Rage wears its influences not so much on its sleeve, but all over its dusty wasteland jacket. There's a definite sense that in building a truly current-gen shooter, id Software have expanded upon their years of expertise by borrowing from all the right places. However, the result is a game that struggles to define its own character.
I recently played a big chunk of the opening section of the game. At around two and a half hours long, my playthrough took me from the opening cinematic and tutorials, past the first mission hub and some way into the second. On my journey I was introduced to some gorgeous visuals, some meaty gunplay and some exhilarating racing. But the moment where all these elements combined into something special never quite materialised.
Perhaps just one more hour would have done the trick?
Rage takes place on an Earth ravaged by the effects of an asteroid collision, a catastrophe that leaves just a few survivors scrabbling around in the dirt to build new communities and towns. Within this world are various human factions, some grizzly mutants and The Authority, an organised, technologically advanced army set on restoring world order by any means necessary.
So it's a post-apocalyptic wasteland, one that borrows from the likes of the last couple of Fallout games as well as Borderlands. Coupled with a relatively open world, Rage features towns and characters that owe much to the Western film genre. That means Sheriffs, Mayors, ten-gallon hats, funny accents and handlebar moustaches.
It also means familiarity. id have a history of creating worlds and characters of their own; Influential worlds and characters of their own. So you can forgive me for being a little disappointed when I encountered Rage for the first time, face-to-face.
The actual gameplay works well, however, in pure mechanical terms. The combat in particular is satisfying. Even the early guns feel punchy and powerful. You start the game with a relatively weak pistol, but it's more than enough to fight off the bandits and mutants that come your way. Once you've augmented it with some more powerful ammunition and a new scope it can also pass for a workable sniper rifle.
This weapon crafting is very accessible. By looting the areas through which you pass you can pick up various nick-nacks with which to strap on to your existing weaponry or sell on to a dealer. It's a mechanic that suggests a robust loot system. Indeed, you are encouraged to search the bodies of your fallen foes. But there is one thing that struck me as particularly odd.
When you kill an enemy, they collapse to the ground and their guns melt into the floor. You simply can't loot their weaponry. Instead, it seems that all further guns you pick up throughout the game are either rewards for completing various quests or have to be bought. It seems odd to have a game that displays its RPG elements so freely, featuring gun combat as a central facet of the experience, then deliberately prevents players from grabbing the arms of their foes.
But whatever, perhaps the idea is to tightly control the character in the early stages in an attempt to ratchet up your destructive powers as the game progresses. Maybe. But it niggled me regardless.
What didn't niggle, however, was the driving. It's brilliant fun. Pretty early into the game you earn your first buggy and are encouraged to go out into the wasteland, zipping around in the dust. It greatly gains from a handling system that makes no attempt at realism and instead just tries to be entertaining. You can execute U-turns with relative ease and stop on a sixpence. Ramps and collectibles are also scattered around the environment, meaning you can chuck the buggy around with Motorstorm-esque abandon.
You can also customise your buggy, improving its speed or weaponry. I entered a number of races in one of the towns in an attempt to buy a mounted canon. Once achieved I was able to make my way through the more bandit-infested areas with ease. As I scooted between craggy rock formations my canons fired using an automated targeting system, locking on as long as I had my enemies in view. Watching bandit vehicles explode in a hail or parts and fire felt particularly good.
Oh and don't listen to Colin, it's pretty too. He may have been disappointed, but the truth is that considering the scope of Rage, you'd be hard pressed to build a more graphically accomplished game. Overlook the uninspired art style and the occasional bit of texture pop-in and there's no denying that Rage is a good looking console title.
So what's my problem? It looks nice and it plays nice, so I'm just being picky, right? Well maybe. But the mission structure employed in the opening section of the game leaves a little to be desired. It sees you literally driving somewhere, killing everyone you see and then returning to the quest giver. No attempt is made to mask the arbitrary nature of these missions. It just feels a little repetitive.
Hence my reservations. It's entirely possible, probable even, that Rage has so much going on that id feel it necessary to introduce all the various elements in a slow, deliberate manner, before opening the game up into something a little more expansive. Maybe the opening few hours are just an extended tutorial that drags on a little before hitting you with the good stuff. We'll see.
There's no doubt in my mind that Rage will be a decent game. It has too much going for it to prevent that. The question is whether it will be great, whether it will rise above its influences and find its own voice. The answer arrives in October.