E3 2011: RAGE Hands-On Preview – It’s “Fallout 3 + Bulletstorm”
Everyone wants to compare RAGE to something. Fallout 3, Borderlands, something. During my hour-long play session with it earlier today at E3–in which I played through four complete demo levels–I too fell prey to the RAGE-comparison allure.
If you need a way to frame this game, let me make a suggestion: “Fallout + Bulletstorm.”
Aesthetically, sure, it’s a little like Fallout. It’s a richly detailed post-apocalyptic world, full of towns populated with quest-giving people, underground dungeons, even mutants. But there is also devilishly smart AI, a super high body count (you kill a lot of people), and a cartoony blood-and-gore style, even in the way the bodies flop. Bulletstormish.
But forget comparisons, and listen to this on its own: RAGE is a beautiful, fun, challenging first-person shooter with kick-ass weapons, gadgets and smart enemies.
Let me harp on the AI for a second. Enemies in RAGE are scurrying bastards that zig-zag all over the place, and generally do whatever it takes to get you. Each enemy type seems to have a unique flavor. The standard mutants are expert bullet-dodgers and side-steppers, and they’ll kind of scramble and swarm all around you with clubs.
In one instance in the level “Dead City,” I retreated to a choke point in a different area of the map. Instead of idiotically following me into the trap, they actually starting clambering up to a catwalk extending over my way, and proceeded to try and drop down behind me. Impressive.
Another enemy faction called “The Shrouded” (they’re wrapped in blankies for some reason), are more your standard gun-wielding bad guys–just smarter. They’re most dangerous in areas with lots of cover, like the underground lab in the “RC Bomb Base” quest. They just crouch behind stuff, and don’t ever pop up like the turkey-AI of typical shooters. They give you nothing. They’ll even do this move where they just stick their arm out of cover, and blind-fire at you, one-handed.
Basically, you can’t just run-and-gun through RAGE. The AI will eat you alive. This is where the game pushes you to explore your full arsenal of firepower, as well as all of your “special use” items. These are mapped to the left bumper (cycle through your choices with the d-pad), and includes standard items like grenades, as well as custom crafted “gadgets” like mechanical turrets, RC car bombs, Wing Sticks (bladed boomerangs), stuff like that.
Applying these in combat situations is a little tricky at first, since it’s not clear how and when these more advanced tools should be used. Let’s say you’re pinned down in a tight corridor, several Shrouded up ahead blocking your path. Break cover for a second, drop a mechanical turret in the middle of the room, take cover again and let the turret work. The mechanical turrets are spider-like robots mounted with machine guns, amazingly useful for disrupting a group of enemies. They’ll just crawl forward, chewing through enemies, leaving you free to proceed with caution and take more comfortable shots. It really opens up a room nicely. The mechanical turrets will even melee attack enemies with a brutal claw-slap if they get close enough.
RC car bombs are exactly what they sound like: remote controlled bombs on wheels, great for detonating in the middle of enemy clusters. Wing Sticks, while not any more practical for killing enemies than, say, an Assault Rifle, are just a joy to use. It’s a bladed boomerang that decapitates enemies, then returns to your hand afterwards. My best friend! Furthermore, if your aim is a little off upon initial release, you have a split second to adjust your aiming reticule and guide it properly on its course. It’s just fun, and it’s a one-hit kill. But you’ll need lots of space–they suck in corridors.
The real beauty of the gadget system is that gadgets can be crafted out in the field, right from the “Engineering” menu in the game. You’ve find all sorts of random gadget components scattered around the game world–on dead enemies, in secret rooms, sometimes just on the ground. To craft a particular item, you’ll need all of the required components. Once you’ve collected the right components, simply push “A,” and it’s ready to use right away. You’ll apparently come across new “schematics” in the game world eventually, which allow you to create different gadgets.
In your standard weapon wheel, you’ve got a bunch of goodies, too. There’s a trusty Combat Shotgun (which I used a lot, especially in tight corridors), an Assualt Rifle for greater range, an Authority Rifle (with powerful zoom), a Sniper Rifle for…sniping, and the Striker Crossbow–a personal favorite. It’s a crossbow with pinpoint accuracy, which can be loaded with electrified bolts. Fire this at a group, and the electric shock will spread. Beautiful. Fire electric bolts at an enemy in water, and you can imagine what happens.
It isn’t just the Striker Crossbow that can be tricked out with alternate ammo. Hold RB to bring up the weapon radial, and use the L stick to switch the currently equipped weapon’s ammo. The Pistol can be loaded with “Fat Boy” rounds, extremely powerful and great for tough enemies.
But some enemies are tougher than others, and require extreme weaponry, like the Rocket Launcher. In the level “Dead City,” I squarred off against a massive mutant. One arm was a slimy, dangling tentacle, the other was wielding a mini-gun. He was sort of a triple-threat: he could charge like a bull, slap with his tentacle (which left my entire HUD slimy and obscured), and shoot with his mini-gun. And he was seemingly unaffected by anything. I got fancy, even. I cooked grenades, dropped them right in his face. I shot him with the shotgun a million times. I used some Fat Boy rounds on him. No dice. He didn’t even blink.
I got out the Rocket Launcher, fired a single round. It hit him solidly, but he didn’t care. I just stood there, shooting rocket after rocket. After about five direct hits, he finally fell. It almost reminded me of the Baron of Hell enemy from id Software’s classic Doom, another mini-boss enemy which would only kneel after many repeated blasts from the Rocket Launcher.
RAGE is coming along quite nicely, indeed. It’s a great-looking shooter in a rich setting, packs a mean challenge and invites you to kill enemies in awesome ways. We still have some questions, of course. Such as, how deep is the game, really? How long will it take to beat, side-quests and all? What other kinds of schematics and gadgets can you find in the game world? What sorts of trouble can you get into just free-roaming? How do armor upgrades work?
We’ll find out September 13, 2011 when RAGE hits for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.
NOTE: RAGE was delayed until October 4, 2011.