When the asteroid 99942 Apophis is confirmed to be slamming into Earth in the very near future, humankind sends a collection of people and technology into space. Their job is to wait remain in stasis, waiting out the short-term damage and re-entering some time later to help re-build society. One of the humans tasked with this you.
When you awaken from your slumber, you are presented with an image we know from previous id Software games - the sleek, metallic, shadowy cyberpunk style we’ve seen in Doom 3 and Quake 4. You can operate the computer terminals in the same way, and the corpses of your not-so-lucky companions - still in their cryo-chambers - are even visually similar to the zombies on Mars. All this changes once you leave the pod - like moving from id’s past into its present.
The light outside is so bright that at first all you see is white. Once your eyes settle down, everything is different. The cold metal is replaced with a world that’s dusty and red - the skeletal remains of industry in a world that seems half way between the Nevada desert and the wasteland that exists between Sydney and Adelaide.
Where many game worlds these days are almost noir-esque in their dark-and-light contrasts, in Rage everything is bright. From the brightest skies to the deepest shadows, the world has a unique art style which lets you see everything at once.
The introduction continues slowly, giving you time to inspect the immense landscapes and structures around you. There’s no cold-open action-sequence - just a chance to see the world in a fully player-controlled scene which is as beautiful and vast as it is melancholy.
It’s in this sequence that we get the first hints of the creative inspiration for the game: Our first introduction to the villains is a tense stand-off, and the first character we meet is a strong, capable and almost fatherly character voiced spectacularly by John Goodman.
Rage is an action game, but it doesn’t feel the need to jam action down our throats immediately - it knows that the real star of the piece is the world itself. Even once the opening is over we’re given ample time to explore the incredible detail of the world, if we aren’t in a rush - and it’s worth your effort. It’s hard not to find the tallest, most rickety gangway you can and just stare out at the world.
Dust blows in the wind and the aging metal structures barely-maintained by the human survivors on Earth make it very clear that whatever else it may be, Rage is a Western. You can tell that even before the real action begins.
When it does begin, though, you realise you’ve truly gotten only the best parts of a Western. On obtaining your first gun (an over-sized, brutal-looking revolver), your character inspects it carefully, checking the cylinder and running his fingers over its surface.
The firefights are brutal and fast; the weapons sound as powerful as they are. There’s no plasticky click with these guns - it’s a hand-cannon, and your enemies learn that very quickly.
By the time you’ve dispatched a few of the wasteland bandits, the others get fearful. You hear them call out to each other - they know they’re f**ked, and scream as much to each other - in that precise tone of language.
The combat isn’t cut-and-dried - beyond the weapon & ammunition types and grenades, there’s a fascinating air-borne semi-homing, bladed, boomerang-like contraption which is as hard to describe as it is fun to use. Your character isn’t a conventional human, either. Well, not any more he's not. As a survivor of the ‘Arks’ (something which also makes you a valuable commodity for certain factions within the game) you are equipped with nanite-driven defibrillator. When you die during a fire-fight, you get a mini-game to bring yourself back to life right then and there without having to reload.
The twist? There’s no lose-condition. You don’t fail the mini-game and have to re-load from a previous checkpoint... the better you do, the more power you blast out when you come back to life. A good job means that when your battered body leaps back into the fray, you’ll be blasting apart more nearby enemies with the energy from pseudo-regeneration.
It’s satisfying, too. Do a good job, and you know damn well that the insolent ganger who just ran you through with a knife is going to be convulsing on the floor very shortly as you get back to your feet. You can only do this every so-often, of course - but it does mean that unless you’re dying very frequently, death becomes almost another tool to deal with large rooms full of baddies.
This is only half the game. When you aren’t fighting bandits or wandering around ramshackle “towns” built around the remains of gas stations, oil rigs or diners - you’re traversing the wasteland in Mad Max-style dune buggies and ATVs.
The action here is fast and arcade-like - you’re bumping and sliding through canyons and blasting away enemy vehicles on your way to your destination, but it’s hard not to occasionally slow down and take in the world around you.
Despite the merger of the driving and on-foot combat mechanics, the game isn’t entirely linear. The side-missions, a detailed inventory, traders and the choice of what to do next feel like the structure of a role-playing game with the energy and elegance of a shooter... and it’s slick.
Damn slick. It’s not like we didn’t expect this from id, but the game is fast, gorgeous and does what it does damn well. With just an hour to experience the game, by the end I was frustrated I didn’t get to spend even just another ten minutes in the world - the polished combat and truly gorgeous art design had me hooked.
Rage isn’t so much a video game - it’s a moving diesel-punk oil-painting... with teeth.