Monday, October 18, 2010

Preview: RAGE

Gaming Preview: RAGE

id Software has been synonymous with the first-person shooter since the genre's formative years, and with good reason. From the iconic Doom to the multiplayer-pioneering Quake series, the developer has consistently provided definitive run-and-gun fests and pushed the boundaries of the FPS with every new IP. In recent years, the studio hasn't exactly been prevalent on the development front, working away on an ambitious new venture behind closed doors. Fans were given a first glimpse at the fruits of this labour three years back when Rage was unveiled at an Apple development conference. Much has changed since the project's inception, but with id's new Tech 5 engine at its core, this one is sure to be cutting-edge. We attended the firm's developer session at the Eurogamer Expo to check up on its progress.

Gaming Preview: RAGE
First off, Rage's most notable feature is not the shiny new engine it's built on, but its incorporation of driving elements. Since the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, id has stuck to its guns and delivered a long line of shooters in their purest form. It's entirely possible that this radical shift in gameplay mechanics might deter one or two of the Quake diehards, but after almost two decades of uniformity, isn't it about time the formula was shaken up a bit? Watching lead producer Jason Kim play the Xbox 360 edition, it was difficult to imagine fans of contemporary FPS fare being disappointed. The game shares much in common with the likes of Fallout 3, Borderlands and Metro 2033, while MotorStorm, Burnout and the Mad Max movies sprung to mind during vehicular segments.

This isn't the first game of its kind to take place against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, and it certainly won't be the last; yet the writers have strived to create a world with its own identity and origin. Set some time after a cataclysmic asteroid strike, the plot follows a lone survivor who emerges from a government arc to find a brave new world populated by raiders, mutants and other unpleasant dystopian types. Vast areas of the planet have been reduced to a harsh wasteland, while others appear relatively unscathed. From the footage on show, we were almost convinced that it has a strong Wild Western theme until creative director Tim Willits explained that the dusty location is just one of many diverse areas players will explore in the final product.

Gaming Preview: RAGE
As you would expect from an id title, the gun mechanics look solid. There are plenty of weapon customisation opportunities and foes have multiple hit points, thus there will be no shortage of variety when it comes to picking off enemies. There was an impressive arsenal on display, from boomerang blades capable of tearing through flesh and bone to a spider sentry with a mounted mini-gun. Vehicles are simply there to convey you from A to B, though there appears to be some scope for upgrades. From ATVs to quad bikes, there's a host transportation options available and ample opportunity to make them your own with a choice of mounted weapons. Vehicular combat is fast-paced and gritty. It's all high-speed chases and explosions. Although the developers assured us that driving will take a back-seat, that doesn't mean there won't be a lot of fun to be had with it.

There's much more to Rage than guns and motors. The wasteland environment we saw in the demo played host to several living, breathing settlements with dozens of colourful characters to interact with and side-quests to enrol on. In this regard, it appears similar to Fallout 3 and may offer something equal in depth and scope. However, the game wears its action focus on its sleeve and is by no means an RPG. Diversity was on show throughout the demo - from the various tribes of raiders that occupy their own turf to the stark contrast between zones. We were shown the Western-influenced town of Wellspring, which looks as though it will serve as a central hub, before the action shifted to the rocky terrain of Dead City, where no man leaves alive. From the Godzilla-sized mutant that reared its head before the demonstration concluded, it was easy to see how the latter territory earned its reputation.

At present, there aren't many better looking first-person shooters on the market. id's Tech 5 engine allows Rage to run at an impressive 60 frames per second with the scenery pop-up of the studio's previous technology nowhere to be found. The level of detail and depth of field are mouth-watering. That sleek animation and lightning responsiveness, coupled with some well-rendered explosion and particle effects, make for one hell of a spectacle - and the developers still have the best part of a year to polish it up.

Gaming Preview: RAGE
Rage has been given an unusually lengthy development cycle, but it's clear that the time has been spent maximising the potential of the brand new technology at its core. The demonstration we saw raised a few questions where originality is concerned, as it felt reminiscent of a dozen other titles. However, the game is rich in showmanship and looks on course to pull off what it is setting out to do. It's pleasing to see id break its age-old FPS mould by throwing driving elements into the mix, while peddling an action-based alternative to the stat-heavy Fallout 3 and Borderlands. Taking the phenomenal popularity of id's other properties into account, this one is sure to be all the rage when it lands next year.
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