At gamescom 2009 I stood in a queue for what seemed like half a day to see id Software's Rage. This was a queue behind closed doors at EA, for press only. I didn't queue for anything at gamescom apart from Rage, yet for Rage it seemed almost expected. This isn't just another FPS sequel. Rage is the first new IP from Doom creator id Software in 10 years. It's coming to Xbox 360, PS3 and PC and is being published by industry juggernaut EA. It's also the first game to make use of id's stunning new id Technology 5 engine. In reality I'd only stood in that queue for 40 minutes, but given the pedigree I'd have waited far longer.
Our demo begins with the bold statement that the game engine can push game worlds in ways that couldn't be done before. From anyone else I might have laughed, or at least sniggered under my breath, but this is id. Our character is stood in the wasteland, some two hours into the game. There's a hut to his right and a huge draw distance stretching off as far as the eye can see. There's no doubt about it. Rage looks stunning and this is a game that's still months and months from release. We've got to head to the local town of Wellspring, but there's time to take in a few of the sights first.
That hut I mentioned is home to Crazy Joe, an NPC character that really demonstrates how impressive the character rendering is in Rage. He's one of the most animated virtual characters I've ever seen, easily rivalling and in many cases bettering what we've seen in the most high profile games of this generation. After a brief chat with Joe our id rep wandered around the area and caught a glimpse of the toxic looking green water that had settled in a small pond - this is apparently something to do with the mutants, but we weren't told what.
It was time to take a look at a few of the weapons next, with an enemy on a cliff edge up ahead being a prime target. Our character took out his Wind Stick, which is actually a deadly boomerang. Within a few seconds the stick had taken out the unsuspecting enemy and returned to our guy's hand - silent, but deadly. You'll obviously have other weapons too, with our rep running through the pistol and crossbow. Different ammo types will be purchasable from the many stores in the game, although exactly what they are hasn't been revealed.
A buggy had been sat on the road below Joe's hut since the demo began, teasing us with its presence. It's more than a buggy really, looking like a cross between a sports car and a go kart, with extra reinforcement for off-road driving. According to id the goal was to make vehicle controls make sense for FPS fans. Having had to sit and watch the demo rather than get hands on it's hard to say how this has been achieved, but that buggy sure looked fun to drive.
While we're sure the game engine could handle a realistic sim driving model, the buggy was flying about in a true arcade fashion, which is what we'd expect from an action packed shooter from id. Our entire demo was more or less a taster rather than a full on look at the game (despite lasting about 30 minutes), but we did get to see the circular display that surrounds your vehicle, highlighting the location of other vehicles in relation to your position and the amount of nitrous you have left in the tank.
Enough with the showing off in the buggy - it was time to take a look at our first town. As our character approaches the guarded entrance to the town we're told that Wellspring has hints of Asian culture in its design, and this is apparent from the moment we walk through the front door. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes it look as it does, but the place looks like a more rundown version of a city from iconic 80s movie Blade Runner. We meet a few of the townspeople, each of whom will react to you in different ways depending on what you've done up to that point. We see the impressive facial technology again and talk to a woman serving drinks at a bar - there's really nothing that competes with Rage in the visual department. Sony's Killzone 2 has a similar overall level of quality but the sheer size of the environments in Rage dwarf everything seen in the PS3 exclusive. Hopefully the console versions will come close to matching the PC game.
The girl behind the bar is Sally. She seems just like any other NPC, but we're told that she has a problem with bandits and will pay cash to anyone that takes them out during races. Wellspring is just one of the many towns that will appear in the game, so presumably other NPCs will offer rewards for completing certain objectives too. Each town will feature a number of stores too, offering the player a selection of goods and paying cash for items that you don't need any more. You'll be able to buy new ammo, weapons, vehicles, upgrades and more. We haven't seen enough of the game to say for sure how alive each of the towns feel, but there's a definite sense that people live in Wellspring - one man stands on a podium shouting out details of upcoming races.
We're yet to see any real action, and this is an id Software game after all. Thankfully it's time to play through a mission to get inside a bandit hideout. The player has been tasked with destroying the RC bomb caches (bombs on wheels), but it's easier said than done. There's no question that the gun-play will be top class, but when you're trying to shoot enemies that are driving remote control bombs at you it's probably quite easy to panic. Thankfully our id rep dispatches of the bandits with ease. You'll be able to use a variety of gadget-like weapons too, with personal turrets deployable on the ground and walking sentry bots able to patrol a small area - being a world in disrepair you're going to need to salvage anything that remains of these and loot fallen enemies in order to make some cash through trading.
Time for a racing demo next, and hopefully confirmation that id hasn't made a terrible mistake. It's certainly a gamble on the mega developer's part, having made a name for itself by making pretty FPS focused titles for years, but it appears to be shaping up very well. The three-lap race in the wasteland looked like great fun, with each vehicle equipped with a weapon of some sort. There's even a TV channel that broadcasts events and sponsors vehicles, giving you a bit of extra cash should you survive.
Our demo ended abruptly during a score-based section called Chamber of Laughs. There will apparently be a number of different arenas to fight in, with scores handed out for accuracy and time taken. We'd have loved to see more but it seems the demo PC wasn't quite up to displaying the stunning game for the duration of the show. With what I saw of Rage I wouldn't be surprised if three solid days running the most graphically impressive game at the show caused a small microchip meltdown. As id's first new IP in over 10 years, waiting for 40 minutes in a queue doesn't seem so bad any more.
Rage will be released on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 when it's done.