A lone man struggles to the surface from a vault deep underground, wearing the garb of a long-dead civilization. Earth is an arid wasteland, packed with warring bandit tribes and mutants, as the survivors of a world-wide disaster struggle to stay alive day-to-day. Call us crazy if you like, but we’re sure we’ve been here before.
In the past few years various companies have been hawking products that are a bit Rage-y. Of course id Software has never been one to pay attention to games being nurtured elsewhere, but when you bear witness to Rage’s drought-ridden wasteland it’s hard to contain a Pavlovian bark of “Fallout 3!” or “Borderlands!”. And, later on, “BioShock!”, “Brink!” or “Doom 3!” Directing this yelping into the face of Rage’s lead designer Tim Willits would’ve been rude.
We got to wondering: did it matter that Rage shared settings, phraseology and the coloration of its craggy mountains with other games – even those in Bethesda’s stable? This is an id game, and what matters in an id game is that when you shoot someone in the face with a shotgun it is excellent. From where we had been sitting, this appeared to be the case. What’s more, you get a cool car. “Rage takes place in the distant future, after an asteroid has destroyed most of civilization,” Tim Willits had previously explained. “You’re a person who was frozen in a cryogenic chamber – arks. The ark that you’re in is damaged when it’s brought back to the surface. So you’re the only survivor.”
What follows is a directed, if not open-world, jaunt through the valleys, dried ocean floors and cowboy-vibe settlements of this new planet Earth. You’ll take odd-jobs from the locals propping up the bar in the nearby town, taking you into familiar id corridor-crawl combat, and you’ll gun over desolate hill and dale in your spruced-up buggy. Ultimately, you’ll face The Authority – an omnipresent force with an unhealthy interest in some of the technology coursing through your veins.
“As part of the Ark program you were injected with nanotrites. They heal you when you die, so you get a chance to de-fib yourself back to life,” explains Willits. “We’ve set up this dichotomy. You’re Buck Rogers – a futuristic man from the past – but you’re in a world that’s rustic and recycled. Ultimately part of the story arc is that you find out that there’s more to these nanotrites than meet the eye. Is it cosmic radiation that made the mutants, or is it The Authority messing with nanotrites? There’s a mystery that surrounds it.”
Before nanotrites come into play you’ve got to get to grips with the getting from A to B. Your buggy is an upgradeable steed that’ll accompany you throughout the game, although should you wish to walk between the game’s locations, then the option is open to you – albeit a somewhat trudging and boring one.
When you get into the car the action snaps from the first-person to a third-person car view in which you can roar off into the wild brown yonder with hood-mounted machine-guns blazing. Bandits and mutants will set up ambushes along your trail and various pieces of valley furniture are conveniently ramp-shaped, so your journeys will rarely be peaceful. In fact, should you like the car combat (and the screeching turns and impressive vehicle destruction suggests it’s likely that you will) then there’ll be various side-missions that will send you back out into the wastes to take down some of the more evil and super-powered four-wheeled machines of this particular apocalypse.
Sooner, rather than later, you’ll arrive in Wellspring to some familiar Western-style music licks and a cobbled together and scavenged material art style that concentrates on various rotor blades lazily revolving beneath the beating desert sun. Wellspring is the first of two major hubs in the game – the other being Subway Town – and it meshes the ambience of Deadwood, BraveStarr and Firefly with aplomb. The town’s populace is all waiting to spin around you while waving hands and delivering dialogue in a fashion that’s reminiscent of Hicksville animatronics in Disney World.