I've just sat through the half-hour Rage demo at the E3 show. It's a funny game; I think a lot of the team at PC Gamer are relatively skeptical, particularly after Doom 3 and Quake 4. But Rage feels like a reset. It's gorgeous and it's very, very well crafted. It also has the biggest mutant of the show.
The demo begins in a dusty, valley, at a shack. The opening view is spectacular. Rage's art style isn't aiming for realism, but it isn't cartoony, either. I think the best way to describe it is 'enthusiastic'. It's full of life and colour. The landscapes feel like they've been lovingly rendered and thought-out. They're not proceduraly generated but hand crafted, and the effort shows.
The shack is littered in detail - junk strewn, roofs improvised: it looks like the best ruined shack we've seen in a game so far. The game is also locked at 60 frames per second - id's lead designer Matt Cooper explained that 'this was what John Carmack demanded'.
Rage is set sometime in the future, after a giant asteroid has hit Earth. Before the asteroid hit, the government created the Eden Project: building bunkers and placing the best of society underground to survive the impact. Sometime later, you return to the surface, to help rebuild.
When we walk into the shack, the chap inside is complaining about bandits - they're attacking from all over the place. The bandits in the Rage demo are more nimble than you'd expect; they jump around, dodge, and even use the landscape to get above you. The first batch of bandits were dispatched with a shuriken, their heads rolling in the dust while their necks spurt blood. It is gruesome. But funny.
The player then drives into the valley, and is set upon by bandits in cars. Here, the game seems to play very close to Borderlands - although the physics on the destruction is remakarble. When their ride exploded, the bandits were catapulted across the valley. Fun times.
We then enter Wellspring: a town that's built up around a water supply. Again, the town is impressively rendered, and filled with incidental but beautiful detail. At one end, a giant inflatable gorilla floats above the town. At another, vibrant neon signs point out the bar, the outfitters, and the well-head.
The first real mission involved heading downstairs under the wellhead to clear out bandits. They're blackmailing the town by threatening to poison the water supply. Fighting through them, Rage moved into Doom territory - although the player had many more combat options. He fired electric bolts to electrocute goons stood in water, he dropped robotic sentries to defend areas, and he used a crossbow to silently take down enemies.
The final showdown took place in the well, where dozens of settler bodies have been dumped into the water. Matt continually emphasised the combat options open to you: 'we want to give players the choice of how they approach combat,' he said.
The second mission took place in the Dead City, and offered two staggering moments. The first was when the view turned to the city itself, revealing six skyscrapers leaning up against eachother, fallen dominos. It is a thrilling vision of an apocalypse - a real 'oh god that's just what it would look like' moment.
The second: after fighting through a gauntlet of mutants and taking down their boss - who's several stories tall and fires a grenade launcher the length of a lampost - the player looks up. A hand with fingers the size of cars is placed on the top of the first building. And a grim, mutated face peers around. He's taller than a skyscraper. It's probably time to run.