I am a ark survivor! A proud child of the late Mother Earth, dispatched into hypersleep to escape the meteor inbound to pummel Gaia. Our deep-buried pod is one of hundreds of such! When we wake we will show that mankind has learnt from the mistakes we made on our original home. We shall spread enlightenment and humility through the stars until the heat death of the universe! I have a spanking new jumpsuit!
I sleep and wake. Over a hundred years have passed while we dreamt. The other colonists seem rather emaciated inside their pods. Life-support seems to have experienced an error. I inspect the wide variety of desiccated corpses that were my crewmates and establish that man’s progress towards galactic oneness has hit another roadblock, one that only I can overcome. I randomly bash buttons on the computer until the hatch pops and stride out manfully into this brave, new world.
I put my velour-clad fists on my manly hips and survey the planet. It looks rather like Earth, but Earth having been hit by a meteor. It’s mainly rocks and craters; worryingly, there seems to be an awful lot of development; derricks, pipes, rusting machinery. Hmm. ‘Someone’ got here first.
I am rapidly introduced to ‘someone’, who jumps on me, chimplike, wailing to a nearby cohort. He’s about to finish me when two shots ring out and they both drop. He introduces himself as a friend, Dan Hagar (wasn’t he the mayor of Metro City?) and gets me into his ramshackle dune buggy for a quick escape. The chaps he shot were from the Ghosts, the local gang of degenerates. Apparently, my Ark jumpsuit marks me as valuable property when sold to the Authority. Oh, brave new world, that has such men in it.
We get back to his home town, Hagarville, passing a bunch of Ghosts on the road. Hagarville is a small guarded compound which seems to be populated by a handful of people, all with the name Hagar, but if they’re related I’m a pope shitting in the woods; one’s pretty as sin, but another looks like his eyes have been put in upside down. Dan asks me to secure the safety of these throwbacks against the Ghosts, who will have found the bodies of the chaps he bulletised. I ponder it.
Instead my first action, as that special type of dick who sees something beautiful and has to break it, is to try to deviate from Rage’s breadcrumbed route. My initial attempt has me turn my new quadbike away from the Ghosts, off into the first of the two other roads open to me; I bounce along the canyon road for a good five seconds before I see a fortified gate and something bright heading my way, rather fast. Seconds later, in an experience that becomes familar to me, I’m flying through the air, blown skyward by the rocket that turned my quadbike into Meccano.
Miraculously surviving the crash, rockets and machine gunning, I walk back to Hagar’s compound, where another quadbike is waiting for me, no questions asked. Again, I ignore the established imperative and drive try to to walk into a intriguing area called ‘the Wasted Garage’. I sneak up and murderise two Wasted gangers who are talking to themselves, but am foiled by a door, which requires a lock-grinder – or ‘key’ as it used to be known. At this stage, the game is looking rather linear, but then this is meant to be tutorial.
I give in and follow Dan’s instructions. Returning to the site of the crash, I find the Ghosts’ compound; the person who decorated it really needs to move away from the skull motif. The base is a series of caves on a cliff-edge, crammed with crap and machinery. And Ghosts. The Ghosts move unpredictably, so it’s rather hard to hit them if you lose track of their animation. I’ve only got a Settler pistol at this stage, so this is a rapid succession of headshots and fist-driven beatings, before I get to the compound of the Ghost Boss.
And taken to the ‘killing room.’
And killed. Which comes as something of a shock.
More of a shock to the Ghost Boss, to be honest. It turns out that the automated Ark suit revival process (where you have to synchronise two crossing circles to restore your health) electrocutes everything in the area immediately round you when you die. Which was lucky!
I head out and infuse the rest of the Ghosts with lead, then head back to Hagarville on my newest trike.
The next series of quests involve another small town (more comparable in size to a large armoured house or caravanserai now I think about it) consisting of the Outrigger family – basically a family of engineers, covered in hats, goggles, dungarees, work boots, and the occasional robot limb – who send me off on quests involving the Wasted gang, who live in a garage in the dam between them and Hagarville. Whereas the Ghosts were agile, the Wasted have a propensity to pepper you with shots and grenades, using the junk in their garages as cover, before rushing and clubbing you en masse.
To get in though, you need to start using the crafting system; basically, you need to grab all the crap that’s lying around and certain combinations make certain items; it’s very MMOlike. Using some cogs and some other crap, I knock up a lock-grinder; these are one-use mechanical lockpicks that you can choose to deploy to get into special rooms or doors. I also get enough cash to buy myself a new gun, a monocular (which turns the basic pistol into an extremely silly low-powered sniper rifle), and a shotgun.
Once inside, I make my way down through the Dam then through a series of rooms that are full of junked cars. Gradually, I acquire all the bits I need to get the battered old jalopy in the Hagarville compound up and running. Reaching the bottom of the dam offices, I have to face off against an armoured car (which I grenade to death, forgetting to try the Krull-style throwing weapon at all), which dies slowly.
With all the parts for the jalopy sorted, I’m handed a sniper rifle and asked to make a supplies run to Wellspring, the nearest large town. I head out in the jalopy, directed the way I got blown up earlier. I stop just outside rocket range, and slowly snipe all the enemies off the fortified gate at the end of the canyon, before driving hell-for-leather to Wellspring.The vehicle handles passably, though I suspect that the drift mechanic works much better on a pad; controlling it on keyboard is just confusing.
Wellspring is a good-sized town from a Western; exactly the sort of ramshackle settler town which is just big enough to feature betrayals galore, but not so big that you don’t know the whole layout after ten minutes wandering, or get bored traversing it. It’s a fully-featured RPG town, and is nicely populated. It’s really worth talking to everyone, as sometimes they have random quests and minigames, which give you bonus cash, items and vehicle kit. Also, while their dialogue is as pedestrian as Olympic speed-walking, their animation, junk-gar design and body-language is creepily good.
The key locations are the offices of the Mayor (who has a frame-breaking Vault-Head Bobblehead on his desk) and the Sherriff, where you can get quests; the garage, where you can select and park your vehicles; the race track, where you unlock racing tokens and new vehicles through time-trials, competitive races and large variety of types; the mechanic, who’ll swap tokens for a huge range of vehicle upgrades; the bar, where you can pick up quests, gossip and play Rage Frenzy, an in-game collectible card game (a bit like Neuroshima Hex crossed with Magic The Gathering); a job board, for all the side-missions they couldn’t cram in elsewhere; a postal service, who’ll pay you for delivering parcels to outposts within time limits; and a merchant, where you can buy and sell clothing, gadgets, components and weaponry.
I try a few missions; a race, which is a multiple-lap effort and allows me to unlock vehicle-miniguns (essential for bar missions and killing enemy vehicles in the outside world) as well as a snazzy iD design for the jalopy; an engineer defence mission, where you have to snipe enemy combatants as they rush an engineer repairing something vital; and a mission in the wilds killing enemy vehicles for bounty (surprisingly difficult, despite the autoaim on the minigun turrets.) Before I know my time is up, and I’m asked to leave.
With the vehicles and wasteland styling, Borderlands is the obvious referent, but the character design and animation makes me think Mass Effect, while the hub Wellspring reminds of the first Stalker or Crusader: No Remorse, packed full of interesting crap to do and people to talk to.
My last act in the game was to be given the option of swapping out my Ark suit for something less likely to get me shot on sight; players get a choice of three outfits; roughneck, fabricator or local; each of which gives me a different bonus.
The dream of intergalactic enlightenment dies when I change my pants.
Rage arrives in the US on October 4th, and EU on October 7th.