The first thing you notice when you sit down and look at id Software's next action game Rage--the developer's first new, internally developed title since the ballyhooed 2004 release of Doom 3--is that this isn't just another one of those dank, linear corridor shooters the company became known for with Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake. Rage's designers are pulling a laundry list of elements from other genres--things like an open world, vehicular combat, and schematic-based item engineering--to finally give you something to do besides creeping through dim hallways and shooting endless bad guys.
Speaking of elements from other games, I'll hazard a guess that you've seen something similar to Rage's arid, post-apocalyptic, mutant-filled wasteland before. But you can at least give id points for coming up with a plausible apocalypse. The game is set after the Earth is struck and decimated by Apophis, a real-life asteroid with an appreciable chance of hitting our planet in 2036. If it does hit us, the real Apophis won't doom the entire Earth, but Rage amps up the destruction factor beyond what's factual, creating a long impact winter that scours the planet of vegetation, deposits a strange new element called Feltrite, and (most importantly) gives you a proper barren landscape to maraud across.
So who are you? You're a member of the government's Eden Project, a program that placed important people like scientists and military personnel in stasis and buried them in "arks," or underground pods. The idea was that these capable people would emerge after the asteroid strike to rebuild society. But you wake up to find all your fellow ark members dead, and a world that's forgotten there were ever any arks in the first place. Creative director Tim Willits says the fate of those other arks will play a part in the storyline later on, but your first order of business is to figure out where you are and how to survive in the twisted new world order that arose in the years after the catastrophe.
Of course, you'll start to do that by exploring. Rage's main gameplay focus consists of you roaming the wasteland in an open-world fashion, looking for settlements and taking on missions to increase your reputation and build up your stockpile of weapons and wheels. Unsurprisingly, the towns that I saw in my demo had a cobbled-together, Mad Max sort of vibe to them, with buildings and equipment assembled from whatever the residents could scavenge.
The Rage team at id is making a greater effort this time than it did with Doom 3 to create more uniquely designed, memorable characters with their own styles and mannerisms. So all of the inhabitants of the game's first town, Wellspring, had their own advice and warnings to offer in my demo, including mission givers like the town's mayor and sheriff. Like other open-world games, you'll pick up story missions from the most important characters that push forward your character progression and access to the environment. The sheriff, for instance, wanted the player to hunt down a bandit group called the Shrouded who was controlling travel across the wasteland with C4-equipped remote-control cars.
Taking care of threats like the Shrouded entails--you knew this was coming--a healthy dose of corridor shooting! Rage streams the wasteland seamlessly as you roam around, but when you enter structures like the Shrouded's ramshackle desert base, you'll hit a loading screen and then, presto, you're in an enclosed map straight out of Doom 3. Shoot your way through a bunch of bandits, blow up some fuel containers, and you've neutralized the Shrouded.
The corridor-shooting levels of Doom are back, but at least id is making an effort to get past the trite old shotgun-machine-gun-rocket-launcher weapons roster (though those guns are of course in here as well). You've got the wingstick, which is basically a bladed boomerang, and a crossbow you can use for stealth kills. And many of the old archetypal weapons each accommodate multiple ammo types with varying levels of stopping power and other attributes. Some weapons will only have a single type of ammo, but others can be loaded with up to four types.
The biggest contributor to combat variety in Rage, however, is the group of supplemental items you can build from spare parts, once you've found the schematics that tell you how to build them. When you finish the Shrouded mission, you'll get the plans for those RC cars and learn which parts you need to find in order to make them yourself. Other constructible equipment includes automated turrets you can set up to help you flank enemies, a lock grinder that lets you force your way through sealed doors, and a spider-like sentry bot that seems like a nod to the one that followed you around and helped blast enemies from time to time in Doom 3. The only barrier to using these items is collecting the spare parts to make them, so you'll want to loot every downed enemy and explore the nooks of every base to get as many parts as you can.
Right about now you're probably saying, "Oh good! Inventory management!" But I'm pleased to report id isn't taking inventory cues from that other post-apocalyptic first-person game released by its sister company Bethesda. In Fallout 3, you could only carry so many items and so much weight before you became literally unable to move, often forcing you to dump equipment mid-mission so you could pick up other items. Rage will have no such restrictions. You'll get unlimited inventory slots so you can pick up as much loot as you find, and you won't need to visit any sort of workbench to construct new combat gear. So if you find enough parts to make a new sentry bot inside a particular dungeon level, you can bust one out on the spot to increase your combat efforts. And used equipment can be salvaged to recover some spare parts (the amount depends on how much damage the item took in battle).
Naturally, you aren't going to spend all of Rage trudging across the wasteland; vehicles play a big part in Rage as well, and there's a succession of better and better vehicles to pick up as you go. You'll start with a simple ATV and then graduate to a basic dune buggy, and you can store all these vehicles in Mick's Garage back at the settlement for retrieval later. At Mick's, you can also tweak out specific elements of your rides, like suspensions and engines. There's also a list of weapons you can mount on different places, though I only got to see front-firing machine guns in my demo.
I wasn't able to get my own hands on Rage's controls, so it's hard to say how exactly how the game's vehicles handle--but the driving action certainly looked arcade-style to me. You'll run up against roving bandits in their own dune buggies and such as you traverse the landscape, and while the combat will be optional--you can attempt to escape if you want--it'll behoove you to engage attackers, since they'll drop loot and spare parts that will go toward more combat items and vehicle upgrades.
Like any good open-world game, Rage will also employ its driving in one-off racing challenges. Apparently the residents of the wasteland got bored and fashioned parts of it into makeshift raceways, where you'll compete against other drivers for first place--mostly by shooting them before they can finish. The race missions looked arcade-like to me, too; you pick up ammo and turbo power-ups as you run the course, and enemies will respawn after a short time when you blow them up. The best vehicle upgrades are only available to you in exchange for the racing certificates you earn by winning these races, so you'll have to jump in on them periodically to keep your wheels up to date.
That's not the only way to earn your keep in Rage's wasteland. There's a bizarre character named J.K. Styles, a fat, flamboyant huckster who runs the Mutant Bash TV station in the middle of the desert. As part of the story you'll be forced to meet up with him and run a carnival-like gauntlet of mutant assaults for the amusement of whatever passes for bored housewives after the end of the world. You can come back later and compete for better scores to get more cash, and Styles will give you a gadget that lets you tame mutants in the wilds so you can capture them and bring them back to him for more money. Styles is a weird, eye-catching character, and he proves that if nothing else, id has at least mastered the technique of rendering bump-mapped cellulite.
id's designers kept referring to the Rage "fiction" during my demo, as it seems they're making an effort to create an honestly cohesive world around the game. The Shrouded aren't the only antagonist group in Rage; they're just one of a list of bandit clans that also includes names like the Wasted, the Toxic, and the Gearheads. But from Willits' description, there's a more pervasive and sinister presence lurking behind the wasteland's petty bad guys that you'll start to uncover as you delve deeper into the storyline. There's also a clear split in the middle of the narrative that will deliver you to an entirely different setting than what we've seen of Rage so far. All those desert environments in the media released to date are taken from the first half of the game, and id isn't giving up details yet on the nature of that second half and where it will take you.
It's probably going to be a long while before we find those details out. id characterized this as a "first look" at the game, and given the company's predilection for long development cycles, we almost certainly won't get to the point "when it's done" anytime soon. Rage is certainly looking like id's most ambitious game to date, so I'm hoping it'll be worth all that wait.
We'll have more on Rage from QuakeCon shortly, but you could always pass a couple of minutes checking out the newly released trailer and screenshots till then.