Published on June 10th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3 2011: RAGE Hands-On Impressions
I visited Bethesda’s booth earlier today, a man on a mission. After I staggered out of the ten minute Skyrim demonstration in a daze, angels still singing in my ears, I stumbled downstairs to get my hands on id Software’s upcoming shooter, RAGE. It has been some time since we have seen a new IP from the company once known as the king of shooters, so I was eager to try my luck in its deadly outlands.
Jumping into the first of several available demos I found myself impressed by the slick, clean graphics courtesy of the id Tech 5 engine. I was playing the game on the Xbox 360, and I’m happy to report that non-PC shooter fans out there shouldn’t have much to complain about. I did notice some slow texture loading in a later mission, but for the most part everything looked top notch.
‘Buggy Parts,’ my mission out the gate was given to me by a nearby mechanic. Apparently I’m in the middle of trying to get an old buggy repaired but I need to raid a nearby bandit camp in order to salvage some needed parts. During the conversation he mentioned my need for a lock grinder, a device used to force-open a locked door. He gave me some parts to build one myself. There is a page in the menu (by pressing start) which allows you to build devices such as turrets out of parts found scattered about missions. I quickly found the option to create a lock grinder, pressed “Create” and just like that a I had my very “f*ck your door” button, ready to go.
I jumped on an ATV nearby and followed the line on the mini-map which led me to my next destination. When I got there I met a guy who gave me further instructions and a pack of pistol ammo he promised would make the bandits really feel the hurt. The Xbox 360 version lets you change weapons and ammo type simply by holding a button and selecting each using diamond-shaped four-slot inventory screens that pop up on the screen. I chose my pistol, loaded the “Fatboy” ammo up and hopped back on my ATV, ready to storm the bandit hideout. I noted that the ATV rode pretty smooth. The steering was solid but the stopping felt unnatural. Holding the brake, I went from blindingly fast to instant stop. It was the kind of stop that would have sent my little bandit killer into the mountain-side like a wayward pistol shot. Holding a face button will fire the little cart into overdrive as if I just poured a can of NOS. An on-screen meter decreased as I held the button down. The meter increases once the button is released.
I got to the bandit base and went to work. My faith in id Software providing solid gameplay was well rewarded. The game was a joy to play. Switching weapons and ammo was as smooth as butter. Each weapon I felt like had a real purpose for every situation I rounded on. The guns felt great and I quickly found a favorite weapon in the Wingstick, a throwing blade which cuts down bandits with Krull-like grace, killing them in one hit either with a good slash to the chest or by decapitation. Supplies of Wingsticks were limited to 20 at the time I played. More can be picked up in various weapon shops.
Gun fights in RAGE consist of medium or long range fighting and at times, much like this mission, close-quarters combat over and around cover. The combat during such moments felt similar to that of Call of Duty, with claustrophobic, high-intensity battles with blazing gunfire and danger close grenades. Most bandits had little in the way of body protection and went down with a few well-placed rounds. Some had metal helmets on which prevented me from taking the quick way out with a headshot. But I did my job admirably and when the demo ended I left the place a smoldering ruin as if it was just hit by a hurricane of bullets, grenades and bandit feces.
Next I tried ‘Mutant Bash ‘TV,’ a fun little take on Smash TV complete with spinning blades, spike floors and of course, mutants. The concept is pretty simple, for a cash prize you must survive a set of rooms each with its own set of dangers while taking on waves of oncoming mutants. Mutants in RAGE are nasty little Gollum creatures that will come at your with sticks and clubs which won’t seem threatening until you notice how quickly they can cross a room and leap at you, clubs swinging. The first room of Mutant Bash was a simple square room where I fended myself against a few waves of mutants. I found the shotgun to be quite helpful when the ugly bastards get a little too friendly. Next I had to deal with a large spinning bladed object which on a track moving around the room. Situational awareness is key to surviving Mutant Bash TV, a lesson which proved itself again later in a room where two spotlights would move around, turn red, and once red would cause spikes to come out of the floor. My final task was to take on the “Kraken,” a huge mutant with what it seemed like a squid tentacle, installed as a replacement for a missing arm. I enjoyed Mutant Bash TV and I can see myself coming back again for some quick mutant killing and earn myself some needed dough on the side.
Next I chose ‘Dead City’ which sounded like all kinds of fun. And it was. This mission showed RAGE‘s potential for varied themes. Earlier I mentioned close combat shooting a la CoD, Dead City was dripping with influence from survivor horror shooters such as Resident Evil 5 or Left 4 Dead, except the mutants came one at a time or in small packs instead of large groups, which kept the tension locked. As I traveled through a ruined city, mutants scurried all around me. My surround sound headset kept my head turning in every direction, my eyes locked on the iron sights of my shotgun.
The little freaks just loved coming from behind. They leapt over crumbled ruins, screaming and snorting with club in hand. Every corner turned brought a new wave of tension that was only amplified when a large noise focused my attention on a building-sized monster which I just barely got a glimpse of before it turned a corner. Dead City, huh, this is interesting.
For the next five minutes or so I fought off mutant sneak attacks in alleys and on broken staircases. The mission had a great survival horror vibe and I’m happy to see that we won’t have to suffer repetitive missions or themes throughout RAGE. The demo ended as I climbed into a crumbling building, only to be confronted by the gigantic monster I nearly missed earlier. Its chest was ripped open, and inside the gruesome cavity was a huge cybernetic heart, pulsating with blue light. If my character came equipped with a bladder meter on the HUD, I’m sure it would have hit zero.
My final adventure had me infiltrating a jail in order to extract an important friend who was captured by the Authority, a group of highly-equipped heavily-armored militants with big guns and futuristic technology. I first ran into these clowns during Dead City. They swooped in with a drop ship where, once on the ground, proceeded to act real cute by deploying force field “riot shields” while firing upon my sorry shield-free ass.
Now the tables were turned. I was back, this time better equipped. Using the crossbow seen in the Wellspring trailer, I equipped electrical arrows and sent one flying at the closest Authority soldier sporting a shield. The electrical arrow turned out even better than I had imagined, destroying the man’s shield before sending him to the floor, convulsing and screaming. Another arrow to the back of the dome made the room quiet.
During this mission, I was aware of the presence of higher technology compared to the “Western-feeling” theme of prior missions. Jail doors were made out of beams of orange light that could only be taken down after neutralizing a shield battery nearby either with gunfire, melee or, best of all, an EMP grenade which became magnetized toward the battery once thrown.
I was given the control over two new pieces of technology that made me giggle with delight: The turret and the spider bot. With the press of the d-pad to select the turret, I dropped one when two Authority guards rounded a corner. Electric arrows or EMP grenades may be a faster option, but no shield could withstand the pounding of a turret firing hundred of uninterrupted bullets. With its help, taking out guards became
I also became aware of my only notable issue. The AI for the Authority was dumber than a sack a squirrel nuggets. Several times during firefights I noticed them standing around firing in place, often times not even aiming at me. Once I was next to a guard and he was so confused by uncomfortably close presence he completely flipped out firing and melee attacking the air. During this awkward dance I ran out of ammo so I just pressed the melee button while circling him. I took him out with a few good whacks of my rifle. He didn’t even touch me. The only thing that could have made the situation funnier is if someone played the Benny Hill theme.
Later on after I rescued my target, it happened again. I was next to a guard and he didn’t even spot me. I stood there, hoping that my burning gaze would cause enough discomfort for him to pay attention to me but alas. He took a rifle butt to the chops for his inadequate guard job.
What was good:
Simply put, RAGE was a blast to play. The controls on the Xbox 360 are smooth and feel natural. Switching weapons and ammo types was easy to do and could be pulled off quickly which means less fumbling during high-intensity fire fights. The graphics were crisp and clean. The Xbox 360 runs id Tech 5 engine with nary a hiccup in sight. I’m also quite happy with Bethesda’s decision to include so many missions to demo on the show floor. It gave me the opportunity to experience different types of themes and environments that will be featured in RAGE. This proves to me that not only will the game feel good to play; the varied themes will keep the it from getting boring.
The game will also come with multiplayer modes for those who get lonely. There are options to race buggies plus a Spec Ops-style co-op mode for two players. I spoke with Bethesda PR guru Pete Hines and he told me that though the multiplayer is only viewed as icing on the cake, Bethesda plans on supporting it with future downloadable content. And yes, that means more co-op missions will be available in the near future.
Also, the Wingstick. To keep it simple: it is the signature weapon of RAGE and using it to send bandit heads a-flying will never possibly get old.
What needed work:
Though I enjoyed the graphics, I did notice rare moments when textures took too long to load. To me very little can take me out of an immersive experience than watching as shapeless blobs slowly conform to their true shapes. This is a small complaint which can easily be tweaked and I have a feeling that id quality control is already on the case. My second issue is the inconsistent AI. Mutants will barrel toward you dumbly, eager for a face full of buckshot. They’re mutants, after all. However, human enemies don’t have the privilege of such an excuse. It was bad enough at times during the jailbreak that I couldn’t help but to find it comical and laugh a bit. This does need to be fixed and hopefully it will before the game debuts later this year.
My other complaint is so small it could actually just be categorized as a “curious observation.” While riding on the ATV in the Buggy Parts mission, I didn’t like how quickly my bitchin’ ride would start and stop. It was so quick that it almost felt like a Mario Kart game.
Since its announcement, I have been closely watching RAGE with anticipation. Id Software has been one of my favorite developers for many years and I view this new original IP to be their attempt at reclaiming much of that fame which had been dissipating in this shooter-saturated decade. I believe they will do just that. RAGE is fun to play, beautiful to look at and packs enough firepower to please any jaded shooter fan. Watch for RAGE to hit store shelves October 4 (October 7 for Europe).