Gamescom 2011: Post-Apocalyptic Earth has never looked this good!

I’m a believer

Prior to GamesCom, Rage was not on my ‘to get’ list. I’ve been playing id Software’s games since the days of Commander Keen and have loved most of what they have created, but while they are kings of gameplay, their storytelling has always lacked the kind of quality you need to make a truly immersive game. That’s not a problem for a Doom or a Quake, but it is when you set out to create a huge, apocalyptic world in the vein of Borderlands and Fallout. My skepticism was shared by many on our team, but going hands-on for nearly an hour has made me a believer.

Rage’s mission structure is similar to that of Borderlands and, in fact, the game borrows heavily from that game. After you arrive on the planet, you’re being shot at by some dude with a rifle but a stranger intervenes and drives you to safety. He’ll give you your first mission and from there you’ll start meeting new people, giving you new missions and new rewards when you successfully complete them. In many games you are lucky if talking people move their lips but, in Rage, the entire body is part of the conversation. There are different body types too, allowing id Software to create believable old ladies as well as muscled jocks and sinewy youngsters.

Going the extra mile

But id Software didn’t just want NPC’s to look realistic when talking to them, as fighting them looks even more life-like. Humans and other adversaries each have their own animations and they change during combat. While a deranged bandit may jump and swing through a room like a monkey at first, shooting him will making him stagger and, in most cases, hide behind something to recover himself. Enemies are smart and will not stay in the same place when it turns out they’re sitting ducks. Some will charge you, others will simply do a fast head-roll to move to a different position, but you can never expect them to stay in the same place for long. Many of the animations involved are unique to human opponents and fighting something else will reveal a whole new set of movements. I can’t stress the impact of these differences enough as they truly bring NPC’s to life.

Combat is fast and fluid and feels very natural. I didn’t need more than a minute or so to get used to the controls and almost immediately felt as if I had been playing the game for hours. Even the lowliest weapons feel solid and impactful, and a headshot with a revolver is every bit as effective as one with an assault rifle, as long as the target is not wearing a helmet. And don’t think enemies will die easily. A fallen enemy can be a real liability if you just assume he is dead. Before you know it, he’ll be shooting you in the back, even when lying crippled on the floor.

Getting around

Vehicle control is smooth and intuitive and in some ways, driving around in Rage works as well as it does in a dedicated racing game like DiRT, if not better. Tires have the right traction for the type of vehicle you are driving, the game’s responsiveness to steering commands feels just about right and the sense of speed is exhilarating, especially when using the speed boost feature.

While Chris opted to play the PS3 version of the game, I chose to tackle Rage on a PC instead and I’m glad I did. When I stopped playing and checked how Chris was faring, for a moment I was wondering if he was playing the same game- the graphics were that much less detailed. Don’t get me wrong, Rage is a good looking game on any platform, but on PC, it’s absolutely stunning. Both interior and exterior areas have an incredible level of detail, and the draw distances provide a similar view as you would expect to see in real life. No matter where you look, there’s always something interesting to see, like a hot air balloon floating through the air or a rag-tag building pulled up from scrap. Even rock formations come alive like you have never seen in any game before. You’ll get some taste of all this in the console versions but, in this version of the engine, there was a noticeable delay in the loading of the higher quality textures, especially when up close to a wall or an object.

Hard to let go

My only concern is a weird sort of Quick Time Event that is being used after death. Instead of re-spawning, an odd mini-game pops up that has two objects move towards each other. You push a button to stop them from moving and the closer the objects are when you push, the more health you have when you return to consciousness. I’m not a fan of QTEs and I fear that Rage’s is not about to change this.

Rage turned out to be very easy to get into, but it was hard to let go of the mouse. id Software has crafted a believable world that grabs hold of you and doesn’t intend to let go. I’d even go as far to say that Post-Apocalyptic Earth has never looked this good and never this alive.