id Software hasn’t been an innovator in the gameplay space since Quake III Arena in 1999. While they were tinkering with new graphic engines and designing monster closets in the new millennium, upstart developers were surpassing them by leaps and bounds. A decade later, Tim Willits sits on a stool in front of me. His badge reads “Bethesda Software” and he’s holding a gamepad to demo the Xbox 360 version of Rage. All three of these things are from bizarro world. I’m surprised Tim doesn’t have a goatee.
Todd Hollenshead, the CEO of id Software, whispers a few things to Tim before he strolls out of the demo room and back into the hustle and bustle of the Bethesda booth. His stride is confident. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he had a bit of a swagger going on. A minute later he pokes his head back through the door. “You told them they can’t record video, right?”
It’s always seemed arbitrary to me. Valve doesn’t care if you record their Portal 2 presentation, but id’s own CEO is poking his head in to make sure there’s no video recording going on. I’m not sure why they’re being so bashful, Rage looks absolutely stunning. You’d think they would want everyone to see how it’s shaping up. Then again, Valve has little left to prove to their audience so they don’t need to worry as much about the masses making poor assumptions based on out of context gameplay moments.
id, on the other hand, has much to prove. Doom 3 was a bit like baking a cake using milk long past its due date. It looked great, but the actual play experience was off putting. Rage is a chance for redemption and based on what I saw in the demo, they have a good shot at it. Normally I’d gloss over how good the graphics look since I get bored typing it and I’m sure you’re tired of reading about it, but an exception must be made here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more PC-like 360 game before. Low on jaggies and high on detail, this is a graphical powerhouse. If the tools are good, id Tech 5 could put id back on the engine licensing map after years of the Unreal Engine dominating the industry.
Graphics aside, Rage holds its own from an art direction standpoint. Unlike Borderlands, which was low on detail and personality, Rage is filled to the brim with NPCs and atmosphere. The main hub town of Wellspring looks like an old junkyard smashed together and then pulled apart to be re-settled. There are some mini-games to play, conversations to listen in on and quests to gather. It’s not an RPG, so you’re just hitting A to accept a mission and mostly acting as a passive observer (until the shooting starts) as you walk around town.
Tim takes us into a mission. You can see a ton of influence from others games in the brief time we’re exposed to the combat. Let’s jump to my notes:
- Lots of enemies chatting with each other while and providing exposition while the player sneaks into the area. Think No One Lives Forever.
- Shooting the water with electrified ammo to kill enemies standing in it is very Bioshock.
- Controllable RC cars with bombs strapped on them remind me of the tentacle powers in The Darkness.
- Looting bodies and grabbing things off shelves is also very much like Bioshock and other FPS games like it.
You could be cynical and say that they’re just lifting features from other games and jamming them in – but this is the game industry. Everyone does it. It’s healthy. What’s most interesting to me is that all the new wrinkles aside, the DNA of a classic id game is still embedded in Rage. The shooting is punchy, the movement is quick and there’s no cover system to be found. Say what you will about id, they know how to make shooting stuff feel good and while I haven’t played it myself, that legacy appears to be intact.
What remains to be seen is out important the car combat is to the overall game. It looks fun, but not “let’s do this for five hours” fun. How open is the world? Does the story evolve beyond walking up to an NPC, listening to him talk and then pressing “A” to accept? There’s a lot we still don’t know about Rage.
I’m also not sure I trust my positive impression of it. id has been under performing for so long now that any sign of them moving forward makes me want to heap praise and hope that they’ll keep improving. Whether or not they can rise above this underdog status and deliver a game that stands on the shoulders of the new industry giants remains to be seen. It might be the best they can do is emulate them.