And here we were, thinking that an id game might have no multiplayer mode, purely because they'd stubbornly refused to talk about it for years. Non-surprise, non-suckers! At the info-event that led to yesterday's word-splurges about Skyrim, Prey 2 and Rage singleplayer, I also witnessed the first reveal of the semi-free-roaming shooter's other modes. Back to deathmatch classic, or up to new things?
New things! Well, in a fashion. It's not much of surprise to hear that they're working the vehicle combat into its own mode. I guess there's going to be disappointment from people who were hoping for, essentially, Quake III in the Rage engine, but let's remember that didn't work out too well when they did it in Quake IV. Plus there's always Quake Live, right?
Rage's aim is to corner the market on a different kind of combat - homicidal Mario Kart. Combat Rally is its name, and racing around while trying to murder up to five other people is its game. "What we didn't want to do is just a couple of guys fighting and call it an online offering," claims id's Matt Hooper. So the key mode involves trying to hit rally points as quickly as possible, while simultaneously doing the kill or be killed thing. If you've got a rally point in hand and you get murdered, that means bonus points for the murderer. And vice versa if the roles are switched, obviously. The plan, clearly, is to make the driving at least as (if not more) important as the shooting.
Watching it in action, it's high speed and appealing crunchy. The buggies take visible damage from both hits and collisions, getting into a right old state before the inevitable explodey-death. While the rally points provide a course of sorts of the follow, really it's freeform - picking your own targets, going your own way, being a right old bastard. Clearly the accelerator is your primary button, but it's got a handbrake and even air control to adjust landings in there too: this isn't just an FPS with a car skin. Being a better driver's going to make you a better killer too.
Buggies are customisable, via the sort of unlock system that Call of Duty's popularised. Mines, armour restore and homing missiles are what I managed to scribble down, but there seems to be a clutch of aesthetic tweaks too. The mines appeared to be a major part of the carnage in the matches I watched - scattered all over the place, flinging buggies all over the shop, deftly ensuring that this was no race of gentlemen but a constant maelstrom of explosion and confusion. id don't do genteel.
Meantime, the backdrops to the rallies are vast and looming - buildings made apparently from ruined spaceships standing vertically, yawning canyons, trashed machinery... id Tech 5 might not be as visually next-step as prior Carmack-tech has been, but it's certainly at home with large, detailed words. Alas, I was watching this on boohissXbox360, the un-anti-aliased 720p resolution of which didn't do the game too many favours (the buggies' edges looked pretty fuzzy and pixellated), but given how much detail, colour and motion was visible nonetheless, it was clear that the PC's superior sharpness would offer something pretty damned tasty. In fact, if you click the top screenshot to see the full version, you'll get a taste of how it should look on PC, presumably they've not bullshotted too hard.
As well as the collect'n'kill mode, there's also straight vehicular deathmatch (which I imagine will prove rather popular) and a more challenging rally mode that requires you to collect three points before you can score. I guess getting killed when you've got two in the bank is a great way to activate a scream of terrible fury. Rage, if you will. Finally, we have an answer.
I should also mention that, in the build we saw, a very familiar voice made an appearance. Which voice? This voice:
(Couldn't find a straight video of the Quake III announcer, but this is remarkable in its own way).
Alas, the appearance of ol' steel-lungs, actually an id sound engineer, is only placeholder for now. id have hired a voice pro to record some lines, but they're not committed to using him. Right now, they're trying to decide if it fits the game or if - please! - they use the classic Quake announcer after all. Please!
So that's one multiplayer mode. I don't entirely buy id's claims that it's "uniquely Rage", but slick, crazed vehicle combat is something there's never quite enough of. Watching it, it seems to have made a good fist of finding the middleground between shooting and driving and I'm confident I could drop in and have a good time despite generally finding online manshoots a bit of a headache. I'm glad it's there - it would have been a major oversight for Rage not to have it.
What I'm even more glad of, though, is the co-op mode. This is a series of bonus two-player missions that entwine with but doesn't replace the main singleplayer narrative. Essentially, Legends of the Wasteland (for that is its name) is a prequel to the main campaign - you'll delve into and setup situations that you'll encounter in singleplayer. For instance, clearing the 'orrible Shrouded Clan out of the battered town of Wellspring. There are "at least" eight of these missions, all linked to the main campaign, but are never necessary for understanding what's going on. They just fill in a little 'how did that happen, then?' backstory for those who care, plus offer the opportunity to revisit key locations from a different perspective.
Largely, it's very much akin to the main Rage game, but with two players present clearly the stakes can get a bit sillier. The screen is messy with enemies, as opposed to the relatively slim on-screen numbers in singleplayer. If your chum goes down (which he will, often), you can get him on his feet again by hitting the Use key - this in turn slams some agonising-looking electro-jolt gizmo into him. Also subtly different to the main game is that you have specific objectives rather than relative choice of missions. Stuff like disarming bombs before a timer runs down, or blasting through a warren of enemies to find valves that restore water to the area. It seems to have a little more high-speed desperation than the singleplayer campaign; a straight action vignette rather than a sprawling odyssey.
Oh, and id also announced some pre-order exclusive weapons, armour, buggy designs and bonus linear, corridor missions as part of a special 'Anarchy Edition' of the game. Do you want me to write about those? I don't want to write about those. I'm a grumpy old man perhaps, but I really did prefer it when I could sit down to play a game without worrying that I was missing out on something because I hadn't bought it in a particular way.
That sort of thing aside, I'm absolutely confident in saying that, unless something goes terribly wrong, Rage looks to be the best id game since Quake III. It might not be the sort of wheel-reinvention they so regularly demonstrated in their earlier years, but it seems to have a confident, almost cocky understanding of what makes a pretty damned good wheel in 2011.