Bethesda is no stranger to the wasteland. Since 2008, the majority of games released by the publisher have been set after an apocalyptic catastrophe of one sort or another. Both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas successfully proposed a divergent future following a nuclear holocaust in the 1950’s. Then of course there was Brink just earlier this year, set in a world submerged by climate change.
RAGE, too, is set after the Armageddon. In development at id Software, RAGE marks the first new intellectual property in 15 years by a studio that, arguably, has done more to shape and popularise the first-person shooter as we recognise it today than any other.
The studio is also known for its proprietary graphics engines, the id Tech series. RAGE will mark the debut of id Tech 5 and as a result, much of the messaging about RAGE has focused on both id’s first new offering in a digital lifetime, and on the glamorous new software development kit it’s toting.
Falling off like so much irradiated flesh is what RAGE is actually about. Seeking to redress this oversight, Bethesda presented press with three hours of gameplay at QuakeCon in Dallas, from the start of the game. And so a monstrous asteroid begins its descent into our troposphere.
Humanity has a contingency plan. Prior to impact, the world’s governments launch the Eden Project. The idea is to gather the kind of leaders, academics and visionaries necessary rebuild society and to put them in underground facilities called Arks where they’re to be held in cryostasis. The player is among them. Those above ground are left to face what will presumably be an extinction event.
The player awakes within the blinding white confines of the Ark at an indeterminate date in the future. A malfunction has seen others sealed within the Ark mummified within their chambers, long since deceased. Stumbling beyond what has become a tomb, we take our first tentative steps into the world of RAGE. Immediately, we’re attacked. Tenacious humanity – or at least, something closely resembling it – appears to have survived the deep impact.
Two humanoids leap from behind a rock and bear down. They move more like animals than humans, crouched low, signalling to each other with whoops and calls rather than words. One closes and raises its rudimentary weapon to strike the deathblow and it appears that our initial experience in RAGE is to be a brief one.
But as the weapon is about to begin its final descent, the creature pauses, then sneers as the sound of a motor grows louder. As quickly as the attack commenced it was over. Whomever is in charge of that motor kills the assailants in two well-placed shots.
It’s a scripted sequence of introductory play that sells RAGE’s newly realised Earth extremely well. It’s warped, bewildering and violent – aptly establishing the vision for the experience the game intends to deliver.
Recovering from the attack and scrambling for the buggy of our white knight, we immediately recognise the gravelly tones of John Goodman, who introduces himself as one Dan Hagar.
Over a pair of green sunglasses, Hagar provides some much-needed exposition. The world as we know it is over, that much is already clear. There is a patchwork of settlements, and even some small cities, but what fledgling clusters of society there are clutch onto existence tenuously. They’re under constant threat from tribes and clans of raiders, thieves, and murderers. Hagar continues by explaining that Ark survivors are highly valued by the tribes and something called The Authority.
The buggy speeds on through a captivating interpretation of the future heavily inspired by the Wild West. The trivial ruins of our civilisation punctuate the landscape, serving little more purpose than to testify to humanity’s ego.
Hagar pulls into a tiny settlement that he calls Hagarville. On the threshold of his home he explains the peril he’s put his town in by rescuing us and proffers a pistol, and the keys to a quad bike. We are to singlehandedly destroy the tribe of the two men that had attacked. It’s a cutthroat existence in this harsh new environment as far as Hagar is concerned it’s time for us to earn our keep.
Driving in the world of RAGE is fun. It has the fast and loose controls of an arcade game or kart racer and when the boost is hit, there’s a palpable sense of speed. Ramps, or close approximations thereof, are scattered around the barren wilderness, encouraging playfulness when driving. That’s just as well, as driving and vehicular combat are no side attractions in RAGE.