E3 2011 Preview: RAGE
It's been a long time coming, but id Software was finally ready to let gamers go hands on with RAGE at E3 this year in Bethesda's booth. After getting the chance to play for a little while on the PS3 version, I can confidently say that not only is id Software delivering the slickest, fastest, most visually stunning engine you've seen, but there's also a very exciting exciting, original, and fun game on top of that.
RAGE is a post-apocalyptic shooter with an open world and lots of gadgets and vehicles. You're playing as someone who comes out of an underground Ark, set up before the big boom, and have been welcomed by a world that very much survived the projected death of the human race. It's not exactly been easy, though; bandits and gangs roam the wastes, while mutants rule the ruins of great cities. There are a few dots of civilized humanity around, and it's here where the player picks up quests and buys equipment. Leaving the safety of these settlements, you'll find car combat along with intense first person shooter firefights both above and below ground.
The most striking thing about RAGE is the technology. It's called id Tech 5, and it was built to manage memory differently than other, popular game engines like Unreal. The whole landscape is blanketed in what's called a megatexture, a huge piece of art that ensures you don't see the repeating or tiling of any two textures unless the artists and level designers are specifically going for the effect. All of this is delivered on PCs and consoles at a silky-smooth 60fps, allowing for the action to be fast and furious without even a single hitch that I saw (on PS3, at least) during the action.
The demo id Software set up was in the ruins of a city, and I found myself in an abandoned mall, figuring out how to unlock the doors that someone had placed presumably to trap people. I'd track down a power cord and trace it back to the source, disabling it to get the door open, and found myself attacked by bandits and mutants. RAGE includes weapons from both the old days as well as new tech, and players have many tactical options in the types of ammo you can load into your guns. For my money, I found the shotgun to be the most effective against the melee-oriented mutants that kept trying to bash me with clubs. This demo also included a fight in a gully against armored troops, possibly the Authority group that id Software has talked about, and these guys were a little smarter about fighting me; they stayed behind cover and used smarter tactics as they surrounded me, forcing a close-quarters battle that I almost lost. The full suits of high-tech armor they wore also made my trusty shotgun nearly useless, but pumping enough rounds into them finally did the trick.
We also got to see some driving, which id Software considers to be a pretty key activity as you explore the world of RAGE. You'll be able to upgrade your buggy and use its mounted guns to take out enemy vehicles, and the visuals look very impressive when someone's car explodes and you drive through the smoke and debris to continue on.
What you might be wondering is whether the advanced graphics also means a vast amount of gameplay or story innovations. This seems rather unlikely, and I can say that while combat was hard-hitting and fun, it also wasn't incredibly tactical or fresh-feeling. The guns still interact with enemy faces in many of the ways that they did in, say, id's last game - 2004's DOOM 3 - but as long as the game can maintain wonderful visuals and support its old-school combat with new gadgets and big setpieces often enough, we should be in for a wild ride.
Unfortunately, this demo also gave us very little context for what was happening and uncovered pretty much none of the plot. It delivered snippets of action without supplying the player with the motivation to see it through, and that's something that many other E3 demos, both hands-on and off, did better. We suspect that won't be a problem with the full game, though. id Software just announced a short delay with RAGE, so the release date is now set on PC, PS3, and 360 for October 4th in the US and the 7th in Europe.