Last week, Jeff and I went hands-on with the PS3 version of Rage, id Software’s October-bound first-person shooter. All told, we experienced more than two hours of post-apocalyptic action, driving, and exploration in a nuke-shattered world of exquisite visual detail and startling violence.
Afterwards, we spoke with id Software President Todd Hollenshead to discuss what made the legendary DOOM developer shift gears to a story-driven, open-world playground — and to learn more about the mysteries lurking in that sprawling wasteland.
Todd Hollenshead, President, id Software: You have to sort of experience it, it’s very difficult to explain. The megatextures allow us to make the entire world unique. It’s all painted and modeled and because we’re streaming the textures, we’re not really constrained by system memory. We can have completely unique elements throughout the world without costing us performance.
Sid Shuman, PlayStation.Blog: Any hands-on discussion of Rage must begin with its stunning visuals. Rage is easily among the best-looking first-person shooters I’ve seen this console generation — suddenly, Carmack’s Tweet about players mistaking the PS3 version for a high-end PC doesn’t sound so crazy. The sheer detail is staggering, with the shattered environments positively dripping detail: In my two hours of play I saw whirlwind of tribal etchings, battered street signs, skulls. Despite the visual fidelity and the large scale of the outdoor environments, Rage miraculously runs at 60 frames per second with no screen tearing. That’s an impressive graphical accomplishment.
Jeff Rubenstein, PlayStation.Blog: We’ve seen no shortage of end-of-days gunplay in recent years – Fallout 3 and Borderlands spring immediately to mind – but Rage establishes its own visual style from the opening moments. Considering the fact that a good chunk of Rage takes place in a devastated wasteland, the game is quite colorful: The outdoor sections are brightly lit and set beneath a brilliant blue sky. It’s evident that id Software took extreme care in crafting this detailed world. Everything wears the patina of age, looking grimy and worn-in. Like you said, it all scrolls by incredibly smoothly, which is especially important when the gameplay relies on aiming, shooting, and high-speed driving.
Todd Hollenshead: You hear about The Authority early in the game, but you don’t know what it is. But they’re making high-tech weapons, energy weapons…my favorite weapon is the rocket launcher. It’s a staple of id weapons, but this one has a subtle little feature that you won’t see unless you get distracted for a while. If you let your aiming screen idle, it goes into a DOOM screen.
Sid: id Software’s games have hardly pushed the boundaries of storytelling. But with Rage, it feels like the developer is out to dispel that reputation once and for all. During the opening credits, the asteroid Aphophis screams towards a fatal collision course with Earth. You are part of an elite group tasked with resurrecting humanity once the devastation subsides, and your group sleeps the decades away buried in a high-tech sarcophagus — an Ark. When you finally wake up, you find the Ark lies in ruin and your comrades are dessicated corpses. You exit the Ark, stumble into the blinding light…and are promptly attacked by roving mutants. Luckily, you get a helping hand from a passing wastelands traveler named Dan Hagar…who sounded a lot like John Goodman, didn’t you think?
Jeff: Turns out that it is John Goodman! Dan Hagar rescues you out of kindness, but he knows that an able-bodied Ark survivor is a useful asset for his rag-tag outpost. He presents you with a handgun and some coin, then sends you back into the breach to clear out the mutants who saw you escape. Since we were playing alongside each other, I noticed you jumped right onto an ATV and headed back out into the wastes, but I stayed behind to poke around Hagar’s makeshift town and speak with the townsfolk. A local woman trained me in the art of the Wingstick – a silent, lethal boomerang weapon – and gave me five of them as a reward. Next, I dropped by the local merchant’s hovel, where I picked up some grenades and a monocular, which turns your piddly hand cannon into an accurate, long-range firearm. By this point I was eager to try out the ordnance, and sped off towards the mutant den. How’d you fare with the default loadout?
Todd Hollenshead: We didn’t feel like a deathmatch-style multiplayer mode fit with what we were doing. We wanted the multiplayer to be as unique as the single-player…doing deathmatch like DOOM or Quake would feel like we’re giving up a little bit, creatively. For multiplayer we have the vehicular Road Rage mode. We also have a cooperative mode that runs parallel to — but not on top of — the single-player experience. It’s a bit like Modern Warfare 2’s Spec Ops: same game, familiar environments, but remixed for co-op experiences.
Sid: I was eager to dive into combat…perhaps a little too eager. Once I found the den of evil, I trudged through the gloom and picked off bandits using my low-powered Settler’s Pistol. The firefights were classic id: vivid, visceral, and deeply immersive. It didn’t take long before I learned how to revive myself upon death by solving a brief coordination puzzle; the better my performance, the more health I earn and the bigger the shockwave I released upon reviving.
Inside the hotel, the Ghost Clan foes I encountered moved expressively, clutching at their wounds when shot, scrabbling across obstacles, and lunging at me with ferocious kicks. At one point I gut-shot a bandit and he dropped like a rock, then squirmed on the ground while defiantly squeezing off a few more shots. I also noted the game’s skin-crawling audio design: ghouls hissed “over there!” and “I see him!” while I tried to slink through the shadows. The entire experience was unsettling and deeply primal.
Jeff: And they conversed with such charming Cockney accents! But if the mutants sounded like English punters, they moved in a more simian fashion, closing in for the kill through a combination of tumbles and dives… one even swung along the ceiling. In many ways, I was reminded of BioShock’s Splicers: acrobatic and dangerous – and this is before I started running into another clan that was armed with assault rifles. These “muties” weren’t as nimble, but they were tough. It took more than one headshot to ship them off to dreamland. Later, I acquired powerful “Fat Boy” slugs, which turned the basic Settler Pistol into a one-hit kill cannon.
Once the hotel floor was littered with corpses, I made the rounds, looting money, ammunition, and scrap items from the fallen. Though broadly reminiscent of Fallout 3, the inventory system in Rage is significantly streamlined; there’s no concern over hitting a weight limit. As the game progressed, I learned how to craft useless junk into useful tools like first-aid bandages and lock grinders. The whole process is simple and straight to the point – about what you’d expect from id’s first inventory system.
Sid: You definitely won’t be confusing Rage with a stat-heavy RPG, that’s for sure. But the open-world mission structure and detailed fictional universe give Rage a heft that’s rarely felt in first-person shooter campaigns. In addition to the main single-player quest, the final game will ship with racing challenges and optional side quests, while a vehicle-based competitive mode and a series of cooperative-tailored missions called “Legends of the Wasteland” round out the online multiplayer options.
Have questions about our experiences with Rage? Drop them in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer them!