An ominous clanking heralds the arrival of a heavy Gearhead thug - a muscular villain in industrial metal armour. If you've seen Iron Man, he looks a bit like Robert Downey Jr's first prototype, only without the goatee or the pervasive air of smugness. Also, this guy has a minigun and a Russian accent that could happily join the cast of 'Allo 'Allo.
Here's a dangerous chap, but here's the thing: you've just thrown a live grenade at his feet. The force of the blast causes him to stagger back, and as he rights himself he brings his head neatly into your crosshair. You're rocking a revolver packed with high calibre Fat Mamma rounds: the first shot blows his mask away, revealing a pair of furious eyes, while the second blows his head clean off. The man's body remains standing for a moment, blood spurting from the freshly-ventilated neck. And then he falls.
Right from the start, it's clear that Rage wants to impress you. The game kicks off with a glossy intro that condenses a meteorite-based apocalypse into 90 seconds of expensive CGI, effortlessly surpassing all 151 minutes of Michael Bay's 1998 crapfest, Armageddon. You assume control of the anonymous hero, and almost immediately you're treated to one of those Bethesda "step outside" moments as you leave the Ark that's been keeping you on ice for 100 years or so. After Oblivion and Fallout 3 you may feel that you've had your fill of dramatically-revealed vistas, but there's every chance you'll gawk all over again here; the overworld in Rage is more or less a single giant texture that loads as you move across it, and the end result is an open wasteland of almost breathtaking detail.
Moments after your emergence, you'll find yourself sitting in a dune buggy as you bounce across the Mad Max 2 ruins of civilisation. And the chap behind the wheel? Why it's John Goodman. Well, it's his voice at any rate; in Rage's backstory, big John probably got squished by the space rock.
In short, Rage has no qualms about flaunting its triple-A status - and it has lofty ambitions to go with its shiny shoes. With Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, id Software pioneered the modern FPS, and so naturally Rage places a heavy emphasis on bloody, head-popping gunplay. But Rage also wants to be an RPG-lite of sorts, encompassing an open world structure, vehicular combat, and side quests by the dozen.
In the former category at least, id's efforts are close to impeccable. While Rage largely restricts itself to claustrophobic internal environments, the actual battles are rarely anything less than thrilling, with foes that appear to be as smart as they are nimble. The more acrobatic opponents will climb the scenery, dive into rolls, and even wall-run in their efforts to evade your roaming aim. Successfully batter a few gun-toting bandits, and their surviving companions will retreat to join other allies. If you're the one who decides to turn and flee, they'll advance to stronger tactical positions, or else toss out grenades to blast you from afar. As far as corridor shooters go - and I say that to avoid the wrath of Halo fans - Rage boasts some of the smartest enemy AI since Half-Life 2.
When these nasties get the better of you, id finds a way to innovate. There's a recharging health mechanic in place, but if you succumb to enemy fire you'll enter a brief mini-game that lets you resuscitate yourself with a defibrillator. It feels gimmicky at first, but as time wears on you'll appreciate its role in proceedings: you feel a bit silly when you have to use it, as invariably this means you screwed up somehow, but it allows you to carry on. It's a way of punishing the player without driving them back to their last save, and while it's a powerful tool, you're limited in its use. Despite its initial appearance, it's a rather clever idea.