, as they can be used for basic transport as well as outfitted with weapons.
One minor concern we have is with the prevalence of the mention of DLC in the early game. On the way back from the training mission, we ran into a man who had set up camp next to a manhole cover. He warned us that the sewers were dangerous places, so of course, we had to jump in. No can do. As soon as we tried, Rage popped up a note saying that DLC was required. A similar sewer entrance by the Outrigger camp displayed the same message. Yes, developers should have the ability to integrate DLC, but please don't try to upsell us before we've even finished the tutorial mission.
With our time with Rage coming to a close, it's safe to say that the game doesn't feel like anything id has put out before. It is unabashedly visually stunning, looking great on an Xbox 360, most likely even better on a PC, but the gameplay is a far cry from Doom or Quake. Key to Rage's success is going to be the quality of the world building. If the future Earth is sufficiently detailed in character and lore (look to Fallout or The Elder Scrolls games as examples), then Rage should do well as an open-ended, FPS-based adventure. If not, at least there's the promise of blowing up a lot of sh*t.
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