Respect The Authority!
We've been waiting a long time to rub our grubby mitts all over RAGE's sexy megatextures and luscious, inviting feature set [take a cold shower. Now. -Ed], and thankfully, id Software brought a whole batch of levels along to show us during E3 last week. As well as being able to play through a few of the previously-trailered stages such as the Garage, Well and Dead City, we were also finally allowed to get to grips with The Authority: the mysterious high-tech military outfit who provide the game's major antagonist. Rather than dwelling on the past, I'm going to cut straight to the juicy new stuff and my impressions about how the project is coming together.
The Authority Prison was the first major new reveal, and put players into the tight confines of a subterraneal holding facility in search of an incarcerated ally. As opposed to the cobbled-together squalor exhibited by most of RAGE's environments, the prison was chunky, industrial, steel-clad and pulsed with the thrum of machinery and electricity. It's a lot more reminiscent of id Software's usual industrial style, and to be honest, the level wouldn't have looked out of place in Doom 3. The high-tech setting also provided the opportunity to implement some laser grids that block player progress until their generator is located. Sticky EMP grenades will be your best friend against these generators, and can be cobbled together out of a few innocent household items. Expect plenty of find the generator and throw an EMP at it through a small hole in the wall puzzles, though the RC Car will provide a more imaginative method of dealing with these niggling barriers to progression.
Authority troopers are much tougher than any of the clans that cling to life in the blighted ruins of society. They pack tough body armour and vicious scoped machine guns that can cut through players' health in seconds, not to mention occasionally rocking a stylish energy riot shield that renders them almost entirely immune to damage. What's more, their AI is extremely impressive as they'll intelligently flank, advance when you're injured or even take advantage of your reloading time to relocate. Watching three distant foes leap behind my cover from an overlooking balcony while I was reloading my shotgun gave me a bit of a fright, let me tell you. Fighting these goons will require expert use of cover, use of powerful ammo types and the liberal deployment of Spider Drones or Sentry Guns.
It's worth dwelling on the items and ammo types for a moment. Mechanical helpers cousins can be built out of relatively common items, and will prove invaluable in practically any situation. The Spider Drone, in particular, has been vastly overhauled since its predecessor saved our bacon in Doom 3. A powerful minigun and sharp claws are supplemented by surprisingly brutal AI behaviour that causes it to close with vulnerable enemies and rip them apart with its claws, as well as jumping deceptively long distanes to gore its prey. Trust me, you'll be glad they're on your side.
Mind Control Bolts were easily the most impressive alternate ammo type on offer. These unassuming barbs are fired from your crossbow, and turn your target into an explosive puppet who can be moved around for a few seconds. The subsequent explosion is capable of dealing massive radial damage, though enemy troopers won't hesitate to fire upon their former colleagues to ease their suffering. Fatboy pistol rounds, armour-piercing assault rifle bullets and electrical bolts all have their role to play, but frankly, transforming your foes into shambling smart bombs trumps the lot.
We're not going to waste your time by rehashing the Garage, Dead City and Well levels. After all, we were all over that nearly a year ago! All I will say, however, is that RAGE feels as good as it looks; with tight controls and an considerate default sensitivity. The weapon and ammo radial menus are both intuitive and easy to use even in tense combat situations since they lay out everything at a glance.
Finally, the last truly "new" gameplay demo on offer was a break from the norm and a genuinely fun breath of fresh air. id Software had decided to let us try out one of the racing minigames, which actually feels like a bizarre yet deeply satisfying fusion of Mario Kart and Borderlands. You'll rag your customised vehicles around twisting tracks packed with shotcuts and pitfalls, all while collecting weapons, activating shields and pelting your foes with homing missiles. Being able to respawn a few seconds after death makes the experience more like Wacky Races than Mad Max, but it's an engaging little distraction nevertheless.
RAGE may have yet to find its own unique visual flair, but I'm delighted to report that its gameplay lives up to the impressive visuals and hands-off demonstrations. We can't wait to see whether id Software has what it takes to re-enter the genre they created when it releases this October.