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You kind of have to feel sorry for the folks at id Software. They invented and defined the FPS genre with games like Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake, and the upcoming Rage is their first new IP in a decade. “We wanted to do something new and unique with the FPS,” said Tim Willits, the title’s Game Director, on a panel stage in front of a packed room at PAX 2010 – and so, his team had been working on the game for years.

It felt slightly unfortunate, then, that I heard someone seated behind me mumble to his friend: “Man, that looks like Borderlands meets Fallout” – big-name titles that had hit shelves since work began on Rage. It’s true – Rage does look like a cross between Borderlands and Fallout 3. It’s a medium between the two: more colorful than Fallout, but not quite as wild as Borderlands. Either way, though, it’s hard to say that the game looks as “unique” as Willits and company were hoping it would.

Still, that doesn’t make it bad by any stretch of the imagination. Rage takes place in the distant future, where an asteroid strike has destroyed most civilization on Earth. In order to ensure humanity’s continued survival, the governments of the world banded together in something called the Eden project – burying thousands of small, life-sustaining pods underground. You wake up as one of the survivors of Eden, and must deal with this strange new world.

The demo started several hours into the actual game – one of the first NPCs you meet, who has been giving you quests to advance the story, asks you to travel across bandit-infested territory to the town of Wellspring. There, you need to deliver a letter to the mayor and get badly-needed supplies from the small settlement you came from. Naturally, you haven’t even taken a step outside of town limits when you need to whip out your gun. Design Director Matt Hooper – at the controls of the demo – had obviously played through this part more times than he could count, as he knew exactly where all the foes would be coming from for the purposes of putting bullets in their body.

When we happened upon a pair of enemies, though, he whipped out a three-bladed flying disc and chucked it at the duo, taking one of the bandits’ heads clean off – and prompting a huge cheer from the crowd. After that, we hopped into a buggy that was fast and zippy, but lightly-armed. According to Willits, the player will need to collect parts and schemata for their vehicles while adventuring, and build the cars themselves. A later buggy might have some bigger guns, but they opted to show us one of the high-end cars, heavily armored and armed to the teeth, with rocket launchers and auto-tracking turrets. Blowing up bandit vehicles with the aforementioned hardware on our way to Wellspring brought the second huge cheer from the crowd. They must like explosions (which did look very nice).

Wellspring, explained Willits, would become the player’s “home base” on their journey throughout Rage. It was the closest thing to civilization in this part of the world, with a very cool Western/Asian feel to it (like Firefly). Different towns would have different cultures, said Willits, mentioning an underground Subwaytown that borrowed heavily from New York. “We want the environments to look distinct,” he said.

The development team felt that it was important to have NPCs react to the player. Since we were new to Wellspring, the townsfolk either dismissed us entirely, or remarked on our strange wardrobe – the Eden jumpsuits. As the player’s adventures continue, though, they’ll start to recognize you, and maybe even remark on your exploits. There’s plenty to do in Wellspring, like minigames to gamble away money, buggy racing, and the like.

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Wellspring, as the name would indicate, sat atop a well that was its source of wealth – naturally, we hadn’t been there for five minutes before an alarm went off at the well. Bandits had attacked the well tunnels, and were threatening to poison it unless the government of Wellspring paid a hefty ransom. With the well destroyed, Wellspring would be all but finished. Who better to tackle the problem than a guy with a gun?

The player has access to different types of ammunition for their weapons, and to prepare for our journey into the well, we were given electric crossbow bolts – perfect for zapping enemies standing in puddles of water, naturally. We also saw another one of the player’s engineering gadgets (like the three-bladed boomerang), a remote-controlled car with a bomb on it. NPC reactions to the player are also in combat – when we drove the car around the corner, we heard a “Who’s driving that thing?” and “He’s got a rifle!” shouted in warning.

Id wants the enemies the player fights to be just as unique as the environments, explained Willits. The particular clan of bandits we encountered in the well was a very acrobatic group, attacking with flips and graceful, quick actions that brought them right up in your face – where they were more vulnerable to shotgun fire, thankfully. Another group that the player would encounter later was the Wasted clan, an over-the-top group of berserkers who feel no fear. We ran into the Wasted clan while looking for buggy parts – and as soon as we entered the garage, their buggy drove right at us, crashing into a pillar where we were able to take its gunner down before it could get free.

Willits and Hooper finished the demo by taking us to the Dead City, their “favorite place in the game.” The Dead City is named thusly because whoever goes there never returns, and there are rumors that it’s filled with a special breed of crazy super-mutants. It was by far the coolest-looking area in the demo – for all of their post-apocalyptic charm, Fallout and Borderlands never really explored a full-on urban apocalypse, opting rather to stick the player out in a wasteland.

The Dead City, on the other hand, was exactly what it said on the tin: A ruined, blasted-out, city filled with crumbling buildings that hadn’t been inhabited in decades – even centuries. The moment we stepped into the sunlight, we were attacked by a group of mutants crawling out of sewers and abandoned buildings, and they were shortly joined by a very big ally of theirs. The huge mutant was harder to kill and armed with a grenade launcher, but a few hits from a rocket launcher put it down.

Then the ground shook. And it shook again, and again. If we’d thought that other mutant was big (and in fact, in my notes I called it “huuuuuge,”) then it was time to think again: We rounded the corner and came face to face with a mutant the size of a skyscraper. And now we know why nobody returns from Dead City.

Rage doesn’t look as unique anymore as its creators might have hoped, but it’s looking very good. It’s out September 13th of next year on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

Also check out Russ Pitts’ preview of Rage here.

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