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I'm not skittish, but I am squeamish. There's almost always a scene in a horror movie or thriller where the director tries to frighten the audience by having the killer suddenly and unexpectedly appear out of nowhere. It does not work on me. But there's almost always another scene in those movies where the director tries to gross out the audience by having someone stick a needle in their eye. This does work on me. And it's one of the reasons why, with ten minutes left to spare during my hour-long hands-on session, I called it quits with id's Rage. In case that is misunderstood, it is a compliment. I had to say as much to Tim Willits and the rest of the team from id after telling them, "Congratulations. Your game is the good kind of horrible."
Having grown up on a steady diet of post-apocalyptic despair and depravity, from Mad Max to A Boy and His Dog to Fallout 3, the setting has worn a bit thin for me. Rage manages to deliver just the right blend for the setting, giving me just enough familiarity to recognize a ruined version of my own world, and just enough of an alien factor for me to be confused and upset about it. The little mutants who sound just like perfectly ordinary pigs are the most obvious example but there are plenty of others and they did a great job of making me a little upset and unsettled while I was playing the game.
Naturally, most of this works thanks to id's amazing id Tech 5. The engine behind this game displays the considerable achievements of id's latest technology. Not only does it have some of the most realistic textures I've ever seen, but it also runs at a framerate that's too high for the number to even matter anymore. The power of the engine and the tremendously effective art direction are sure to make this one of the better-looking games of the entire year.
Anyone who's played id's games will feel right at home here. As you make your way through the various destroyed cityscapes or delve deep into subway tunnels, you'll be battling against repulsive mutants and ruthless soldiers. There's a bit of a story here, about some sort of resistance or other, but it's clearly not the main attraction. The real reason you're playing is to get your hands on the various weapons and gadgets scattered throughout the game, and then using those to blow the living crap out of pretty much everyone you meet.
Most of the game's humor came from the Mutant Bash TV level. Following the format of id's iOS game of the same name, Mutant Bash TV drops players into an ultra hardcore reality TV show where you battle mutants for cash. The whole thing is run by J.K. Stiles, a sort of overweight producer who sends you into battle against waves of mutants. As you fight your way through Stiles' Chamber of Laughs, you'll have to battle against spikes that randomly shoot up out of the floor and, no kidding, a giant spinning ape statue with swords sticking out of it. The whole funhouse atmosphere is a great change of pace that helps to break up the serious tone of the game, but still manages to maintain the Rage's live-or-die intensity.
There's even more variety in the game's racing modes. Much like Borderlands, Rage seems to have one foot in the shooter genre and another in the racing genre. But unlike Borderlands, id's game includes lots of scripted racing objectives. I played through the Dusty 8 Rocket Race, a four-person competition where the racers are armed with homing rockets, shields, and nitro boosts. Far from being a novelty, this part of the game is good enough to stand on its own. The controls for the cars are solid and this race was short enough that I was able to play it through several times. The basics will be familiar to anyone who's played a standard cart racer: The players race around the track, grabbing weapon pick ups and basically shooting the crap out of each other. E-brakes and shortcuts make the driving interesting, while the homing rockets ensure that you don't get too caught up in lining up the perfect shots.