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RAGE GamesCom 2009 Preview

Veteran game developers id Software first announced RAGE over two years ago as a post-apocalyptic fusion of first-person shooter and third-person vehicular combat. At GamesCom this week, GameOn were able to see how far the title has progressed and to get a flavour of several different sections of the game.

RAGE is set on Earth in the aftermath of a comet strike which transforms the planet into a combination of steampunk settlements and barren desert landscapes. As the demo began a vast desolate expanse of wilderness spread out underneath a pure blue sky. The bleached scenery looks very impressive with the id Tech 5 engine promising to bring new levels of detail.

RAGE Screenshot 1

Using a technique id is calling "Virtual Texturing" it is possible to create incredibly detailed and varied landscapes without having to worry about huge memory usage. Development across platforms has also benefitted from the system with the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 systems looking almost as good as the PC. It should be noted that the PC version is intended to have additional graphical options for machines at the higher end of the market.

Splitting gameplay between first-person shooting and vehicle-based combat is an unusual decision from id, but it is good to see something ambitious from the studio. Not long into the demo the player snuck up to an enemy positioned across a canyon. Using one of RAGE's unusual weapons, a three-winged boomerang, the player stealthily took out the opponent. This seems a long way off the explosive excesses of both Doom and Quake and there is a more varied arsenal present to provide more diversity for the player.

Taking the form of a relatively open-world environment, with some guidance for players, you are tasked with completing missions across a variety of the distinct regional areas. One goal of the level design was to make the locales distinct to reflect the fact that most areas in the game are owned by factions. These include bandits, settlers and mutants as well as others yet to be revealed which all go towards creating the game world.

RAGE Screenshot 2

After taking out a few enemies, the player climbed into one of the game's many vehicles which looked similar to one of Motorstorm's dune buggies with added miniguns. Setting out into the desert it wasn't long before similar off-road vehicles began attacking initiating a frantic chase between the player and the bandit groups. Bringing to mind the vehicular combat of the old Twisted Metal series the action was exaggerated and seemed easy to control. Different vehicles are unlocked and earned as missions are completed with certain key quests required to gain access to the more powerful variants. Vehicles can be bought a range of different parts and weapons ranging from armour and suspension upgrades to boost capabilities and wheel scythes.

Arriving at the ramshackle town of Wellspring, one of the game world's many settlements, the player chose to explore, speaking to several of the residents. id commented that when arriving at a new location you'll be treated as an outsider until you help out the town in some way. Exploring and talking to the residents will provide you with more of the game's back-story and a chance to mingle with some strange folk. Each character has been designed to be memorable and to have a specific personality to make each encounter unusual and to fit in with the mixed world aesthetic of the title.

Meeting with Wellspring's sheriff brought up a mission to take out a series of bandits who had been attacking vehicles with remote control cars fitted with explosives. The sheriff also provides a schematic which can be used to build cars using various parts in a system almost identical to Fallout 3's custom weapons. Upon arrival at the location, the game's first-person combat was demonstrated. To start with the player uses a crossbow to silently take down several guards before a larger firefight began. Here a series of items were used to augment the battle including a sentry turret and a robotic spider drone which hunted down enemies.

RAGE Screenshot 3

Using the mixture of classic weaponry such as a meaty shotgun and an assault rifle in conjunction with the sentry gun and spider drone created an interesting dynamic. Whilst the character was outnumbered by the enemy, the automated assistants helped to even the score and pick off several opponents. However, the computer AI was impressive with the bandits taking cover and even dashing out to kick over sentry guns. Proceeding further into the base allowed the use of the radio controlled bombs to take out numerous enemies as well as to solve a puzzle unlocking a new area to explore.

RAGE's combat looked like a fusion between a classic id corridor shooter and the more diverse weapon and sandbox combat of Bioshock. The latter seems to have influenced the title with the inclusion of multiple ammunition types for weapons, including a similar electric bolt for the crossbow. id promised that the ammunition types would have a distinct impact on the gameplay and weren't going to be there for the sake of it. With 4 ammo types available for each of the game's weapons it should open up more variety to the gameplay.

RAGE Screenshot 4

Most settlements also have a race or series of races to compete in where you can earn cash prizes and new vehicles. One of the events, the "Southern Highway Combat Race" involves driving around a track whilst destroying your opposition. When the race begins no one has ammunition which must be picked up from power-ups hovering over the track. Not only must you contend with your fellow drivers but groups of bandits appear during the race to try and eliminate the competitors. Points are earned not only for placing in the top positions but for eliminating both bandits and fellow competitors.

Fusing first-person gunplay and vehicular combat doesn't appear to be the most natural combination and achieving an effective blend could prove difficult. If id can effectively blend the two without either genre's gameplay being compromised then RAGE will certainly be onto a winner. Striking that careful balance will prove tricky but could offer rewarding and unusual gameplay.

In the final chapter of the demo the player finds himself at the headquarters of "Mutant Bash TV" requiring the help of the sinister "Producer". In order to gain sponsorship to reach the next tier of vehicles he must take part in a fight against hordes of mutants. Taking place over a series of sinister circus-like arenas against hordes of demented mutants this really showcased the frenetic first-person combat reminiscent of Doom. If Rage can continue to provide set-piece moments like this while building on the solid first-person and vehicle sections then there is going to be a lot to look forward to in 2010.

evilgiraffeman | 23rd August, 2009

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