Sunday, September 25, 2011

EE11 - Rage Hands On

Day 3 at the Eurogamer Expo saw the biggest queues yet, but I still managed to take in some very worthwhile developer sessions, and I got chatting to id cofounder Tim Willits, who was aptly introduced in his talk as "the nicest man in the games industry" (he initiated a conversation with me and Fin because I was wearing an id Software shirt"). I spent some time with Rage on the showfloor, and here are my impressions:

I'll admit that I haven't been paying attention to Rage over the years since its announcement. Given the pedigree, I was expecting a gorgeous-looking shooter that nails the bread-and-butter of first person shooting, and that's exactly what I got.

The interior environments are densely detailed, looking as ramshackle as post-apocalyptic buildings ought to. One of the demos took place in a derelict garage with such rich scenery that its history of being picked clean by the survivors passing through is tangible.

Anyone who explores the myriad choices available to the player should come away with an understanding that this is a game that values variety. Each of the four weapons in the demo (pistol, shotgun, assault rifle and bolt-thrower) come with a variety of ammo types, and players can deploy sentry guns, spider bots, and throw blades that liberate heads from torsos with a satisfying geyser of blood and a heavy ragdoll slump, but more on the gore later.

I fought two different factions; the bandits seemed to be living hand to mouth, and when reacting to my presence, responded with anything from reluctant engagement from behind cover to charging in with melee attacks, all the while screaming in confusion. When I was fighting the battle-armour wearing squads, they issued commands and tried to surround me, chucking grenades and keeping their impervious power shields pointing towards me to make taking them out difficult. The end of the 'Bash TV' segment saw me squaring off against a towering beserker, who chased me around the arena, soaking up my bullets while I circle-strafed around him - a great throwback to the games of yore.

What excites me most about this game is the visual feedback - shoot an enemy in a particular spot and he'll react appropriately; enemies will limp towards (or away from!) you with bloodied legs if that's where your bullets clipped them. When a crazed bandit charged me with a club raised, my panicked shotgun response blew off his arm above the elbow. When I was verifying that he wasn't getting up, I pressed the shotgun up against his head and pulled the trigger, leaving blood and brains all over the floor. It's a gruesome, refreshing change from the sanitized, plasticky presentation of modern military shooters that makes the player feel as though he is wielding great power.

When I found out that Rage had driving, I wasn't expecting much, other than a functional way to traverse a large overworld. Remarkably, I was quite wrong. When I loaded up the race mode, I was treated to a post-apocalyptic Mario Kart. Six racers tearing around the track, picking up single-use weapons by driving over them, and firing them up the tailpipe of the nearest competitor. Successful kills sent wreckages flipping and spinning around the track, accompanied by dramatic explosions. The buggies have great grip on the winding course, and the recharging boost mechanic adds a layer of strategy to the business of racing. I took first place with seconds to go by spectacularly exploding the leader off the track after a harrowing race spent dodging incoming rockets by throwing my buggy behind canyon walls, sacrificing my racing line to save my skin. As a final word on the racing; it was more accomplished than some full-priced arcade racers.

The limited time I've spent with the demo has left me with much to gush about - (using mind control bolts to walk an enemy into the middle of a room before detonating him all over his buddies was a highlight I keep coming back to), but ultimately it has made me feel as though I need to atone for ignoring its progress by spreading the word of what a great experience this is. Cynical gamers seem to want to dismiss it as a Fallout 3/Borderlands hybrid (even though this isn't an unfair description by any stretch), but this misses the point. id Software brought us the first person shooter, and this is the game that will reaffirm their relevancy to older gamers, and firmly entrench them in the mindshare of gamers unaware of their storied history.

This is the demo on the showfloor I keep coming back to, and something tells me it'll be the game I have to play one last time before leaving the Expo tomorrow.

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