E3 2011 hands-on: Rage

e3 2011 hands on rage

It was at this time last year that id Software wowed the gaming world with the official debut of its newest game, Rage (stylized as RAGE). Although still more than a year away from release, Rage took home a bunch of best of show awards, and had everyone paying attention. Id also showed off the brand new id Tech 5 engine, which is almost certainly going to be among the most sought after engines for the next few years. We were all smitten, and a year couldn’t pass quickly enough. That year has flown by, and the fire on Rage has cooled a bit, no doubt due to the intense scrutiny that the game has been under for the last year solid. But even so, Christmas came early for fans of id Software as a playable demo of the game was released into the wilds of E3.

The trailer offered a handful of options to try, from a buggy race, to a seek and destroy job, to a stroll through the wastelands. Regardless of the mission, there is one thing that was universal throughout the game, thanks to the new id Tech 5 engine, Rage looks as good as any game on this generation of consoles. Going forward, it seems likely that the id Tech 5 and DICE’s Frostbite 2.0 will be the dominant engines for first-person shooters for the next few years. Expect to see one of those two names proudly emblazoned across the front cover of many a game in the years to come.

But besides just looking swell, the id Tech 5 engine helps Rage create a game that people are going to be talking about for a long while. The early footage has been so good, and the reaction from people at Bethesda and id has been so favorable, that a sequel is already being planned, even though the original won’t be out until September.

In the gameplay demo on the floor of E3, the game is unquestionably beautiful. The lighting effects are as good as there are on this generation of consoles, and the facial animations can give any game a run for its money. The missions offered were somewhat bland, but that is part of the problem with playing just a demo of a game like Rage–the same problem plagued Fallout New Vegas at last year’s E3. Simply jumping into a mission overlooks the bulk of what Rage is about.

Rage is an immersive journey through a devastated post-apocalyptic wasteland. A twenty minute demo can’t come close to doing that justice because the game is about the discovery of the world. It also didn’t help that there were a few minor glitches, but those should be ironed out by September. The result though is that most people will leave E3 with nowhere near the same wonder at Rage as they did last year, and that seems to be part of Bethesda’s plan. The id Tech 5 can create graphics every bit as good as the Frostbite 2.0 engine can, but it will be Frostbite and especially Battlefield 3 that people focus on when it comes to graphics. And that makes sense, because while Battlefield 3 had posters everywhere and was showing massive battles in crumbling cities, Rage showed a few clips in a sewer and featured a couple of stuffed mutants near the entrance to E3.  There was also a giant screen continually playing EA’s newest games, including Battlefield 3, while the Bethesda booth cycled clips of Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and Prey 2, despite the fact that Rage will be released months before either. It was puzzling, but seemed to be deliberate.

That being said, Rage is an amazing game, and one that needs to be played to be fully appreciated. There are so many things to do, and so many ways to do those things that it isn’t just about where you go in Rage, but how you get there. Bethesda seems to know that and decided not to waste its money and compete with games that have some quick, but amazing visual bits of eye-candy. If another game took such a step back after an initial reception like the one Rage received last year, it would be worrying. But withe id Software and Bethesda behind the game, if any gaming companies in the world deserve the benefit of the doubt, it is them.

Part of the id Tech 5 engine that stands out is the enemy AI that is frighteningly smart. One of the items you can use in support is a sentry bot, a spider like robotic machine with a machine gun turret that shadows you and lays waste to enemies. When your targets see the sentry bot they will either immediately take cover, or they will ignore you and try to disable the bot. They are smart and determined. They are also very woundable, meaning if you shoot them in the leg, they won’t just shrug it off and fire back at you, they will limp to cover and hide.

The demo displayed a limited section of the game, regardless of which mission you chose. There was an area to explore or a race to win, and that was it. What there was to see was technically impressive, but deliberately vague.  Bethesda and id want the secrets of Rage to remain sealed until the September release, so don’t expect to hear too many leaks about the story.

But the graphics look amazing, the AI is scary smart, and the selection of weapons and tools will give anyone enough variety to keep them entertained for a long, long time. Rage may not have had the impact at this E3 that it did at last year’s, but wait until the September 13 release when it is once again on everyone’s mind.

[Warning: The following trailer may not be suitable for all ages]