It's been just under seven years since id Software released Rage, their first title under new owners Bethesda. In fact, the game was originally meant to be published by EA (though that was to change after Bethesda bought the studio), and it was first announced in August, 2007. Much of the early chatter was about the new id tech engine and the mega textures that would revolutionise visuals in video games. It offered an evolution of id's hallmark gunplay, adding vehicles and some semi-open world elements to the mix. In many ways, Rage 2 looks set to deliver fully on the original promise of Rage, but a lot is different, very different.
This time around id Software has partnered with open-world action specialists Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max), and instead of a postapocalyptic setting that "uses up all the browns" (Tim Willits' words, not ours), we're treated to a post-post-apocalyptic world. One that has begun to recover, with eco-pods working their science to create biomes and environmental variation, while society has begun to rebuild, or well, it started to rebuild until the conflict flared up again in time for this second game.
"We've made up a whole story of what happens in those 25 years", explains game director Magnus Nedfors. "The Authority was defeated in a big war, then there was a mutant uprising because the mutants got abandoned by their masters, The Authority, so they roamed free, there was a big fight. A lot different bandit groups had to band together and have a peace treaty amongst each other, but then just before our game everything is calm. But then as often in human society power-hungry people start to try and control the world. So there's a lot of conflict between different groups who struggle for power and all of a sudden The Authority comes back unannounced and invades part of the world again and that sets off this game."
There is a voiced main character this time around, Walker, and through him the player will learn more about the world and what has happened. The first scene shown to us during the demo session at the Avalanche offices sees Walker make his way through a dense bamboo grove. It's far from the only impressive vegetation we're treated to and perhaps you can trace some of this back to Avalanche's excellent work on the vegetation in The Hunter: Call of the Wild. We later catch glimpses of more of traditional forest and a swamp area. We're making our way towards the lair of Doctor Kvasir, a character you may recall from the original Rage, and he's under siege by some Authority mutants. They're dealt with quickly and we're treated to an extended cutscene where our relationship to the good Doctor (who's using a mutant as a mount) is fleshed out. Clearly, a lot of effort has been put into the narration, and the quirky characters have been identified by the developers as one of the key aspects of the original.
The good doctor needs you to pick up some nanotrites, inconveniently located in an undeployed eco-pod in orbit, so you're tasked with going to a launch control centre and sending it crashing down to the ground. Then you've got to go and retrieve the nanotrites. Simple enough, apart from the fact that the place is overrun with Goonsquad types, aggressive bandits who tend to get up close and personal.
Another key thing from the original that you'll no doubt wonder about is the gunplay. Does Rage 2 feel like an id Software title? It's difficult to answer fully from just a brief hands-on session, but we can say for sure that it's visceral, intense, and in-your-face, and as such, it feels like a game from id Software. The camera is up close, your abilities mean you'll get into the face of the enemies who, after a couple of shotgun blasts, will pop like ripe blood bags.
"When we first started our collaboration it was one of the main milestones or goals that we set out jointly to tackle," says Tim Willits, studio director at id Software. "We were able to utilise our experience. We pulled people in and out of the project to help with certain specialities and we were, I believe, really able to craft that DNA of an id Software shooter into this open-world game."
We played through the E3 demo for Rage 2 twice, it included a brief tutorial of the nano abilities, and drops you off at the space centre that's overrun by Goonsquad. After taking care of a couple of handful of enemies outside the facilities we're treated to a more moderated and scripted sequence of rooms and encounters inside the building. The action gets up close and personal and we're introduced to the shotgun after a while (you start out with the assault rifle and pistol).
The combination of the nano-powered abilities, where we got to try dash (quick movements in any direction), shatter (makes your enemies pop), and slam (launch yourself into the air and slam yourself down to the ground for an area of effect attack that also stuns opponents), means you're able to string kills together with great speed even if the enemies tend to absorb quite a few bullets before going down. This feeds into the overdrive feature that allows you to trigger a frenzy where you'll do more damage with weapons and abilities.
"The overdrive mechanic is the core of the on-ground combat loop whereby playing in a certain intense way you fill your overdrive meter faster and faster and faster," says Nedfors. "You can't really make them flow into each other, but very, very close."
As far as weapons go, this first demo made use of a fairly standard range of weaponry including a rather potent pistol, an assault rifle, and a deeply satisfying shotgun. We also got to fling grenades and sample the signature wingstick from the first game. It feels like a weapon for a more elegant time if you will, given the insane pace, but if you want to take out an enemy with style this would be your choice. Clearly, Avalanche is keeping some more exotic options in reserve, and we suspect there are sniping and rocket launcher options that make more sense in the open-world bits.
One thing we only got a brief look at and no actual hands-on with was the vehicles. Walker will have his own set of wheels that can be upgraded (though not to the extent of Avalanche's previous title, Mad Max), you'll also be able to commandeer any of the other working vehicles in the wasteland. What we did note is that you'll pack a decent arsenal on your tank-like set of wheels with both machine guns and missiles at your disposal and plenty of bandit rides to blow up.
Rage 2 will naturally serve up your typical Avalanche-style open world that offers a blend of pre-made activities and content that's being "pushed" to the player depending on his or her chosen playstyle. The aim, as usual, is to divert the player from time to time, providing them with a good variety in terms of encounters, objectives, and collectibles.
There's still some time to go until Rage 2 is unleashed on the world with Avalanche and id Software targeting a release on PC, PS4, and Xbox One early next year. Much like its predecessor it looks set to offer something that's fairly rare; a high-octane, intense shooter experience that also offers plenty of story and a rich world to explore.
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