Alone 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 me crazy if you like, but I'm 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 have never been ones 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. Instead, I scurried to the toilets, turned on the hand-drier to cover any noise, and shouted the rival names at my wide-eyed image in the mirror.
As I splashed water on my face and my senses returned to me, I got to wondering: Did it matter that Rage shared settings, phraseology and the colouration 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 I 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 programme 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 bl 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 bonnet-mounted machine-guns blazing.
Bandits and mutants will have 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 are all waiting to spin around you while waving their hands and delivering dialogue in a fashion that's reminiscent of Hicksville animatronics in Disney World.
While in town you can buy some new togs and get rid of the Ark suit that's got The Authority so interested in you, deliver bottles of water you've found in the wasteland for a cash reward, sell scavenged items, or meet up with race officials beneath a giant inflatable purple gorilla and take your buggy out for a competitive spin. It's an impressively realised area and - especially when compared to the traversal nightmare that was Fallout 3's Megaton - a cogent and appealing place to come back to between missions.
Deep below Wellspring, however, trouble's afoot. The Ghost bandit clan are poisoning the town's water supply - and as a stranger from the plains it's down to you to deal with them. As soon as you enter the pumping station environs Rage becomes recognisable as, to borrow a phrase from Mark Kermode "un game de id". There's just something in the shape of the guns, the weight you see in enemies, the ripples of their flesh and the design of the levels that just rings true.
This doesn't mean that things haven't moved on from Doom 3. The Ghosts vault, somersault and careen over the scenery like muscled dervishes - they're utterly beautiful to watch, yet fatal if you continue to do so. Flames and explosions are genuinely jaw-dropping in the way they light up the screen. And every bandit clan has its own behaviour patterns, graffiti and identity - where Ghosts are melee-focussed and remarkably nimble in their ceiling-slides and leaps from pole to pole, The ~ Wasted (a group based on British bovver-boys) are more into traditional run-and-gun firepower - and lots of it.
Touch Of Krull
Your arsenal also goes far beyond the traditional one-note boomstick. The Ghosts may move around the scenery in the manner of Splicers, but they can be dispatched in a BioShock manner as well. Among the various different types of ammo your silent crossbow can be armed with are electro-bolts which can fry groups of badness foolishly standing in water. The pistol, too, has explosive rounds that are entirely pleasant to connect with a bandit ruffian's head.
On top of these you'll have your trusty wingstick - a multi-bladed boomerang that can be hurled with your free hand and take off a grunt's head before he's seen the whites of your eyes.
None of this is fresh and original, but in terms of constituent parts coming together to provide a solid gameplay experience id appear to be onto a winner. Indeed, what with the huge range of engineered concoctions that you can scavenge and take into battle as well (see Recipes For A Disaster) it's clear that those put off by Doom 3s basic combat from all those years ago are being aggressively woo-ed back into the fold.
In fact, when viewed in contrast to id's much bemoaned Mars Hell-leak Rage Is fascinating as the polar opposite of id's previous wares. Where Doom 3 was tight and confined, Rage is open and sprawling. Where Doom 3 was dark, Rage is bright and primary-coloured. Where once Doom-guy was poe-faced and serious, the world of /toge-bloke is very silly indeed. In all likelihood, Rage will fare well in the stormy waters of modern gaming.
While it won't redefine the FPS genre as id games once did, it appears to be an engaging and enjoyable new terrain for a more refined brand of frags, head-slices and gibbing. Unless, of course, we're all fed up with apocalyptic wastelands by next year. Which, frankly, is unlikely.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP