Version tested: iPhone
Would it be cynical to suggest that Rage for the iPhone and iPad feels like little more than a promotional piece for the upcoming PC and console game? Maybe it was the minute-long trailer for Rage proper at the start of the app or the big "Pre-order Rage" button in the menu that gave me that idea.
Or perhaps Rage is a willy-waving tech demo from Doom-daddy John Carmack, wanting to stake his claim as the graphical king of iOS and show off just how flexible his engine is. Because on the pint-size screen of an iPod or the sprawling display of the iPad, Rage is unarguably a hugely pretty game.
Well, actually it's not. It's soul-crushingly ugly; filled with wretched faces and gnarled textures, all flooded in colours that Dulux would have no choice but to name "Bubonic Brown" or "Despair Grey". It's an utterly dismal game, wallowing in filth and perversion. But it definitely looks very sharp, the textures pop and the models are high-resolution. Technically speaking, the app's a marvel.
So is it a cheeky advergame, a vainglorious engine demo – or is it actually supposed to be taken seriously as a game in its own right? Maybe it's a bit of all three. Whatever the case, it's plenty of fun.
The app is set behind the scenes of Mutant Bash TV, Rage's post-apocalyptic game show that eschews red boxes and Anne Robinson in favour of mutants, assault rifles and grime. Your job is to fight off freaks and gun down bulls-eye targets for the perverse enjoyment of MB's brash, glutinous commentator, J. K. Stiles.
The game is an on-rails shooter, forcibly tugging you around grotty environments as impish goons creep, swing and lunge in front of your crosshairs. You've got three weapons – a natty little pistol, a snarling AK-47 and a shotgun – to make your kills, plus a side-stepping dodge move, but no melee for when the mutants hog your screen. It also borrows Gears of Wars' active reload mechanic, letting you dole out double damage if you manage to hot-swap a clip mid-reload.
Aside from staying alive, you're also playing for points. You'll need to compliment your enemy fire-fights by capping spring-loaded targets, grabbing extra ammo and picking up bumper sacks of "Bash Bux". Getting plenty of points and earning a better grade comes down to getting through the stages unscathed, as you'll rack up a higher and higher combo for every kill you pull off as long as you aren't injured.
It means going for headshots and prioritising enemies, dodging one thrown rock and then shooting another out of the sky. You'll need to time your reloads carefully. You'll need to retry stages, and remember when and where enemies come from, to keep your chain going.