Previews

RAGE gameplay preview

The future of shooters - or the past?

If you think your local supermarket's asking price of 95p for a bottle of glorified tap water is a bit steep, then spare a thought for the residents of Wellspring.

Despite being situated on top of one of the world's few remaining H2O reserves, the nominal capital of RAGE's arid desertscape is suffering the after effects of a devastating asteroid-to-Earth collision as badly as anywhere else.

A dry air of poverty runs through the ramshackle town. It's a haphazard settlement made of corrugated iron and dust which, you feel, would tumble like a stack of dominoes if you kicked a single girder out of place. Parched locals openly bicker about the price of the clear stuff as you walk past - if you were to waltz into this place with a couple of overpriced bottles of water, even those weird ones that have been tainted with the taste of pear, you'd become a GOD.

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The artists over at id Software have always been in their element when carefully crafting a world of industrial desperation, and RAGE's dustbowl universe is every bit as oppressive as Phobos, Hell and Castle Wolfenstein. But if you thought a gameworld like this might be short on eye candy, you're dead wrong. Because if you only take one thing away from id's eyes-on showing at E3, let it be this: it is an absolute technical beast. We're used to developers squeezing unbelievable performance out of the ageing 360 due to its developer friendly set-up, but id's Tech 5 engine has managed to wring Ol' Greeneye (as we never call it) of every last drop of graphical splendour.

THE JOYS OF TEXTURE
The engine's main party trick is its ability to stream textures in as and when needed, allowing the engine to draft in hulking great textures (or 'mega-textures') rather than piecing together loads of little ones. What this means in practical terms is that the game is able to render king-sized open world environments without any discernible drop in detail. Every scrap of land has been hand-drawn and is unique within the game environment. Perhaps a post-apocalyptic wasteland isn't the best backdrop to show this feat off, but who cares when the procedure has such a cool name? Mega-textures! Normal textures? Get with the times, grandad, we've got Mega-textures!

Of course, there's no point having all this horsepower and bolting the stable doors shut, which is why RAGE periodically turns its back on linear level design to present an open world packed full of side-quests and other distractions (There's an in-world economy system, for example, where you can pop into a shop called Outfitters and flog all the junk you've looted from the mutant bandits you encounter on your travels).

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But how expansive is expansive? Well, you definitely wouldn't want to walk it. The journey to Wellspring is a standout example. The presentation begins in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with only a local eccentric named Crazy Joe for company. Crazy Joe's insanity also handily doubles as exposition. All the people on the surface have turned into mutants, he says. He's heard the government are doing experiments on them, making them stronger. Best get shooting, he suggests. Take a few steps outside his shack, and it soon occurs to you that for a crazy, this guy knows his onions. You're immediately rushed by a flock of ogre-like mutants, while their cowardly buddy flicks fire into your face from his perch up ahead. While sophistication doesn't feature heavily on these entry-level chumps' resumes, each tribe will have its own particular attack style. Some are patient and calculating, while others are more tech-savvy and will look to take you out remotely with gadgets.

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