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.

In addition to letting me play through an hour (well, 50 minutes) of the single player game, Tim Willits, id’s Creative Director, also gave me lots of details on the game’s multiplayer modes. Rage has two main online components. First, there’s Rage Combat Rally, a six-player combat race where players race past checkpoints. When a player hits a checkpoint, he or she earns points and boosts a rally multiplier. The multiplayer makes the leader a target for other players, who can claim the multiplier by taking the leader out.

The whole thing plays out over the course of three minutes but that’s still plenty of time for lots and lots of action, particularly with the smaller maps and dynamic rally system, which places the new points in front of the rally leader. This last bit is particularly cool as it allows players to anticipate where the next rally marker will be, and even allows leaders to misdirect their opponents by using the e-brake to slide over the rally marker sideways or even backwards.

The second multiplayer mode is Legends of the Wasteland, a co-op version of eight missions inspired by the single player campaign. Though these missions use the same basic settings, they extend, rather than repeat, the story of the single player game. For instance, in the single player game the player has to go out and rescue the sons of a local sheriff who have gone out to save the town of Wellspring from the Shrouded Clan. There’s a Legends of the Wasteland level where you get to play as those boys as they make their way through Wellspring, fighting the Clan and disarming the bombs. It’s a neat idea that gives players a chance to see another side of the story, while also giving id a chance to reuse the assets from single player in a way that doesn’t just duplicate what you’re doing in single player.

There’s even a co-op version of Mutant Bash TV where the players take part in the pilot as the show begins to get off the ground.

While I was seeing the game, id also announced a special Anarchy edition of the game, which will include an exclusive new vehicle, melee weapon, and access to an elite suit of crimson armor which will grant a few in-game bonuses. All that’s nice, but what really interests me is the new one-handed, double-barrel shotgun. After all, it can’t really be an id game without a double-barrel shotgun, right? So far, the Anarchy edition is only confirmed for North America, but I can’t imagine id not making use of the same promotion in Europe or Asia.

Now all I need to know is whether or not the Quake voice is in or not. It’s not a deal breaker for me, but it would be nice to hear it again.

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