Hands-on / Rage

id Software has a genre-defining pedigree. Anyone into first-person shooters is surely at least familiar with Wolfenstein, Doom, or Quake, and nearly all popular shooters owe to them in many ways. For over two decades, these are the only three franchises to the developer’s name, and of them the most recently added was Quake in 1996. Finally, this year, they change things up with Rage. Needless to say it has a lot to live up to, and after some hands on time, I have half an idea whether it will stack up or not.

I grabbed the controller having almost no expectations. I knew well enough that it was a first-person shooter set in post-apocalyptic world where you’re a sort of an outsider just trying to survive the mutated perils of the land, that it has an id Software first of adding vehicle sections, and that I’d treated to top tier visuals by a brand new graphics engine by their resident programming guru John Carmack. I knew there were mutants and people alike to shoot, blow up, and run over, and while that sounds great on paper, I had no clear idea whether or not it would deliver.

In short, it does. Thanks to the power of its new graphics engine, not only is everything looking mighty pretty, but it also runs at a silky smooth 60 frames a second. This gives combat a real smooth and fast-paced feel. Call of Duty fans should feel right at home. What’s a little different is the pacing of combat. Levels are pretty linear, and so, like most shooters these days, it is essentially going from battle room to battle room on a fairly set path. But id can’t completely shake its old school roots. A couple points had me find the power switch to open the door to the next area, in familiar “find the key” fashion, only quicker and simpler. Also, since you’re a lone wolf, and mutants aren’t really known for their smarts, enemies just tend to make a beeline for you with their makeshift metallic clubs of rubble. It’s a little dumber, overall, than a lot of other shooter experiences, but it also makes sense to the setting, and really, still has its charm. When you pull out a shotgun and blow away a few squirrely sacks of flesh trying to beat you to a pulp, it feels pretty damn good.

The game also has items to help you in battle. There are portable turrets you can mount to help ward off the masses, mobile turrets that will chase some of the smarter, more combat-minded human enemies, a boomerang that’s great at decapitation, and of course plain Jane hand grenades. They are all pretty useful, and some are even used to progress through levels, like the EMP grenades against force fields.

I also got to play one vehicle level, which was basically a simple race. Well, not simple when you throw in the guns. If you’ve played Mario Kart, you know how to play this. It’s pretty similar, right down to the powerups you want to grab on the track itself. Only, you get actual rockets instead of turtle shells. Actually driving and handling the car felt good overall. If its use in regular campaign levels feels this good, then it will easily complement the on-foot action if not elevate it to something special.

Of course, I can’t not offer impressions on the visuals. After all, every time John Carmack creates a 3D engine, something something something wings. Yes, it looks good, but it’s not as much a landmark as their past games have been. What is impressive here is the performance. The 60 frames per second smoothness is a real treat when paired with visuals that stack up to most Unreal Engine-powered games. One thing that bugged me, though, was a pretty blatant streaming in of textures at all times. Turn to a new room, and full-res textures are still being loaded. Turn around to where you just were, and it’s the same story. I’m not sure if that’s going to be in the final release (a few other bugs showed up), but it seemed pretty noticeable. But even with that, it’s hard to deny that the game looks great. Environments rivaled the best that Fallout 3 has to offer, with creatures and animation that’d make Gears of War blush.

All in all, it’s looking promising. I don’t know if I’m willing to call it another landmark id Software release, but I have no qualms about calling it a fun game that I want to play more of. I never did actually run over a mutant, after all.

Just four months to go…