It’s more complicated than I’d suspected. But then I’d suspected something about as complicated as pouring milk into a glass, going on recent id form. The result is something that both does and doesn’t feel like an id game – it’s got the almost slippery high-speed movement on their pre-Doom 3 titles, it’s got a certain tangible familiarity to weapon-faves such as shotguns and machineguns, it’s got scampering mutant-monsters that seem to pop out nowhere and swipe at your back. It’s also got wide-open spaces, a crafting system, puzzles of a sort, optional objectives and freeform roaming. It’s id but it idn’t.
Rage has been an awful long time coming, which doesn’t entirely help my already confused feelings about it when finally, after so many years, I get to sit down and play the thing. Borderlands and Bioshock having already come and gone means significant elements of what it’s trying to do (primarily racing’n’shooting and mix’n’match combat style) don’t arrive with the sound and fury they might have done a couple of years ago. At the same time, there’s a real relief to playing something that isn’t entirely stupid, given all the Call of Duties and call of Duty-likes we’ve had to endure over the last couple of years. Rage’s main interest is clearly in being a really well put-together shooter, rather than in being an event game, as has been the case in the past. This is a different id, one that isn’t riding on the coat-tails of its legacy or frothing about crazy promises of a new age it can’t really live up to. This is an id that simply wants to make a very good game, and I’d say they’re on course to do that.
If there’s a familiarity to spending a mission scoping through cramped, crumbling indoor spaces and shooting pop-up monsters, it’s offset by being able, to some extent, pick which mission and when you play it, and by a far greater emphasis on resource management. Ammo is on the scarce side, and must be looted from bodies or occasional pick-ups; speciality ammo such as electrified shotgun shells is even scarcer. You could just burn it as soon as you get it, but as the fights ramp up you’re going to regret it. Especially when the mutants are replaced by The Authority, a heavily-armed, mysterious, well, authority who are up to no good in this post-asteroid strike Earth. They may have something to do with the mutants, it’s implied, and they’re certainly not happy about an Ark survivor (that’s you) wandering around and nosing into their business.
From the masks to the static-garbled radio chatter (and to the fact that the first section with ’em in I’m shown is an assault on a prison), it’s very hard not to think of Half-Life 2’s Combine when you see Authority goons, but they’re a whole lot harder to take down than those City 17’s relatively frail soldier-bullies. They’re chucking some manner of laser bolts all over the place, they’re protected with energy shields and they generally seem a whole lot more on the ball about killing you and not being killed by you than the ten-a-penny mutants. They’re also backed up by recharge points that teleport in reinforcements until you can get close enough to destroy ’em. That’s why you should be hanging on to an arsenal of ultra-ammo. The mind-control bolt from your crossbow-thing, for instance – grabbing the psychic puppet strings of one of these armoured mystery men, and walking him away from his mates as he staggers like a drunk, eventually appearing to explode. failing that, if you’ve got one to hand you could steer an explosive remote control car over to a pack of them. Does the job nicely, that.
If you don’t have one to hand, you could build one. As well as ammo, Rage’s world features a vast scattering of collectable components, which can in turn be assembled into various tools and temporary weapons. The spider-bots are probably the most instantly entertaining, scuttling across the floor and stabbing their spike-like robotic legs into the chest of anything unfortunate enough to get in the way. Bandages are less exciting. I don’t think anyone cares about bandages in anything, apart from Ian Bandage, creator of the bandage.
Then there’s the lock grinder, a one-shot item which can deal with some of those damnable locked doors that are inevitably untroubled by your vast array of firepower. Some doors are necessary for progression, but some simply guard secret stashes. So it’s a gamble – you might have a lock grinder, or enough of the parts necessary to build one. Those are in themselves precious, however, so do you definitely want to spend them on what might just turn out to be some boggo bullets? Like I say, Rage’s core play is very much in the id paradigm, but there’s just that little bit more complexity and reasoning to it.
Non-murderous NPCs play a major part too, with the prison break mission seeing you accompanied by the robo-legged leader of the resistance. It’s loosely an escort quest, with you defending the chap from the Authority while he tinkers with security systems, but he’s not entirely unengaged in the fight and is excellently animated – for instance, bashing open a storage crate to grab a weapon, performing dramatic slides into cover. Alyx he’s not, but it’s a world away from the lonely trudging of Doom 3 and Quake IV. As is the sudden arrival of a huge, manta raylike Authority airship, dropping soldiers with jetpacks around me. It’s big and intense and modern – “it’s a maximalist sci-fi game”, my notes at this point read. “It’s chasing the extremes, not the nuances. It looks, feels very expensive.” That’s what past-me wrote about four days ago, and who am I to argue with that guy?
Rage is due for release on September 13 this year. More to come on Rage shortly- specifically, all about multiplayer.