A Surprising Hour With Rage

By Alec Meer on August 23rd, 2011 at 6:00 pm.

No, that's not the one I fancied

While Dishonored was the best thing I saw at Gamescom by a long shot, bagging the bonus invisible award of ‘most pleasant surprise’ was id’s soon-to-be-released Rage. I feel like I’ve been seeing Rage forever by this point – so many trailers, so many preview events, even some hands-on time. And I’ve always thought of it as this fast, dumb, relentless, obvious thing – which, it transpires, is because I’ve always been shown it as if it is. I’ve been shown or dropped straight into fighting, rather than approaching the game at the pace it’s designed to play at or nosing at the world it’s built. Now, I feel completely different about it.

At Gamescom, I played the first hour of the game by myself, at my own speed (and, for the first time personally, on PC. It looks splendid at high resolutions, and such a visual boost from DXHR, which I’d been playing just a couple of days previously). This means I’m looking at the same stuff Dan Gril did for us a couple of weeks back, only he played for a bit longer. So, sorry about that – however, there is, quite simply, some stuff I want to say about the game myself.

It’s stopped being An id Game to me now, and in an entirely positive way. Sure, the shooting is fast-paced and meaty and it’s got a fairly high-tech engine, but it’s very much become Rage: its own game rather than Rage: another id game to me. The first hour is admittedly fairly linear, as it’s teaching you the ropes, but it does a bloody good job of not feeling linear. Hanging around the first settlement, run by the small Hagar clan, my main interest was not in running off to shoot some out-of-town bandits but in exploring what had been built in this survivor hamlet, seeing as I was free to do so at my leisure. Lead Hagar, Dan, voiced either by Michael Ironside or someone who can do a note-perfect impression of him (update: oh, it’s John Goodman. Whoops!), is a beautifully-animated man of equal parts tough gruffness and sad resignation. He could have been the generic veteran soldier character, but instead he looks and sounds increasingly tired and worried, his initial bravado when he rescues you from a bandit attack subsiding to something more slump-shouldered when his own settlement suffers a raid and he doesn’t feel he can do anything about it.

I have no idea if the game can sustain it, but the other characters in Hagar’s settlement were equally well-sketched. Alas, I don’t have screenshots of them – all the pictures here are from other areas, other people, and most importantly they’re not in motion, with all those tiny animations that effectively masked the fact they were generally rooted to the spot. Another Hagar, a bald, middle-aged chap with embarrassingly sticky-out ears is fascinatingly, but most importantly humanly ugly. Halek Hagar runs the poky shop, characterised by mutton chops, kindly eyes and a convincing smile. Then there’s Loosum Hagar, a 20-something woman.

I… I don’t usually do this sort of thing. But… Well… God, this is embarrassing. I went back for a second and then third look at her. Because… well… because she was kinda cute. Oh no! I’ve admitted it. Honestly, I don’t tend to go in for fancying polygons; never entirely understood it. But there’s something about Loosum… Fortunately, project lead Tim Willits, when I chatted to him later, confessed that he thought the same thing, so at least I’m not the only one feeling funny about someone who doesn’t exist.

I didn’t think she was cute because she had a bare navel or a pneumatic cleavage, though Rage has not proved itself immune to such tawdriness. Loosum was incongruously glamorous for the setting and wasn’t dressed at all appropriately for desert survival (so you’ve armoured your shoulders but you’re wearing hotpants? Really?), which is always a source of annoyance, but at least she hadn’t just fallen right out of a Jim Lee comic: she looked fairly, well, possible. My silly thought was entirely and only because of her face. It is a lovely face, and that is both because it is a very well-animated face with a nice smile, and because it is an imperfect face. A hint of a kink in the nose, a ever so slightly wonky smile, a smudge of dirt or dust here and there. A person’s face, not an eerily symmetrical, ultimately characterless, plastic porn star videogame face. Imperfection, it transpires, is a great to way to escape the uncanny valley, at least a bit, and especially when paired with what seems to be top-flight facial animation. The same odd magnetism is true of the male characters too, though I wasn’t being so creepy about them: they’ve got small things wrong with them, like those daftly protruding ears, and that makes me believe in them that much more.

These characters also did a fine a job of not blantantly or robotically declaring their purpose in the game. Loosum is there to teach you how to throw wingsticks, the tri-bladed boomerang weapon. There’s no glowing icon on her to denote she has this or any such purpose, and if you wander up to to her she’ll greet you wryly before you do anything. It’s not until you press ‘use’ that she’ll segue into exposition mode and offer you the wingstick mini-mission, and even then she does it by chatting away casually; only then does a little screen full of text saying exactly what you’ve been asked to do and what you’ll get for it pop up. It’s such a small thing, that initial approach dialogue, but it makes such a difference. Even in Human Revolution, I could circle around major characters I’d been sent to speak to, even plunge from four storeys up to land spectacularly in front of them, and they wouldn’t so much as blink. Not until I pressed use. Little things like that, when a character seems aware of your presence, they make the world seem a bit more alive, not simply waiting for you to tell it what to do.

Then I headed off on some kill missions, nobbled some bandits, made my way back, and trekked to another small settlement, curious about what I’d find. There, too, the attention to character detail and the measured pace of looking around meant soaking it in was such a pleasant surprise. An old lady, Janus Outrigger, perhaps leaning towards the Kindly Grandmother stereotype somewhat, but she was so convincing in it – from the high-detail face to the frail body language. Detail like her spectacles being made of two different pairs, one red, one blue, taped together, did a far better job of explaining what kind of world this was than any amount of exposition could have done. Everyone I meet seems so distinctive, not the generic wasteland people you might expect. They all have their own faces, their own demeanours. Yeah, you can’t do much with them outside of a quick chat, but their presence and their palpable there -ness makes this seem like so much more than a desert of blood-in-waiting. These settlements are places I want to hang around, savouring their character designs. Shooting bandits? Well, that seems fine. It’s the context for it that’s mattering to me.

That’s all I’ve got to say on top of Gril’s piece, to be honest. It’s a side of Rage I hadn’t seen before, a surprising and artful layer of non-violent class and finesse I’ve never experienced in an id game in the past, and I’m so looking forward to observing more of it in the larger settlements the full game offers. Of course, it could just turn into a mindless shootfest later on, but I really am thinking this is the moment when id finally grow up.

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85 Comments »

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  1. nootron says:

    Alec, you’re one step away from Pillow Girlfriend territory. Be wary!

    • Ruffian says:

      First, just let me say I looove RPS, but what the hell’s up with all the spambots findin their way in here lately? Just didn’t seem like they were in every single post like a week ago.
      But I digress to what I really wanted to chime in about, “You’re ruining DXHR for me!!”
      lol. not really but I suppose I’d better go give RAGE another looksee sometime in the near future.
      Awesome piece.

  2. BloatedGuppy says:

    All that and no Loosum screenshots? I have to Google her myself? For shame. For SHAME.

  3. Premium User Badge

    frymaster says:

    Quake3 was a brilliant multiplayer game but (obviously) hopeless as single player. imo, doom3 was little more than a tech demo. It sounds like, from a single player perspective, this will be interesting :D

    In between serious sam, deus ex, rage, and x:rebirth, among others, it’s looking like a good year for games, although brink was wasted potential

    • skinlo says:

      I would!

    • Jesse L says:

      She looks like a pretty standard game girl here.

    • TsunamiWombat says:

      It’s in the eye’s my fine friend, her eye’s and her face.

    • Inigo says:

      “Please help. Bandits have stolen my pants.”

    • gwathdring says:

      I am loving the faces and expressions in this game. Every character screen shot I see impresses me. Sure her outfit is pretty standard fare, but that’s not what disappointed me. Every male character and enemy I’ve seen so far has a lot of detail in the musculature and skin and posture. Check this one out: http://images.totalgamingnetwork.com/images/rage2–screenshot.jpg

      But this girl? Her legs, torso and arms are flat, lifeless, hairless, veinless, perfectly sculpted and uninteresting. At the least, I can see how her face and posture have character–even if it isn’t an especially new character in gaming.

    • BatmanBaggins says:

      I guess I’d need to see her in motion. She does look like kind of a standard video game chick in that picture, and fairly flawless.

    • Strangineer says:

      I’d say most women my age that I hang out with have legs and bellies like that. Doesn’t look unrealistic to me. Although I do live in Sweden.

    • Vagrant says:

      It’s Tank Girl!

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      I’d RAGE on her :D

    • gwathdring says:

      @Vagrant

      Huh. Had to look that one up. Never heard of Tank Girl before.

      @Strangineer

      But most women your age don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world where heavy lifting and weapons usage is the norm for people of either gender. True, they probably shouldn’t look beefy like some of the men because women build definition differently and less easily at equal strength-to-weight ratios. And it’s also heavily stylized, in that rich more-realistic-than-realistic-graphics* kind of way I’m so in love with (like Alec was going on about with the ears and such … I’m a sucker for character styles like this). And I can see how stylized sexy-youth would give you something like this. But it’s such a typical look for a video game character that it stands out to me among so many more interesting character models.

      Edit: *Larger than life. That’s a good word for it.

      Edit again: Alec, I think it’s less that she’s especially different from other female game characters and more that you’ve finally found the perfect storm of character quirks, features and surroundings that piqued your interest. I find myself sneaking guilty glances at characters in a couple of games … and for me it’s a combination of how I perceive my own character and the NPC’s personality that builds the attraction narrative in my head. Of course, sometimes my character is just me transposed into Post-Apocalyptia or whatnot. But not always. Hell, it’s happened once or twice with male characters in games where I’m playing a woman. Yay for role playing and intriguing characters!

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      @ Vagrant

      Ah, Tank Girl. Classic so bad it’s absolute genius territory there.

    • McDan says:

      Well that’s given me a RAGEing erection.

      *sigh* I’m going to die alone.

      Also yes tank girl!

    • Tei says:

      Waifu simulator.

    • Nallen says:

      Oh ffs, why is she is she in a bikini. Again. I had some hopes, Meer.

    • JackShandy says:

      I don’t really see the imperfections. Maybe if you push your screen right in her face, breathing heavily, you can see pores and things.

    • Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

      I’m not seeing it. Generic game girl.

      Tom Willits probably thinks you’re some sort of weirdo now. How does that make you feel?

  4. povu says:

    We get it, you played DXHR. Damn it. :P

  5. McDan says:

    Sounds excellent, for me I want it to be about halfway between fallout 3 and bordelands in terms of combat, talking and general fun-ness.

  6. Askeladd says:

    So many good games I’ll have to play. They won’t let me down and break my heart will they?

  7. Dontdrop says:

    Lovely write up, really interested in the game now. I’ve always thought the same about the game’s PR machine and glad to see that the game may be able to convey a lot of little beautiful story stuff through just the characters and their mannerisms.

  8. wccrawford says:

    “It’s not until you press ‘use’ that she’ll offer you the wingstick mini-mission,”

    “and they wouldn’t so much as blink. Not until I pressed use.”

    You DID have to press use to get her to speak. She acts just like the DEHR NPCs you’re complaining about.

    • Askeladd says:

      How do you suppose to solve that design flaw?
      UI?
      Scripts?
      Cables that we plug into our heads, so we dont need to press E? Instead we will think of pressing E.

    • Monkeh says:

      @Askeladd: Characters standing around can still talk or do stuff other than standing still, saying nothing and waiting for you to press E.

    • YogSo says:

      Let’s see if we can solve this impenetrable mystery, wccrawford:

      (…) if you wander up to to her she’ll greet you wryly. It’s not until you press ‘use’ that she’ll offer you the wingstick mini-mission.

      In Human Revolution, I could circle around major characters I’d been sent to speak to, even plunge from four storeys up to land spectacularly in front of them, and they wouldn’t so much as blink. Not until I pressed use.

      And so, reading comprehension has saved the day again! Thanks, reading comprehension! Thrension!

    • gwathdring says:

      @wccrawford

      I think the main point is that she greets you when you walk by, but doesn’t automatically give you the quest when you approach. I’m a bit spoiled by Bethesda games, though, where everyone says hello to you while going about their daily business, and quests are relegated to dialog trees. So in that frame of reference, both sound pretty similar. But compared to the average shooter … or just Rage’s pedigreee, even, it is quite the change and quite refreshing. It’s not a scripted conversation, and there’s a bit of flavor before you push-to-talk.

    • Inigo says:

      I think the main point is that she greets you when you walk by, but doesn’t automatically give you the quest when you approach.

      I hate to bring up “Borderlands” again, but…

    • Alec Meer says:

      I’m not at all claiming it’s a novel thing or even an important thing – it’s not, it’s just an incidental design tic I appreciated. Just mentioning it as one of the multiple subtle layers/details they’ve put in to help make these characters/this world more real. A pleasant surprise, given what I thought this game was and the games which preceded it.

    • Vagrant says:

      Honestly we should all just be excited that there’s people who you interact with sans-bullets in an FPS. It’s only taken 20 years. Id’s innovated again!

      Also, this is why GTA4 is an amazing game, despite being not a great game. If you fall 4 stories, bystander walking down the street will say, ‘dayum!’ or some such.

    • Bilbo says:

      Guess we’re pretending Half-Life didn’t happen then, vag

    • Eclipse says:

      @Vagrant Strife: Quest for Sigil did it just after Doom 1, and a lot of other FPS had NPCs even before Half-Life 1, Half-Life modernized the concept (they used to really look at you, talk to you passing by and so on)

  9. jokomul says:

    My mind is already preparing for this game to blow it.

  10. Donjo says:

    So many games I’m looking forward to…. don’t know what to do with DX:HR at the moment though… college or social life is going to suffer. Probably social life, it’s overrated anyway.

  11. Shortwave says:

    I felt my geek level increasing just reading you swoon over this cyber lady, LOL.
    Can’t wait to meet her. HAHA, or see the fan drawings.. /me coughs

    Honestly, I’m very excited for this game increasingly and Carmack’s talk the other week was really cool.
    Respect.

    I can’t wait to see how this game will run on the AMD Mobile APU’s.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    Since Alex brought it up – I admit having a thing for Dan Hagar. Very woof.

    The character design in this game does look great so far.

    Also, to think, it wasn’t long ago I was bemoaning it seemed we would never see smart storydriven FPS games again, and suddenly we get Fallout:NV, DX:HR, Bioshock:Infinite,Dishonored, this game…

  13. ResonanceCascade says:

    I was kinda hoping it would just be an id game, but I’ll take this too!

  14. fenriz says:

    I would really like to support this article, but this prooves once again that the only good things about most of today’s videogames have nothing to do with videogaming, more like just video’ing.

    all these immersion-helping things do nought but make up for the lack of good interactivity.

    Namely, freedom to choose. Shorter namely, DXHR

  15. Khemm says:

    People who got their hands on the PC version have reported HIDEOUSLY ugly, low-res textures that make the ones in Doom 3 look like pieces of art. If that’s true and the PC build was running at maxed settings – we don’t know that for sure – then I seriously hate the megatexture technology already.

  16. AdrianWerner says:

    I’ve played Rage on PC for about an hour at gamescom and it was fun, but the graphics were hugely dissapointing. The game was simply ugly…low res textures, aliasing that can cut your eyes and awfuly grainy graphics. But I honestly expect they simply set it up to be indentical with 360 version. The reason why i suspect that is that after I was done with the game I walked to the other side of the room where people were playing 360 version and it looked identical to PC one, including the resolution.

    • Khemm says:

      That’s exactly what I heard… I hope you’re right they made it ugly on purpose, but still… why would anyone want to do that as opposed to showing the game at its best?

    • AdrianWerner says:

      @Khemm
      “why would anyone want to do that as opposed to showing the game at its best?”

      Why? So that later on people like me won’t write “360 version looked vastly inferior compared to PC one) in their previews :) Because for id and Bethesda console versions are more important than PC one.

    • ulix says:

      Resolution on the Gamescom PCs was 1650 x 1050, no way the console version was anything higher than 1280 x 720. I checked the resolution myself in the options menu.

      And while the textures where quite low-res when looked at from a close distance, the art-style and design of this game is absolutely fantastic.

  17. thesmileman says:

    I played it on the PC at Quakecon for over an hour and the textures were barely okay. My only hope is that they had the graphics scaled back to match the xbox version which was right next to it. Texture pop in was a huge issue especially with close up cover objects. I was in cover for about 10 seconds and all of the sudden the texture of the wall I was hiding behind popped in. That right it took 10 seconds for a texture on the foremost object in the scene to load! I had similar problems in a number of places but overall it seemed fairly nice but more of the quality of an indie title that what I was expecting.

    • ulix says:

      While I wasn’t convinced by the textures in my 20 minute play of the PC version at Gamescom, the world- and art-design were absolutely amazing, and won me over instantly.

      Even without high-res textures, this could shape up to be the best looking (PC) game of 2011.

    • thesmileman says:

      Don’t get me wrong the game seems like it does have really good art direction and I believe it will be great, I was just commenting about the textures. There is a reason people haven’t used clipmapping much except in the simulation sector.

  18. negativedge says:

    uggghhhh

    look at how sophisticated I am, I play games for peace and to fall in love with girls. call me nuts, but saying it “isn’t like an id game” is a huge downer for me.

    • Prime says:

      Putting the ‘negative’ into ‘negativeedge’…

      Maybe Rage will surprise you as well. Give it a chance?

    • edgeblend says:

      Prime did you not see the sign;

      “please do not feed the troll”.

      Just ignore it and it might go away.

  19. Xiyng says:

    The more I learn about this game, the more I want it. Too bad even retail copies require Steam, I’m not paying full price for a game that’s controlled by some company instead of me. In fact, I’m not paying very much at all, in all likelihood I’ll buy it only once I can get it for less than 5€ on a Steam sale or something.

    • Xiyng says:

      On a totally unrelated note, I really love how on this site I can say something about Steam that’s not “I love Steam” without someone trying to convince me otherwise.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      But you HAVE to like Steam. You’re a stupid head if you don’t. And your mom smells.

      That better?

    • Xiyng says:

      Yeah, that’s better.

      lol

  20. Pinkables says:

    As a life long id fanatic with apprehensions about this game, i was really happy to read this article. Thank you.

  21. Bilbo says:

    Baldy in screenshot 4 actually looks a bit like a person. The others, not so much. They look cool, but I guess you need to see it in motion for them to be convincing.

    I’m steadily coming around to the idea that Rage might not suck, and this was an interesting preview. I think sometimes studios are their own worst enemies when it comes to showing off their game; they live and breathe it, so a lot of the clever stuff they’ve established becomes a bit passé, and then when a third party wants to have a look they overthink what it is that person will want to see when in actual fact they’d be a lot more impressed if they were allowed to simply immerse themselves in the game at their own pace.

    • Jake says:

      Yeah, the other characters all look great but almost like caricatures while the guy in the last screen shot looks really impressive. I’m wondering if maybe the lighting in that shot helps.

    • Bilbo says:

      Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.

  22. elnalter says:

    i don’t think she’s that sexualized, i see girls wearing shorts like that all the time in Arizona. if a guy could get away with it we’d be wearing hot pants in hot weather, but hairy thighs…bleh

    still, im not buying the game until i get to demo it. im not supporting that business model, sorry Id

    • Bilbo says:

      You make a DAMN good point. You’d think devs with as much PC pedigree as id would cover the spread when it comes to essentials like demos

    • gwathdring says:

      She’s not over-sexualized. But she certainly isn’t understated or especially unusual either. I’d have to hear the dialog and watch the animations to know if she manages to be interesting despite this.

      I agree though, the outfit is certainly an improvement over loads of games–there’s no spilling cleavage and the shorts are longer than a lot of the ones I saw in high school and while visiting a friend in San Diego last summer.

      Also HELL YES. Demos are essential. Absolutely essential. Until I can rent a PC game for the same price I can rent a console title or a movie, I expect demos.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Sod Arizona, I saw three girls wearing shorter shorts than that on the Falkirk-Edinburgh train this morning.

      Admittedly, they were also wearing wellies and rain jackets.

    • bill says:

      I once saw a girl with longer shorts than that in tokyo – but i was so surprised I forgot to take a picture to commemorate the moment! ;-)

    • elnalter says:

      maybe id will add kinect feature to it so alec can hold hands with her!

    • celewign says:

      we can always consider alyx vance from half life 2… a tiny tiny bit sexy (little bit of belly) but you only really like her after you’ve been with her for an hour or so.

  23. andrewdoull says:

    I think you’ll find that megatexture technology will pretty much mean that they can’t release a demo, since it’ll be impossible to cut down the amount of world they can offer (by design).

  24. Turin Turambar says:

    I think this is going to be a very detailed and polished game in stuff like that, the npcs and the towns. Why? Well, after six fucking years developing the game the artists had time to do their work perfectly!

  25. Angel Dust says:

    I was sure the shooting was going to be meaty, the art direction & design fabulous, the crafting & driving additions welcome but now it seems they have even got the story & characters down*? This was already my most anticipated game of the year (sorry, DE:HR) but now I’m really excited!

    * Now, when I say ‘down’, I don’t mean what we’ve got here is a narrative experience to rival the best of literature but sometimes I like a bit of pulp and while games traffic in pulp pretty much exclusively, they populate it with bland, lifeless characters. Sounds like RAGE has addressed this issue.

  26. Ultra Superior says:

    This is good.

  27. Rii says:

    I’ve long thought that Rage was going to grind the faces of its detractors into the dust. Roll on id.

  28. FuzzieBoy says:

    I have to choose between Battlefield 3 and this to pre-order… every single time I think I’ve made up my mind, I see an article about the other game, and I’m like “Ooh, I want THAT one!”… I mean, battlefield 3 looks great (not talking about graphics, I mean the actual game), but it looks extremily similar to bad company 2, which I already have, and rage looks amazing too… I guess the only way to pick’s gunna be pre-order bonuses, and BF3 wins on that, ’cause of the free maps… BUT I STILL WANT RAGE :(

  29. ZephyrSB says:

    I felt a bit of buyer’s remorse after pre-ordering this just to reduce the price of the recent Quakecon megapack on Steam (effectively pre-ordering this for less than £10). Upto then, I thought much as you did: a good looking id game, but not something to rush out to get.

    Every feature since has managed to wear away at that remorse though, and it’s really beginning to sound like a FPS I can enjoy (the last ones being Borderlands and…ummm…Half-Life 2?).

    • celewign says:

      If you liked Borderlands and HL2 this is supposed to be right up your alley.

  30. MadTinkerer says:

    WOW. I thought for sure someone would point out the first thing I thought. Really? All these comments and I’m the first to realize it? Well okay, here we go:

    After all this time.

    Over a decade and a half later!

    Finally,

    at long, long last,

    we can talk to the monsters.

  31. Wooly Wugga Wugga says:

    “a surprising and artful layer of non-violent class and finesse” have you forgotten the intro to Doom 3 where the camera tracks that supply ship? There was some finesse and class right there.

  32. Shooop says:

    Sounds good so far. Might be the first shooter of 2011 actually worth anything since EA has decided to go out of its way to embed its head so far up its ass it’s creating a paradox.

  33. redstagl says:

    RAGE look’s better the more I watch and read about it. I love how subtle the NPC’s are instead of a ! or icon that say “THIS IS A QUEST”.

    I bought and played every id game, but have never been more excited outside of Quake 3 for one of their games.

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  35. Adam says:

    God, this game has got me super excited for sure.