GC 2011: Hands-on with Rage – Part 1

[Note: owing to the length of this piece we’ve decided to split it over two days. Part 2 is right here.]

At 10AM this morning I scuttled my way down to the Bethesda stand in the Business Centre of Gamescom. I joined a group of about eight journos and after a brief moment we were whisked away to a private room that housed a number of PCs, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles, all of which were running Rage. Tim Willits, id’s creative director, greeted us and told us we could pick a platform to play on. I moved off towards the nearest PC and sat down to begin my hour with id’s newest baby.

Not wanting to waste any time, I skipped the opening cinematic and got stuck into the game instead. As some of you may know, you start off in an Eden Arc; a cross between a Fallout vault and a Space Marine drop pod from the Warhammer 40K universe. Civilization has been wiped out by an asteroid hitting Earth, but before this happened a number of important individuals were put into stasis in these Eden Arcs so that they could rebuild society once the dust had settled. It’s a classic post-apocalypse setup. It’s also short lived because the Arc is tiny, and in no time you’re thrust out into the wastelands.

Before I continue I need to state the obvious: I’m writing about my experience with the first hour of Rage. Needless to say I’m going to talk about the events that happen during this first hour; the quests, the NPCs you meet, the weapons you get. If you want to go into the game without any preconceptions then stop reading now.

Oh hey! You’re still here? Ok, let’s carry on…

Remember the moment when you take your first steps outside Vault 101 in Fallout 3? Leaving the Arc in Rage has the same impact; the scene that unfolds before you made my eyes widen in disbelief and I actually think I gasped a little. id’s Tech 5 engine is capable of rendering the most startlingly detailed environments. As you emerge you find yourself on the edge of what appears to be a massive dam area. It’s deep and walled in by craggy mountains and sharp, jutting twists of metal leftover from whatever this area was before the impact.

Soon after emerging from the Arc you’re attacked by bandits. Fortunately you’re saved by Dan Hagar (voiced by John Goodman), a wastelander who tells you he’s “managed to survive by staying out of trouble”. He also points out that you stick out in the wasteland thanks to the Arc suit you’re wearing. Furthermore, any Arc survivors gain the immediate attention of The Authority. After you hop into Dan’s buggy, the two of you begin the drive back to his home. While en route, a bandit group spots you but after giving you both the once over, they let Dan carry on driving. Of course for Dan this is a problem because the bandits now know that there’s an Arc survivor right under their noses, and Arc survivors are worth a lot of money.

A short drive later and you arrive in Hagar Settlement. All of the wastelanders residing in this tiny community have taken the surname of “Hagar”, and a few miles away to the west, a different settlement has done the same thing with their settlement name. Settlements, it seems, are not only safe places for surviving humans, but they’re also this broken world’s version of a family unit.

Dan’s home is cluttered. It’s covered with all sorts of pieces of machinery, supplies and weaponry. A four-wheeler motorbike sits patiently in his garage alongside where he parks his buggy. Seconds later he has a proposal for you. Dan is jumpy now that he knows the bandits know he’s harbouring an Arc survivor. The only solution to this quandary is to eradicate the bandits in their hideout. In order to get the job done, Dan gives you a weighty pistol and lends you his four-wheeler motorbike. As a reward for helping him, and the settlement by extension, Dan promises to give you a piece of armour to cover up your Arc suit. This is where the game begins properly. I accepted the mission and hopped onto the four-wheeler. Instantly the camera pulled from a first-person perspective to a third-person one for driving. It’s an immediately noticeable change being able to see the character you’re playing as in an id FPS.

I hadn’t even left Hagar Settlement before I got sidetracked by an NPC called Loosum Hagar. She offered to teach me how to throw a Wingstick, the weapon that seems to have become the trademark weapon for Rage. I accepted her challenge of hitting a number of targets before a timer runs out and passed it with little difficulty. As promised, she gave me five Wingsticks and I continued my main quest.

A short drive up a red rock canyon I found the entrance to the bandit’s hideout. A rickety bridge made from scrap metal was strung across an extremely high gorge. Eerie looking totems made from bits of twisted metal and car parts had been put up by the bandits to ward off unwanted visitors. Clearly this bandit group was into some strange décor.

The bandits were hiding out in a ruined hotel; remnants of the business could still be found interspersed with skulls and totems. Rummaging around the broken junk and bits of paper I found a coffee mug with the Doom logo on it. Tim Willits told me later on that there will be many of these Easter Egg odds and ends to find throughout the game; if you look hard enough, he told me, you can even find a Doom level and other id franchise levels hidden in the Rage wastelands.

It wasn’t long before my scavenging was interrupted by bandits. They launched towards me, knives gleaming and hurling insults as they ran. One shot to the shoulder sent a bandit stumbling backwards, clutching the visible wound. Another shot to his leg made him stumble before I finished him off with a head shot. Meanwhile his partner had moved to flank me, moving out of my field of view by performing a wall run. His shout alerted me to his imminent impact and I swivelled to face him just before his blade made contact. My character staggered from the wound and the view lurched with him, clouded by red flashes on the screen. After recomposing myself, a lucky headshot snatched the life from the relentless bastard. His upper body went limp and he stumbled forward a few steps before slamming face forward into the dust. Combat in Rage is visceral and full of impact. Despite its dress-up as a light RPG, open world game, this is still an id first-person shooter through and through. And that’s a fantastic thing.

A little deeper into the bandit hideout I discovered a room which housed a huge statue. I approached it cautiously, but the caution wasn’t enough as a snare tightened around my character’s feet pulling him upside down and into the air. A few moments later and bandits had captured me and knocked me out. I was being taken to “the kill room”.