RAGE – E3 Preview

id Software is already legendary as a game developer for all their work on the Doom franchise, so there are high expectations for their new IP, RAGE. While still a FPS in every sense, RAGE offers so much more, and should keep fans busy for a very long time.

Easily the longest playable demo at E3 this year, RAGE gave me the opportunity to play through six missions, which in total took an hour and a half to get through. I’m really glad I managed to have the time to play the entirety of what they offered – every bit of it was exhilarating. While the missions I played were entered via a selectable menu for the purposes of the demo, I’m told that all the quests will be found by speaking with NPCs in the world, and then driving to them. The first mission was a good example of this, where we start out in a derelict town with about four people in it. Speaking with one of them gives you your dunebuggy quest, while speaking with another will teach you how to use wingsticks, the boomerang like gadgets that are great for lopping heads off. Wingsticks are just one of the many interesting gadgets you’ll use throughout RAGE, and these are particularly fun for their ricochet effects, slight homing abilities, and trying to catch them on their return. Wingsticks sometimes break, but if you manage to lodge one directly in an enemy’s head you can run up and retrieve them quick before they break.

To make our way out to the scrap yard where the buggy parts are located we take control of an ATV, one of the many vehicles that are used plentifully throughout RAGE. It’s the most basic of the vehicles offered, with no weapons or armor to speak of, but it handles easily and feels right as it dips and bounces over the bumps in the road. When we arrive at the scrapyard we get to what ID is known for being good at: the shooting. Our initial loadout includes a pistol with a scope on it, an assault shotgun, a basic combat rifle, and your fists. Each weapon (except your fists) can be loaded with various types of ammo for each situation, but since this is early in the game our pistol is the only one with an alternate selection, known as “Fatboys”. Fatboys are far more powerful than regular shots, and you can tell as you hit enemies in the chest and they reel around falling to the ground. The rest of the weaponry feels like you would expect, and gunplay has a fluid, visceral feel to it. Your weapons are powerful, but generally facing groups of four or more enemies at a time keeps you in check, requiring more than just run and gun tactics. Combining this with gadgets like the wingstick keeps the action flowing too, since being caught reloading makes for a tight spot, and throwing those, or grenades out can be a real life saver.

The enemy AI takes this into account too. While fighting your way through the scrapyard and other areas you can try to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies to bash them in the back of the head. When they discover you they scatter for cover, shouting back and forth to each other, and changing positions to get a better shot at you. Once you flank them and take out a majority of the group the stragglers will get scared and run away. Of course, no one gets away from me, and hunting down the cowering wuss instilled a sense of power in me and my character. I am a force to be feared. Not all enemies that get knocked down by your shots are necessarily dead either, and keeping an eye on this is important. Often times they’re just wounded, and based on where you shot them they may get back up eventually to come for revenge, or lay there and try to continue shooting at you. Eventually we make our way to recovering the buggy parts, and move on to the next mission.

While our hunt for buggy parts had us fighting some scrappy gang called The Wasted Clan, the Arena pits us in a battle against a more plentiful enemy throughout the game, known as the mutants. They look like they sound. Mutants are ugly, primitive, and violent creatures that come at you relentlessly. Luckily the Arena is a great way to earn funds by taking these guys out as fast as possible, and having plenty of wingsticks and grenades makes things a lot of fun. The shotgun is particularly handy here, since most of the mutants use close range melee, often leaping large distances while dual wielding rusty looking knives as they pounce. Blowing their heads off mid-air is particularly satisfying. The arena I played consisted of five rooms. The first is standard fare, square-shaped with several openings for mutants to pop through. The next introduces a deadly trap, in the form of a spinning metal bear statue with huge spikes sticking out of all ends, which rotates around the room as you fight. Not only is it deadly for our character, but the mutants as well, so tricking them into hitting it while avoiding it yourself makes for a deadly game.

The next room is a ‘bonus area’, with a giant slot machine that the player shoots at to try to make the slots stop and line up for matches. Unfortunately I don’t know what the prize would have been, as I promptly lost as was rewarded instead with another round of mutants. Upcoming rooms offered more traps, such as one where the entire floor was covered in holes where spikes would protrude. Spotlights above you shine randomly around the room as you battle, and wherever they stop and turn red, spikes pop up impaling whatever may be standing there. Finishing this brought us to our finale, a battle royale with a towering mutant twice as tall as anything we’ve seen yet. The big guy is vicious, using a giant tentacle arm to easily reach across the room and pull us towards it. In the process our screen is covered in slime, disorienting us as we try to get away and keep unloading bullets at it. After firing through a huge number of rounds the difficult beast goes down, and we exit the arena victorious and ready to fight another day.

Moving on to further missions gives a better chance to get acquainted with the gadgetry available through out the game. RAGE features an engineering ability, which allows us to use various scrap objects found throughout the world to cobble together whatever we deem necessary in the field. You’ll need schematics to make different items, as well as the parts, which are spread throughout the world in plentiful amounts. Among the items you’ll be able to make are automated sentry turrets, which are particularly powerful and quick to lock on to enemies. Even cooler than that are the spider turrets, which follow you around and hunt down enemies. They provide a great distraction for using flanking maneuvers, and both turret types can be scrapped for parts after use. An RC car is especially useful, since it has a little bomb strapped to it for detonation and can make it into areas your character can’t fit. It’s necessary for progressing in some areas to blow holes in walls, but also useful for taking out large groups of unsuspecting enemies. You need to watch out though, since your character is vulnerable while steering the car, and enemies that see it will shoot it on sight. Other gadgets include a grindlock, which literally grinds through locks to open doors, an adrenaline overdrive that increases maximum health temporarily, and an EMP grenade that disables electronics in the area.

EMP grenades become particularly useful as we meet one of the main forces of opposition of the game, known as “The Authority.” Little is known about these foes, even though I poked and prodded with the Q&A guys at the booth for details as much as I could. What I did find out is that they seek to control the planet, and possess advanced technology which makes them particularly tough to kill. While breaking into a jail to rescue a valuable ally we encounter numerous force fields that require EMP grenades to take out power sources. The Authority comes at us in semi organized groups, with superior firepower, and specialized force shields. EMP grenades make quick work of the force shields, and alternate ammo for the crossbow becomes particularly handy (very fun too!). The first of which is an electrified bolt, which does plentiful damage and stops enemies in their tracks, allowing a follow-up melee or shotgun blast to make short work of them. Even more interesting is the mind controls bolt. Lodging this into an enemy gives a temporary distorted overhead view of the victim, allowing the player to slowly move them around for a short time. Once in position tapping the X button makes them violently explode, killing not only themselves but any one else next to them. Just like the RC car though, our character is vulnerable during this time, so it’s important to take cover and make smart shots.

The final portion of the demo brings us back to one of RAGE‘s primary focuses, the vehicles. Vehicles will be particularly important in the full game, since there is no fast travel, and all quests will need to be driven to while fighting along the way. Upgrading vehicles like the buggy will yield increased armor and better weapons like machine guns and homing rockets. Vehicles in the game world will take permanent damage, which can be repaired for a cost. If too much damage is taken the vehicle will break down, and the player will have to call for a tow. In the demo however, my time with the buggy was spent in races, where damage is fixed after the race. Races remind me of a gritty version of Mariokart. Weapon pick ups and boost pickups are scattered all over the course, and multiple paths yield shorter routes or more pickups. Before beginning each race a load out of quick use items can be selected, which have a limited quantity and cannot be selected. During the preview three of these were available. One was a temporary shield that blocks incoming projectiles, and another was a health boost that fixes vehicle armor. The third were deploy-able land mines, which have a cool down time after each use to prevent incessant spamming, as I tried to do. The races were tough, and making upgrades to vehicles will help significantly to conquer all 25 races planned for the full game.

It sounds like a lot, but this is only scratching the surface in RAGE. Everything indicates that in the full game there will be plenty more gadgets, vehicles, weapons, alternate ammo, and enemies to find, with a huge open world to explore. The demo teased a massive skyscraper tall boss to fight, as well as zany characters like the fat man who enters you into the arena. Everything about the gameplay was smooth and easy to use, and the promise of plenty more to come makes RAGE and important game to keep on the radar for shooter fans everywhere. If it follows through with an engaging story line as well, RAGE could potentially offer one of the best FPS single player campaigns to date, and left me wanting more, even after an hour and a half at E3 while surrounded by the best of the business. Keep an eye out for it later this fall, as RAGE is currently scheduled to release October 4th in North America and October 7th in Europe.