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QuakeCon 2009: RAGE Public Preview

Developer: id Software | Publisher: Bethesda
Players: 1+ Player Game | Genre: FPS

Release Date: 10/04/11

Ahhh. Another QuakeCon has come and gone, leaving me with familiar sensations. Bruises on my arm from carrying cases of Bawls to my car, a sore shoulder from one of the swag mobs I foolishly entered, and a feeling of general queasiness from eating Dominoes pizza that's spent several hours in a warming cabinet in a hotel lobby. There's also excitement! Well not really, but I can say that the RAGE gameplay demo did have me walking away with cautious optimism.

Let me preface this article by saying that this game is too early in development to judge. It's clear that the content shown to us at QuakeCon was cherry-picked from a game that's still waiting to come together. Watching the action on screen confirms some things, give reassurances, and ultimately leaves you with more questions than when you walked into the room. So let's get on with my impressions.

The first thing you note is that this game is beautiful. The virtual texturing techniques Id has developed are clearly being improved upon from Quake Wars, and put to good use. The views are vibrant, and very detailed. I was actually surprised by the environment. I went into this expecting something gritty and dark. Id-esque, if you'll excuse the term. The world of RAGE is instead a pretty bright place. The sun shines clearly, and illuminates the bold oranges and yellows in the canyon walls. Towering white windmills rise in the distance, spinning lazily in the desert breeze.

It comes across as somewhat cartoonish. At any moment, I expected Wile E. Coyote to run full speed off of a cliff, and tread thin air until he discovered no earth below him. This feeling continued as we were shown the first character. He spoke like a comedic sidekick from an old western serial, wildly gesturing with his arms all the while. He turned out to not be an aberration as the demo progressed. There were some subdued and serious characters, but mostly their faces were surreal to match their amplified gesticulations and voice acting. It felt over the top, and hokey, and left me questioning the tone Id is wanting to set for this game.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not fresh off of a three page rant on the battle.net forums about the rainbows in the Diablo III trailer. If this is a conscious design decision, then I'm willing to climb on board, and see how it pans out. If RAGE turns out to be a light and goofy piss-take on Post Apocalyptia, then I'm all for it. Just make it fun and enjoyable.

There's lots to back this concept up. As I mentioned, the world is bright and colorful. Sure, there's rusty metal about, but there are always bold highlights to raise the scene's mood. Even in what's supposed to be a bandit fortress made of corridors, and small fighting arenas, something that felt more like Doom 3, there are light notes to be found everywhere. The idea that you're there to blow up caches of explosives that they are attaching to toy cars to use as remote controlled mines continues a sense of...whimsy.

Yes! Whimsy! You get the feeling that if you were searching for the tongue in this game, the best place to find it is firmly lodged in the cheek.

On the matter of gameplay, I can't be solidly sure. I wasn't up there holding the 360 controller. Yes, they used a 360 controller. I wanted to cry heresy too, but for the purposes of playing the game, standing up, and simultaneously speaking to the crowd, you have to admit it's more convenient than a mouse and keyboard. Even they knew it was questionable in a demo for their PC loving fans. Matt Hooper, RAGE's lead designer made sure to lean down to the table, and move around with the mouse and keyboard controls, just to reassure us.

Tight and responsive controls can't be determined until you've got the thing in your own hands, but I can tell you that the game looked fun to play. The first weapon we were shown was the Wingstick, or as I said in my notes, the Batarang. It sailed through the air with the flick of a wrist, taking a conveniently placed bandit to the dirt, then continued it's arc back to the player's hand. Realistic? No. Nothing in this game seems meant to be realistic. As Tim Willits, RAGE's creative director, jumped into an armor plated dune-buggy, and sped off, the driving looked arcadey. As I mentioned, you can't tell by just watching, but I would put money on the driving being more Mario Kart than Gran Turismo.

So the physics look lame? No! I'm not saying that at all. The exposed shocks on the buggy bounced as you'd expect while driving over uneven terrain. When shot at or bumped by the player's vehicle, the enemy cars flipped and careened in a way that looked intensely satisfying. Every time an enemy was sent flying to explode, shedding tires and armor plates, the crowd cheered. This wasn't pre-rendered, pre-scripted anything. This was live gameplay, and it looked FUN. And boy did it look beautiful! The bullets dancing off of everything were dazzling, and the smoke effects were, in particular, worthy of exclamation. In one portion of the demo, as the player shot a RC car mine, it exploded, and the inertia carried it forward, spewing smoke in a surprisingly life-like fashion. I found myself saying aloud, "That was awesome!"

The races really give you a Mario Kart feel. No, it's definitely Twisted Metal. Let's go with that. There are weapon and nitrous pickups, and racing comes down to blowing up your competitors just as much as having a good line. It looks like a blast. As the race played in front of us, we were told that their layering system allowed for an endless combination of track/vehicle/weapon combinations, promising plenty of variety. Let's hope, since apparently upgrading your vehicle relies on winning certificates from races.

That's another thing they were quick to make clear. You work for your vehicles and upgrades. Your car is yours, and it's what you drive. They want you to have that feeling of ownership. You won't just be hijacking any buggy you come across when you blow yours up.

So the gameplay looks fantastic? Well the driving seems pretty fun. The one stumbling block I felt when viewing this demo is what they touted onstage as their greatest strength; The FPS combat. Sure, I've loved the Quake and Doom games for...has it really been 17 years? Wow, that makes me feel old. Seriously, though. Yes, they've made great FPS games that are still played by many, but Doom 3 isn't one of those games. Was it beautiful and atmospheric? Of course it was. Now was it really fun to play? In my opinion it wasn't. The guns were very reminiscent of Doom 3. The assault rifle even had that same annoying buzzer when the clip ran low.

Now I could nerd out about hitscan weapons, dumbing down gunplay for consoles and analog sticks, ballistics modelling, and yadda yadda. A bunch of stuff you don't wan to read. What it comes down to is bullethose assault rifles, plinky pistols, and ultimately, a lot of rushing in close with a shotgun. Even with the promise of different ammo types, I'm not impressed. The engineered items and things like the Wingstick do break up the spray-and-pray, and I'm hoping they're as fun to use as they look.

In one scene, as the player approached the top of a stairway, you could see enemies below through a window. They noticed the player, and ran for the stairs. Two sentry guns were dropped at the top, and went to work cutting down the enemies. It was strategic, but fast-paced, and fun.

Parts for these devices and others can be found throughout the game world, and looted off of enemies. While you do pick things up, and you do have an inventory screen, it's obvious they're not trying to be Fallout 3, in respect to this. In fact, I get the impression they're trying not to be. Looting is looking at a corpse and pressing a button. I saw no indication that this game will require inventory micromanagement, and a constant eye on the weight limit. I think Id's more interested in making this game fun and briskly paced.

The thing that really left me feeling underwhelmed was the Monster Bash TV segment. This is...well it's basically FPS Smash TV. That's it. Different gimmick arenas, and waves of monsters to shoot. There's even the annoying(and extremely creepy looking) Producer commentating overhead. Tim Willits was eager to say you can repeat these events for better scores, and I had to ask myself, "Would I really want to?" This looked like something I'd be glad to be done with, to be frank.

So vehicle driving and combat looks great, on-foot combat is to be determined, how's the open world? I'll uh...get back to you. The truth is that there wasn't much of it shown. Lots of getting from place to place in the demo was loading screens. I think the open world is one of the things they're wanting to keep under their hat until closer to release. What little car travel there was seemed a bit claustrophobic and funnelled. Just how big and open the world is was the big question mark looming over my head as I left the exhibition hall.

Sitting here writing this article, I have a better idea of the things that make up parts of RAGE now, but I'm left with a pining for more of the big picture. We'll see how that goes as development continues. For now, I'm optimistic, and truthfully eager to get my hands on it.

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By John Bean - 08/20/09
ESRB Details: Although RAGE is current Pending a Rating, we fully expect this game to earn every bit of a Mature Rating possible. From id Software's past, we expect to see plenty of profanity, suggestive language, and lots of excessive blood, gore and violence.
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Screenshots for QuakeCon 2009: RAGE Public Preview

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