Get in the buggy, it’s not safe here.” Hold on a moment, pal. I’ve just emerged from a cryotube, blinking against the ultra-bright sunlight, into a cracked world a 106 years after I was plucked from it. Let me have a look around first.
Rage starts with a strangely poignant cinematic. A voiceover assures us Earth is about to be rendered uninhabitable by a giant cocking asteroid. But it’s all right for you: as one of humanity’s best and most muscled, you’re to be put in an ‘Ark’ to hang about all frozen until the planet’s sorted itself out. A century later, then, Rage begins.
Raised from the chiller cabinet by a robotic voice, I was allowed out into the wasteland. Stepping into the glare, I was treated to id Tech 5’s version of Oblivion’s sewer exit. The wasteland is combined brown, grey and beige, but it stretches forever – the developers’ new id Tech 5 technology using some magic to keep impressive visual fidelity over vast distances. A gaming diet of Fallouts and Oblivions made me set my target at some far off point, and I started down the bluff I was stood on.
Not five seconds into the walk, I was pinned to the ground by a screaming goon. I let him say his piece – mainly “waaaaah!” – before his head was removed at the neck by a well-placed bullet. As the game raised me back to my feet, I spotted my saviour in a buggy.
He wanted to head up the road to his makeshift house, but I’d been tempted by the lure of the horizon. He could wait. I pottered off past his vehicle, and was about to descend into a ravine when I heard the snap of a rifle. A millisecond later I was sprawled out on the floor, dead for not following orders.
Rage isn’t a true open world game. Creative director Tim Willits instead prefers the term “directed freedom”. I load my last checkpoint. This time when I’m told to get in the buggy, I do so right away
I’m taken up a dusty road to a settlement by the driver, who reveals himself as one Dan Hagar. Other Hagars and their hangers-on mill about his house’s dusty courtyard. They’re only there to add some ambience at first, but later they open up, offering jobs and items. For now, Dan’s the only man in town who needs my services. Ark survivors come pre-loaded with a set of lethal skills, so he hands me a revolver and asks me to go and clear out a nest of bandits.
The bandit nest is a quad-bike ride away from Dan’s homestead. Rage’s roads are short, but easy to navigate – perfect for using the bike’s generous boost. The trip should’ve taken me thirty seconds. Then I discovered that powering my bike fullpelt into a rock launched my screaming character 20 feet over the handlebars.
Five minutes later, I’m done giggling and I’m finally ready to invade the bandit pit – a smashed hotel. The first few rooms are eerily quiet, but soon I meet my first wave of enemies. They are – like the man gurning over my face earlier – freakish, with sticky-out ears and squashed-up heads. But their limited cranial capacity hasn’t reduced their combat skill. Those armed with melee weapons move cleverly: they duck and juke when you bring your gun to bear, moving diagonally to avoid easy headshots. Gun-toting bandits use cover well and seem conscious of their surroundings. They’ll vacate a room if you’ve murdered their buddies, falling back to fortify another section of the map. But I power through and head back to Dan with the news.
He sends me out again, this time with a bigger gun. Solutions in Rage are rarely conversational: the wasteland’s settlers, for their peaceful intentions, are a ruthless lot when it comes to bandits. In this bandit hive – a different group, covered in Union Jacks and speaking in mockney accents – I find myself freewheeling between weapon types. The shotgun and pistol are pure id Software: both kick and snap with every shot. But I have more fun with my newly acquired wingstick. A horrible, triplepointed razor boomerang, the wingstick will take a man’s head off at the neck, and when properly aimed, will return to your hand. In other shooters, I develop a favourite combat tactic and repeat it ad infinitum. In Rage’s semi-dungeons, I constantly flip between all my killy toys.
My adventures in Dan’s land culminated with me receiving the keys to my own buggy. From there, I was able to jet across wider sandy wastes to a township called Wellspring. It quickly became obvious that Rage’s opening two hours are little more than an elongated, enjoyable tutorial. Wellspring was larger, busier and dirtier than the Hagar camp, and its streets were lined with people who wanted me to do something for them, to buy something from them, to hear something from them.
As I pushed further into the game, I saw less of the direction in that ‘directed freedom’. I saw something more exciting, more promising: I saw the freedom