We start off with what has to be one of the first missions in the game. We pull into Wellspring, a dry, dusty collection of shacks, where the first person we meet teaches us to throw a wingstick. You’re going to love the wingstick – it’s basically a three-bladed boomerang that smart-targets whatever you huck it toward at and slices through anything fleshy it hits. They’re not sturdy, so you constantly need to construct new ones, but trust us – you will LOVE the wingstick.
Above: For some reason, the screens Bethesda gave us don't often match the levels we saw. But hey - mutants are always amusing, right?
This is actually a good place to mention the whole construction/engineering angle in RAGE. Throughout the game, you’ll constantly be picking up pieces of high-tech junk – a battery pack here, a circuit board there. And you can combine these into a whole range of gadgets. Wingsticks are one, the spider-bot from the prison level was another. And when we’re sent to a trashed-out dam to locate some buggy parts, we discover the lock grinder, a device that literally saws through locked doors, is yet another. The dam itself is a claustrophobic trek through lots of tight corridors and cluttered spaces, kept interesting by the relentless attacks of squad after squad of British-accented thugs with painted faces.
The next level (in the demo – we’re not following the game’s story; we’re skipping around) showed off a new constructible item: a remote control toy buggy packed with dynamite. The environment this time was some sort of high-tech facility occupied by the Authority, who took great offense at our efforts to shoot them all in the face with electrified crossbow bolts or special machine gun ammo designed specifically to penetrate their armor. This facility also housed entire rooms full of explosives, which we would dispose of by driving the little explosive RC cars through the vent work. We were glad to have played these two levels in succession, because it showed off how changing the setting, goals and enemy type could give the action a nicely varied feel even though we were essentially still first-person blasting.
Next, we tried a vehicular level, a straightforward buggy race – well, as straightforward as a race can be with rocket boosting and power-ups and missiles. It actually played faster and more arcade-like than we anticipated (and to be honest, I lost … twice. Don’t get caught looking at the scenery). Good stuff.
The final level we got to try swapped the mood again, in a cool way. Sent to “Dead City” in search of lost research data, we found ourselves in a sickly drab, predomonantly gray urban ruin that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a horror game. Sure enough, we hadn’t taken three steps before mutants began leaping out of the ruins and charging toward us. Mutants are the anti-tactical group in RAGE. Whereas the Authority are organized and team-based, and even the various gangs are smart enough to use cover, mutants would rather straight toward you, preferably screaming like a banshee. Not a terribly creative or sophisticated strategy, but one that nonetheless scares the bejeezus out of us much of the time.
This is doubly true when one of the larger mutants shows up. He stands at least ten feet tall, and lest you think he’s slow and lumbering and you can just keep your distance, he’s got range. In place of one arm he has a long, slimy tentacle that can stretch out from almost any distance and slap you, leaving your vision clouded by goo. It’s like one of those jelly hand things kids play with, but with added blunt force trauma.
Above: This isn't him. But there should be a video below with him in it.
Luckily, we take a quick look in our loadout, and – how convenient – we seem to be carrying a rocket launcher. Swapping weapons in RAGE is a breeze, we have to say – you hold one shoulder button and then use the right stick to choose one of four weapons and the left stick to choose from up to four kinds of ammo, then release the button and there you go. It’s a great on-the-fly system, and we love that we didn’t have to take our thumbs off the sticks to use it.
A few rockets to the teeth, and even Mr. Stretchy-arm takes a dirt nap. This brought us to the end of our time with RAGE, but as you can see from the embedded video, there’s a lot more to this level.
The more we play of RAGE, the more differences we notice not just between this and Borderlands, but between this and other shooters in general. We knew it was gorgeous. But we’re becoming more and more convinced that the beauty isn’t only skin deep.
April 18, 2011