When you're responsible for releasing the FPS plague on the gaming industry, and have a legion of die-hard fans who rip apart anything you do post-Quake 3, you're in between a rock and a hard place with anything new on the drawing-board. But that's where id Software is currently sitting, with their first original IP in more than 10 years, Rage, under a million microscopes from critics and fans alike. It doesn't necessarily help if story-telling has never *really* been your strong point either, especially when you're pitching your new game as actually having one.
Rage is a few things, but none of them is original. It looks incredible, and at this year's E3 we saw the game running on Xbox 360. Yep that's right, the PC-centric id are working on consoles now (alongside PC - don't fret too much), and they've pushed some serious tech out Microsoft's ageing console - I repeat: Rage looks incredible
. It's a derivative product in the narrative scape though, combining (from a basic level) Fallout 3 with Borderlands, but that's hardly the point. It looks pretty, and plays like an id shooter, despite being dressed up as something more.
To put it into perspective though, Rage's story is about the "Eden Project" err, project. It's set in a future where you've emerged from a buried "ark" to find the world decimated by the impact of an asteroid. Governments banded together to create the Eden Project to repopulate the Earth after a certain amount of time had passed, but for some reason nothing went according to plan and you alighted from your ark early to discover the Earth is still very much functioning, and that surprisingly, humanity has survived (though with more than a few hiccups such as mutation, lawlessness and contamination).
The most striking thing here is the visuals, and the game runs very smoothly on id Tech 5, now walking hand in hand with the Xbox 360, as if they were old friends. The narrative pacing of the gameplay experience is very similar to BioShock, and so works well on console, as it will on PC - it's not a run and gun shooter, though the game's design director, Matt Hooper, is quick to assert that id know their strengths and that the game would maintain a core shooter mechanic, and that nothing would ultimately overshadow that.
"Going into it, we knew our fans would expect a lot and we knew there was a whole new generation of gamers who would also expect a lot," he explained. "So we didn't go into lightly."
While there are clear elements from a lot of the aforementioned games, Rage is very much a first-person shooter first
. There's no XP building, no skill trees or anything like that. Your power-ups come in the form of weapon augmentation and varying ammunition types. You also have a ready supply of gadgets and makeshift weapons you can build once you've gained the blueprint and required items. These are then offered as gameplay perks; abilities beyond simply pulling the trigger and strafing, thus opening up your play options a lot more than in previous id titles.
Of course, there are the driving sections, and your vehicles are like your gadgets and weapons in that you can upgrade them with different tech, but Matt asserts that driving isn't the game's main focus; ultimately all of this is in place to make the player's journey enjoyable and engaging.
True to other RPG-styled games though, Rage offers a quest giving system that employs you to interact with the worlds myriad crazy denizens. We saw a few examples of the different types of characters you'll come across, and you only need to conjure towns like Megaton or Rivet City from Fallout 3 to get a grasp on the sort of exploration and character development you'll engage. It's not all quest giving though, you can also interact with mini-games (represented in our demo with a hologram-based board game as one example), and generally just flesh out the game's story with idle chitchat. There's a typical looting system which opens up exploration a bit as well.
The demo took us to a few different locations. The first was Crazy Joe's shack, which is what you'd expect, a little shack inhabited by a game named Joe, who happens to be crazy. And as soon as we left the shack (after being told to check out the town of Wellspring), we were attacked by crazy mutants. This was pretty awesome though, because we got to see a boomerang-esque throwing blade in work, which decapitated an unsuspecting mutie sitting just outside the door. Damage was procedural, and you could see not only bullet wounds in the mutants, but dynamic bruising of the skin. Death animations looked to be handled by a ragdoll style system, but a lot of the time the cannon fodder just slumped the same way. A lot of this was cool, but it was typical id shooter combat - these guys were really just mindless, running pieces of fleshy target practise.
Along the way to Wellspring after clearing out the mutant trash, we also engaged in some vehicular combat. There's not much to explain here and the instance itself happened in an arena-style clearing (which may or may not be the norm for car combat), but it's what you'd expect it to be. Obviously the more you upgrade your vehicle, the more resilient and powerful it becomes, and there are missions specific to utilising your buggy - but it was all very straight-forward.
At the town of Wellspring, the game really shone. Visually this place looked incredible, with a level of detail very much lacking in a lot of games of this nature. If it's one thing Rage does better than any other shooter out there at the moment, its visuals.
"We wanted to put as much personality into the game as possible, even into the places you visit," says Hooper of the game's art-direction. "We spent a lot of time concepting exactly what we wanted; there's a sort Western/Asian fusion going on here at Wellspring, you know, it's kind of dusty, but we did that for a reason because of where it's situated and that's important with our game."
Moving through the town, which is one of the main hubs for this particular area (how many areas there are, we're not really sure), there's definitely a rich atmosphere and a lot of visual history. Story-telling is clearly going to be handled most competently in the game's rich visuals, and that's a stand-out feature of Wellspring.
Eventually we're given a task of going into the town's guarded and rich water supply, which is being held hostage by a group of bandits threatening to poison it. They've killed all the workers down there, but thankfully we've been given a new ammo type for our crossbow - electrobolts. This is where the BioShock-styled gameplay reared its head as the game moved from open environments to a tiered corridor shooter. Obviously this is a water maintenance area, which is going to come in handy when dishing out electricity - shooting a bolt into a puddle occupied by bandits had the desired electrifying effect. We're told there'll be a lot of different ammo types like this to offer a greater sense of tactical gameplay, and to just give the player enough tools to craft their own play style.
The bandits were better enemies, with stronger AI. They're all nimble and dynamically utilise their immediate surroundings to try and over-power you. If id can keep the enemy types differing like this throughout, they may have finally broken their own shallow mould. This whole quest was very dungeon-esque; definitely not
a flash in the pan. We did eventually move into a different area though, to not only end the demo on a dramatic note, but to also showcase the game's differing art styles between environments.
Dead City was the final place we saw, and it was essentially a decimated city that could have been Sydney for all we know. We ran into another new enemy type here, and were also being completely outnumbered by more mutant cannon-fodder. Action sees you being able to fire from the hip or use ironsights. You can load out your own weapon gadgets such as RCs decked out with an explosive device, or a cool spider-sentry gun that moves of its own free will. You can rebuild these at various building stations provided you have the tools and the know-how which makes them expendable and great for combat.
After a while of fighting off the mutants, a larger, more massive one came out sporting a huge mini-gun. This guy reminded me of the Behemoth mutant from Fallout 3, but after finally killing him, he was far out-shadowed by a suspenseful build up of what could only be steps that were shaking the ground with thumping force; shifting buildings and debris like they were Lego. Eventually the monster reared its head with a roaring scream and the game went black. Awesome.
Rage definitely borrows a lot, but it's slowly building its own identity the more id show off, and I walked out of the theatre feeling pretty happy. the borrowed gameplay devices are devices worth injecting in your own game, and it really was very pretty. If they can balance out gameplay, exploration, construction, driving and telling a solid narrative, they'll have a solid
game on their hands.
Be sure to stay tuned for our video interview with Matt Hooper coming shortly.