Eddie Van Halen once said, of the throngs of young, new guitarists picking up where he’d left off, playing Eruption with their teeth and making their electric guitars do things he couldn’t have imagined, but yet had inspired them to do, that it was like watching someone steal your car, and then drive back to tell you what a cool car they have. I don’t know what it’s been like for id Software all these years, watching new developers take the shooter to dizzying heights in the decade and a half or more since they literally invented the genre, but I imagine they have to feel a lot like Eddie Van Halen.
There are many things you can say about the shooters that have been made since 1993’s Doom, both good and bad, but almost all of them – especially of late – are cooler than Doom and id hasn’t made a significant wave in the genre for a long, long time.
Enter: Rage, id’s new shooter, which they hope will be more like Sammy Hagar than Gary Cherone, i.e. “cool,” not “drool.”
“After we completed the last Doom game and Quake 4, we looked at the [id Tech 5] technology and … what it allowed us to do,” says id’s Creative Director, Tim Willits. “We also looked at how we’d evolved as gamers and developers, and how the industry has evolved as gamers. We knew that we wanted to do something different, something that would change expectations of what an id software game was. We knew that, at its core, its very essence, it had to be an awesome first person shooter. We invented the genre, we do it great, we knew that everything we did with Rage would have to revolve around this first person core.”
Rage is a first-person action game taking place in an asteroid-ravaged Earth at some post-apocalyptic point in the future. You will play as a dude who had been sealed underground by the government as part of a secret plan to keep folks safe in vault-like ARKs, but when you wake up, you realize things have gone horribly awry.
“Your ARK is damaged, and you are the only survivor,” says Willits. “When you emerge into this world, it is something that no one expected. More people survived the impact than anyone thought, society has tried to rebuild itself, there are mutants, and there’s bandits and there’s this omnipresent force that we call The Authority. At some point in the game, you will ultimately battle against this Authority.”
What’s most striking about Rage is not necessarily the technology behind it, which, admittedly is pretty impressive. According to id, their “Tech 5” allows them to hand-draw entirely customized worlds and present them at insane framerates. But what’s most arresting about Rage isn’t the evolution of the technology, it’s the evolution of the genre. Rage isn’t the kind of shooter one would expect from id. It has NPCs, dialogue trees, an explorable world, vehicles, custom ammunition – all the trappings of an RPG. Rage is the most un-shootery shooter id has ever made – which may be just what the doctor ordered.
“One of the great things about Rage is that any way you want to play the game – you can take as much time as you want exploring the wasteland,” says Willits. “You can explore different corners, you can find bandits, there’s lots of unique things to do around the wasteland. But if you’re the type of player that just wants to move through the narrative and complete all the missions, you’re more than welcome to do that. There’s a lot of replayability and areas to explore within the Rage universe.”
In the brief demo, id walked us through a number of environments, introduced us to a number of NPCs and gave us a glimpse at a few of the quests and factions you’ll encounter in Rage. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, and from what we were shown, the world looks to be pretty massive in scale. There are dune buggies and other vehicles you can drive from place to place, and the driving itself turns into an action sequence as you face off against dune buggy-driving bandits. It all feels very Borderlands-ish, but id says that isn’t the goal and that their game is a lot more focused than Gearbox’s open-world shooter.
“We like to call it ‘open but directed,'” says Willits. “We hate being lost, we hate random missions like ‘why the hell am I doing this?’ But if you wish to explore more and go out in the wasteland and do some side missions, it’s completely okay to do that. It’s a lot different than something like Borderlands that is meant to be more procedural.”
This naturally leads to the question of, if id wanted to do something new and different, why tackle the post-apocalypse, a genre that currently rivals “the abandoned space station” for most over-used setting in games. According to Willits, it’s all about what’s fun.
“People ask us ‘why is this post-apocalyptic,'” he says, “and one of the reasons is that when John [Carmack] had created this technology, he actually downloaded NASA geographic data and he was streaming it and it was really cool and we were looking at it and thought ‘oh, we can make a game with this. OK, it’s gotta be outdoors, and then we’ll have cars and we need to put guns on the cars.’ And then we found that we wanted to have a setting that allows us to do this over the top sci-fi stuff that we like to do at id but we wanted to have it grounded in stuff that people can relate to: muscle cars, machine guns and stuff. So the post-apocalyptic setting worked out really well for us, because it allowed us to have a rich environment with over the top gameplay that people can relate to.”
What id hopes Rage will do best, though, is make it awesome for you to shoot stuff. There are different types of enemies who behave in completely random, AI, unscripted ways. Their actions will lead you through the story and the missions. You can pick up spare parts to make various types of machines and robots, like the RC car bomb. And specialized weapon types, like the electro bolts for your crossbow give you the power to wreak a satisfying variety of havoc.
It’s hard to say from a half-hour demo whether or not Rage will be the tsunami of excellence id is hoping for, or whether it’s too late for id software to learn new tricks in an old genre. At times, Rage looks very “been there,” and at others it’s jaw-droppingly spectacular. But an action shooter is only as good as it plays. Until we get hands on, the jury’s still out on this one.
I’ll let Willits have the last word:
“You start off in the ARK, and I want the player to think ‘oh, okay, this is an id game. I’ve played Doom 3, I know what high tech looks like,’ but when they open that door and then it’s like ‘Wow, this is completely different.'”
Russ Pitts has fond memories of having his mind blown by id Software’s Doom and Quake. He is optimistic about Rage.