Developed by id and published by Bethesda, it is fair to say that RAGE has a fair amount of pedigree behind it; coupled with its usage of id's new 'id Tech 5' engine, you can see why excitement has been building to crescendo upon its imminent release in less than two weeks' time. With id's knowledge of shooters, and Bethesda's mastery of exploratory worlds, it was hard to see how this would fail. This in mind, there was only likely to be one outcome:
It is brilliant; simply brilliant.
Based in a post-apocalyptic world with clear nods to the likes of Mad Max 2, Fallout and in particular the recent Borderlands, there is a real roughness to the environment, characters and engine that is remarkable and utterly charming. The plains are dusty, the interiors murky, and the faces belie a brutal will to survive. And my, is this game brutal; it is a miracle that it has only been given a 15-rated certificate (UK). Apparently, according to Bethesda's PR man at the event, it is due to the cartoony (ish) nature of the game, as opposed to the themes of war in Battlefield 3 and the like, safely nestled away in the over-18s area of the Eurogamer site.
However, this is one gory game; bodies are obliterated by grenades, stomachs ripped open by shotgun shells, and heads slashed from the stump by the boomerang-esque Wingstick, one of the best original weapons in recent years. Combat is tactical and brutal; every hit feels like a hit, unlike other games where it feels like you are spitting bubbles at your victims (take note Metro 2033). Enemies aren't always smart, depending on the faction you happen to be fighting against. This is a nice, deliberate quirk; they are stupid because they themselves, as characters, are stupid, not because the AI has been badly designed.
Still, a room full of meatheads with machine-guns can cause anybody a problem, which is where the special weapons come in. These range from the RC Bomb Car (exactly what you would imagine) to the awesome hallucinogenic cross-bow bolts, which, when fired at an organic target, allow you to control that target for a few seconds, steering them into their comrades and self-detonating, blowing them all up. Each hit is satisfying, whilst each weapon offers variety in approach and usage.
Apparently, each figure within the game has been designed to have unique reactions and methods of battle, some hiding, some charging, some just standing in the open acting as a bullet-sponge. Each also has individual physics attached to them, meaning a body-spinning hit from the shotgun affects the henchmen differently (differently=gruesomely).
When the blows become too much, and your character receives one too many bullets, then another of RAGE's original features comes into play; self-ressuscitation. First, you must tap the triggers (LT + RT) as fast as possible to get the heart-pumping, then a metronomic meter appears, which requires taps in tandem from the triggers (I played the 360 version) on certain points to fully revive you. The reward is an electric shock to all those nearby; a particularly nasty surprise to the bandit from the Wasted Clan (check out the game's Wiki for more info) who was trying to steal my boot.
The id Tech 5 engine is a real highlight of the package; there is a real chunkiness and solidity which makes the game a real joy to play, whether in combat, exploring, item-gathering or driving. I let out a squeal of delight when, approaching a curb too quickly, my character was launched from his quadbike, spiralling across the dirt like an extra from Flatout. The buggies and other vehicles handle well; not super-realistically, but they don't need to.
Each is fun and fast, and one is quickly punished for not having one in getting from A to B, as I was; instead of simply shooting the henchmen gathered around my hard-earned buggy, I dispatched them with a well-aimed grenade, sending them and my prize over a cliff. The subsequent wrenchingly long walk to the next objective meant I wasn't likely to repeat such over-zealousness again. Vehicles are precious things in the post-apocalyptic world, and should be treated with suitable care.
RAGE, at its absolute core, is just about having fun. For all the sci-fi based, socially disturbing plot, the fancy mechanics, the tech and the well thought out design and style, it is this sense of over-the-top, addictively escapist fun. Remembering my brief stint on the game, and writing this now, I am smiling joyfully, reminding myself of what a great time I had with it; there are not many games you can say that about.
All that without even getting a whiff of the multiplayer or racing aspects. Forget Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3; with 20+ hours of visceral, fun gameplay, in a stunning and characterful world, this is your shooter of the year right here.
RAGE is out on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on the 7th October 2011 in Europe and the 4th October 2011 in the US.