A spoiler-free look at the first two hours of id Software's Rage

When it comes to games, we're pretty selective about what we write up here on DVICE. Usually, we stick to the hardware. That said, id Software — the company behind Doom and Quake — is known for pushing the technical limits of what video games have to offer, and when we were invited to check out the first two hours of Rage, we definitely jumped at the chance.

What follows are our impressions of the game you'll be playing. Read: how it actually plays. We love going into a game fresh, surprises and all, and as such we're going to skip any plot details. Click on in to read all about how Rage handles — though bear in mind any of this can change between now and October, when the game is slated for release — and check out our gallery below to see some all-new screenshots of the game.

An Introduction to Rage

If you're already familiar with Rage and just want to get down to the gritty details, see the next section. If not, then the first thing you should know is that Rage is basically id Software's take on Mad Max. You've got your apocalyptic wasteland full of bloodthirsty raiders and mutants, your dotted settlements full of folks just trying to get by and your heavy reliance on fast vehicles — just like the ol' Road Warrior. If you've played Fallout 3 or Borderlands, you've already got a little Rage in you, but the comparison to those two games is only the tip of the iceberg.

While both the Doom and Quake franchises are chock-full of classic titles, it's the engines that fueled the games that really defined them. With Rage, id is serving up the brand new Tech 5 engine, which touts the ability to scale textures — the "skin" of objects in a game world, such as the wood paneling of a floor or the details of a warrior's armor — without punching the performance. Textures can really make or break a game: if the texture files are too large, they can take too long to load and make things choppy; too small, and they look grainy on models in the gamespace, and a smooth-running game suddenly looks muddy and bland (a problem that plagues our aging consoles).

The way id's Tech 5 engine handles textures — virtual texturing in id's parlance — allows the company's artists to go in and create textures that are massive, leaving the game engine to sort it out later. How does this effect you? Well, let's say you're a PC gamer. A lot of games these days are created and optimized with consoles in mind, and as such incorporate textures that are far inferior to what a modern PC can handle. That's why you get companies such as Bioware releasing PC-only high-res texture packs for Dragon Age 2, and mod communities springing up to reskin a game. Along those lines, Rage should be the prettiest product possible no matter what hardware it's playing on. This means mobile platforms could get some love, too, without id having to totally recreate the game.

id-software-Rage-preview-03.jpg

Shoot 'N Loot

You're going to be doing a lot of shooting in Rage, but chances are you'll be just fine with that because the game handles great. We got to play with a pistol, shotgun and an assault rifle (pictured held by a raider, above), and while all three function the way you'd expect, they all have a few surprises in store, too.

(Full disclosure: we saw another weapon, too, the game's deadly boomerang-like "wingstick." It was always just out of reach, however, as we were silly enough to play on something other than normal and got familiar with the game's checkpoint system.)

The game spices things up with varying ammo types that completely change how the weapon you're wielding acts. Take the pistol, for example. In most games, you get a pistol to start and you can't get rid of it soon enough. The sidearm in Rage is accurate enough to make it a standby when you're looking for a lethal head-shot at longish range, and is only made more useful when used in conjunction with a scope — something we didn't get to try.

What we did get to play with, however, were two additional types of ammo for the pistol: the slug-like "fatheads," and burst ammunition that's deadly at close range. Fatheads pack more punch than your standard ammo, but you can't hold as many fathead bullets so accuracy is key. The burst fire is good in a pinch: unloading the pistol's chambers drops enemies at close range, but leaves the player vulnerable while reloading. It's easy to switch between ammunition on the fly, and each room full of hostiles becomes a tactical encounter where you're planning what ammo you're going to use with what weapon, rather than just spraying and praying.

Every enemy you down is also lootable, and cleaning up after a battle will net you more ammo, money, junk to sell and component parts that you can use to make lock-grinding gadgets and traps, which open up inaccessible areas and add more tactical options, respectively. We didn't get the sense that inventory management will ever slow you down. You're pretty much always getting rid of the chaff, and the game is good about telling you what you have and what you need — to build a trap, for instance — at a glance.

In addition to your weapons and loot, you'll also be able to get better armor, though just how deep this mechanic goes has yet to be seen. Better armor, as you'd expect, lets you take more damage, and repairs over time.

id-software-Rage-preview-01.jpg

Road Rage

Driving is a big part of Rage. You'll be rolling between settlements, to quests and just to explore the nooks and crannies of the game world. You start out with a no-muss ATV, but the game quickly puts you behind the wheel of your own buggy, such as the one pictured above. (Places where Rage doesn't want you to drive are cordoned off by peg-like barriers, and we had a lot of fun ramming into those at full speed and watching our character fly through the air, screaming. id must have, too, because the move doesn't kill you, leaving you to chuckle instead.)

We're told vehicular combat is going to feature into the game in a big way — especially in the multiplayer — but we really only got to cart ourselves from place to place. No hood-mounted miniguns blazing; no leaning out the window to whip a passing ATV-er with a chain. We're hopeful though.

The driving definitely takes a backseat to the shooting in terms of what you want to be doing, but doesn't slouch. The bits we were behind the wheel were short enough that getting back on our ATV never felt like a chore, and what we saw was laid out thoughtfully enough that we never felt like the game was forcing us to kill time on the road just for the sake of it. When we got antsy we could punch on a booster and zoom off to the next location.

Either way, driving around gives you time to do a little sight-seeing, and the world of Rage is definitely something you'll want to stop and look at.

id-software-Rage-preview-05.jpg

A Fresh World to Explore

The world may look like it's full of piles and mountains of dirt at first, but this definitely isn't your average, bland wasteland. There's a mishmash of high-tech and low-tech throughout the gameworld. On a road driving to a quest, for instance, we would zip under hovering robots that paid us no mind. Right after that, we blasted our way through what looked like a ruined hotel inhabited by mutants, only to see bright red blimps and airships drifting along in the distance. (Shooting them with our pistol didn't take them down. What? We like to mess around, we'll admit. Come to think of it, we forgot to shoot those robots.)

The wasteland also isn't devoid of life. You can tell id took a long time working on how the characters you'll interact with look and feel, because they also share that high/low technological mashup. A lot of the digital folks we came across were dusty and tired and needed our help, many wearing gear made for welders or constructions workers, and some with makeshift robotic arms. Contrast that with the guy pictured above who, though decidedly "tribal" (as is the popular look in apocalyptic wasteland), is definitely hanging out amongst some high-tech digs. You'll talk to quest givers, parlay with merchants and engage the odd passerby — a random fella out on the road wanted us to duck down into a manhole, promising us mutants to shoot and booty to loot.

Rage has a weird life of its own in its dusty landscapes and ruined hotels. After two hours with the game we could have sat there for another ten, but then again maybe we had a few marbles loose after ramming all those barriers and trying to shoot down hot air balloons for minutes at a time. Another thing: we played the game on an Xbox 360 and, while it looked pretty good, we can't wait to see this thing on a powerful PC where that virtual texturing can really breathe.

Rage is scheduled to land October 4 for the PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Via Rage

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice