Rage is id Software's first major new game in nearly seven years. In recent times the masters of the epic Doom and Quake series have been content to work on other projects like Wolfenstein with Raven Software, browser-based shooter Quake Live and even explore new mobile platforms like the iPhone.
But those other games have been mere appetisers. In the background, legendary tech genius John Carmack has been busy with the mighty id tech 5 - his first major engine since Doom 3 - and Rage is the first fruit of his labours. Full disclosure: we're massive id fans, having played pretty much everything from Doom onwards, so the prospect of some hands-on time with Carmack's finest caused our proto fps lizard brain to stir in unusual and strangely pleasing ways.
But first some background. In Rage you are a survivor - not in the Gloria Gaynor sense, but a cryogenically frozen being, specially selected to be buried in an underground ark to escape the impending apocalypse when rogue asteroid 99942 Apophis smashes into the earth and extinguishes civilization as we know it. If you haven't seen the spectacular reveal trailer, check it out to see the full, awesome details.
Over a century later, your freezer pops open unexpectedly. You step out newborn and blinking into a savage post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by terrible mutant tribes, vehicular mayhem and the occasional oasis of benign survivors.
So far, so Buck Rogers meets Mad Max, but from the very off Rage works hard to build and establish a convincing game world and make you feel that you are part of a much bigger and ever-evolving storyline. Eventually you'll discover that Ark survivors have their own particular destiny and inevitably be drawn into the clash between the sinister Authority and the heroic resistance. But at the beginning, as an 'everyman out of time' you have the perfect excuse to explore Rage's intriguing game world with fresh eyes and a decent degree of freedom.
And what a world it is too. From the moment you emerge from your subterranean slumber, the splendours of id Tech 5 are joyous to behold. Convincing, complex and highly detailed, it's not only superb at handling the great outdoors that power Rage's splendid exterior vehicle sections, but also exceptional in portraying the filth, detritus and downright crap that litters your average post-apocalyptic bandit interior.
Tooling around the wasteland in your ATV or buggy, you'll speed through vast outdoor landscapes with towering rock formations, encounter shattered industrial ruins, delve deep into horrific mutant hideouts and hole up in ramshackle survivor towns. id tech 5 renders them all effortlessly with fidelity, detail and not a little beauty. It could set the new standard by which game engines will be measured. Bold words, but it really is that good.
Rescued from a mutie attack by the gruff Hagar, a suitably gravelly voiced John Goodman, your journey begins in his eponymous settlement, a reinforced gas station which forms the central hub where you'll pick up your early missions, gaining vehicles, weapons and rewards from the survivor inhabitants battling to stay alive in this harsh, unforgiving wilderness.
The characterisation and voice acting are top quality and you'll happily charge around delivering medical supplies, repairing radio masts and clearing out nests of mutant baddies. You can explore the opening hub with a fair degree of freedom, with plenty of collectibles, side missions and even funnies and Easter eggs providing some welcome distraction. But Rage isn't totally open world and free-form and you'll need to complete the missions inside those various instanced interiors to unlock new storylines and locations, as you're subtly and skilfully guided around this compelling game world.