Rage, eh? Funny title, if you ask me. Sure, it sticks to the established id Software naming formula, adopting a lone one-syllable word loaded with portentous meaning. "Doom" basically implies "you're screwed!", and the "oo" bit gives it a deep sound that implies weight. "Quake" suggests something that shakes the very ground we walk on, a massive event that tears open the genre we know. As for "Wolfenstein 3D"... well, I guess that's just an exception to the rule. Germans aren't very big on one-syllable words, after all.
So, why "Rage"? I don't know just yet. It could be because the game features a lot of pissed-off people - Mad Max bandits, mutants, tribal thugs with painted faces - who need to be permanently pacified with guns, grenades, and killer bladed boomerangs. Then again, maybe it'll refer to the reaction of PC owners when they see the system requirements for playing the actual thing. I'm teasing, of course; we don't have concrete details, but id Software has repeatedly said that it's working hard to make the game work as efficiently as possible on all its supported platforms. The thing is, when you actually see Rage running, it's hard to shake the idea that it must be doing so on some kind of gaming superbeast. The contrary reality is quite surprising, especially when you realise that you're watching a console version.
If you've read either of our previous previews (this one or this one), you'll know that Rage is one serious good-looking slice of first-person shooter pie. You may well be sick to death of hearing this, but I'm afraid you need to hear it again: Rage is gorgeous. The Xbox 360 build previewed at E3 was running a silky 60 frames-per-second at all times, and quite frankly it was one of the best-looking games of the whole show. This is one of those ventures where it's almost impossible to avoid excessive discussion of minutiae, where you start obsessing about things like the cracks in the digital pavement, or the perfectly-simulated damp patches on the sewer walls. I can't promise to entirely avoid obsessing over such details, but I'll do my best - because Rage is really a game about making stuff go boom, albeit in beautiful fashion.
Much of Rage's appearance at E3 was made up of scenes and moments that were shown off at Bethesda's showcase event, earlier in the year: A quick vehicle-to-vehicle battle in the post-apocalyptic desert, ending with pieces of flaming debris bouncing over the sandy plains. A fleeting saunter around the cowboy-sci-fi town of Wellspring, a place of dust and fluorescent signs under desert sun, where the locals skulk down at the side of the road to bet on Star Wars-style hologram fights. Then, after a quick chat with an NPC at the town pumphouse, a lengthy underground battle with the Ghost Clan - ninja-like enemies who climb onto nearby scenery and then leap straight at the player. Once again, we were shown the toys that you'll use to take down this opposition: remote control cars packed with explosives; crossbows that can fire electrified bolts into pools of water, frying nearby enemies; a rattling assault rifle - one that sends foes stumbling off balance as each individual bullet connects, causing a visible physical reaction.
At the end of the presentation, however, there was a brief glimpse at a new area known as Dead City - a location that could have been culled from Fallout 3. Here the player made their way along a broad stretch of ruined freeway, flanked by collapsed overpasses and the high-stacked desolation of fallen skyscrapers. While previous demos pitted the player against human enemies in a variety of garbs and combat styles, the threat here came from pale mutants with shining eyes, bounding towards the player at impressive speed. Individually none of these guys seemed too much of a threat, but soon they were joined by a giant sibling, roughly twice the size of his kinsman. As soon as this new nasty produced a rocket launcher and started launching projectiles the player's way, there was suddenly a strong whiff of Doom about the action - a callback to the glory days of Hell Knights and Cyberdemons.
The big guy put up quite a fight, but as he finally moaned and tumbled to the ground, his death was upstaged by the sudden arrival of what felt like an earthquake. As the floor rumbled and shook, the player turned to face a nearby mound of concrete scenery, just in time to come face to face with an even bigger mutant: a roaring, smooth-skinned monstrosity that seemed to be at least three storeys high. We didn't get to see much of this chap in action, sadly, as id chose this moment to close off the demo - but he certainly made for a spectacular full-stop to the show.
In truth, there was a slight scatty feel to the presentation I saw - not that it's a negative reflection of the game itself. The id representative hosting the demo was quick to admit that he had an awful lot to cram into the time he was given, and the upshot was that the whole experience felt like a breathless, whistle-stop tour of the Rage world. Having said that, as I staggered back into the madness of the E3 throng, I was struck by the sense of having just seen something deeply impressive. At the moment I have no idea how well all the different elements are going to mesh together. The vehicle-based buggy fights feel a lot like Borderlands, the town-based bits feel like Fallout 3, and the various gunfights I've seen recall everything from Half Life to BioShock. If I were trying to be harsh, I might say that this spread of references suggests that Rage lacks an original feel of its own - but the reality is that it's way too early to tell that. The important thing is that the combat seems to be both varied and very solid, but then I'd expect nothing less from a developer that prides itself on its FPS heritage.
And mark my words, this game is going to be a real looker. Rage has enough bulge in its graphical underpants to ensure widespread cooing when it pops up next year, regardless of what it's like to actually play. As it is, I think the game has a good chance of being pretty damn good in this regard - but let's just wait and see, shall we?
Rage is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC next year