"We basically showed the world first-person shooting." So says id Software's Matt Hooper, referring to one of the studio's best-loved titles, Wolfenstein. "That was a big deal. With Doom and Quake we had these successive leaps in technology, where people were moving around in a 3D space and doing things online. So we've had this history of doing things on the technology side and bringing out new IPs."
Which is all very nice, but Hooper needn't feel too smug - it's actually been over a decade since id came up with a new intellectual property. Because of that, he tells the crowd gathered for his E3 presentation, "We knew we had to come to the table with a lot more."
What they've come with is Rage, a first-person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic future world. On learning that an asteroid was on a collision course with earth, the governments of the day got together and launched the Eden Project. They supplied the population with life-sustaining pods in which they could take shelter when the asteroid was about to hit. The idea was that once the dust had settled, people would emerge from their pods and set about rebuilding society. The reality is that people have emerged from their pods and set about smashing each other in the face. Life in this brave new world is about as poor, nasty, brutish and short as it gets.
Which is apparent from the first few minutes of the demo. We meet a bloke called Crazy Joe, who lives in a corrugated iron shack in the middle of a barren, rocky valley. He warns us to look out for mutants, and he's not wrong. Within seconds of stepping out of the shack we're set upon by a gangly, hairless monster, who comes bounding out from behind a rock and attempts to club us to death. He's dispatched with a few swift shots but there are mutants coming from all directions now, waving knives, throwing fireballs, wielding clubs... These aren't shuffling zombies but fast, agile and intelligent killing machines.
They're moving this swiftly and smoothly within beautifully lit, highly detailed environments. And this isn't even the PC version of the game. "We're showing Rage today on Xbox 360," says Hooper, who is the lead designer. "One of the things we strive for, and a goal we're not going to budge from, is 60 frames per second on all platforms. We've always been real big believers in the fundamentals of control, the feedback, the fluidity of the gameplay, and we don't want to sacrifice any of that, even on the consoles."
With the mutants dealt with it's time to explore more of the surrounding environment. This is an open-world game, explains Hooper, in the sense that if you see an area you want to visit or something interesting you want to investigate, you can. "This is a first-person shooter action game. We do have this crafted, moment-to-moment action, but at the same time you get all these opportunities to explore."
We're taking one of them now, jumping in a buggy which looks as though it was recently constructed out of scaffolding pipes and old radiators. It probably was - Hooper says that building your own transport out of scrap is an option from quite early on in the game. You can equip your buggy with armour and weapons, such as the two bonnet-mounted machine guns on show here. They come in handy for taking out another group of attacking mutants and blowing up a water tower as we career through the desert. "The buggy's great for getting from point A to point B, but we try to put as much diversity and little gameplay elements along the way as possible," says Hooper.
Point B turns out to be Wellspring, the main town in this desert. It's located directly above a, well, spring. Water is scarce in this world and therefore a precious commodity. Passing through the town gates, we see that Wellspring has the same haphazard industrial look as the buggy. Buildings are constructed from rusting metal and iron girders, and look as though they have been welded together by drunk people. There's a dusty, dirty look to the streets, and the metal seems to bake in the hot desert sun. Think Wild West meets Scrapheap Challenge.
We wander into a bar to find a group of drinkers (welders?) moaning about the price of water. Moving on through and back out onto the streets, we pass a shop with a sign saying Outfitters, which Hooper says is where all trading takes place. "There is an economy in Rage, so as you move round the world you get different items. You can loot things from dead bandits and mutants then buy and sell items at the Outfitters."
Outside, a group of men are squatting around some kind of game board. There's a small holographic figure in each corner and a set of dice being thrown around. "The idea is that the player should say, 'Hmm, what's that?' at this point," says Hooper. "We're not going to go too far today, but there is this sc-fi element that happens later on in the game and becomes a bigger part of the story."
Right now, our mission is to help out Carlson, who's in charge of the all-important well. We find him manning the pumps, which have an awful lot of steam coming out of them, while an alarm wails in the background. Turns out a group of bandits have been wrecking the joint and threatening to poison Wellspring's water supply. Carlson hands us some electro-bolts and tells us to fire them into the water if we're faced with any troublesome enemies.
Moving down into the well, the colour palette changes from pale greys and rusty browns to a darker, more monochrome look. Water gushes out of various spots on the walls, creating puddles on the ground. "We want each of these shooter environments to look as unique as possible," Hooper says. "In this case it's a well, so it's going to be very wet, with dripping water and puddles. But it's different to the previous environment and the next one."
The plan is also to keep changing things up by supplying the player with a steady supply of new weapons - like the aforementioned electro-bolts. Plus you'll find spare parts and blueprints as you explore the world. Collect the right parts and the right prints and you can build your own gadgets. In this instance, our character has created a bomb on wheels, which is controlled using the same system as the one in place for the buggy. "It's about giving the player something new, then letting the player decide when and where to use it."
Here come the bandits. They leap out of nowhere, dropping from ceilings and bounding over barriers. Hooper explains that Rage has a dynamic traversal system so enemies can come from all directions. And they do. What follows is a frantic action sequence, a race up and down stairs, lots of hiding behind concrete pillars and almost constant gunfire. Weapons on show include a powerful shotgun and a super-fast machine gun. When even they aren't enough, another homemade gadget comes into play - this one's a minigun turret on metal legs which clambers around like a giant spider.
Then things take a turn for the nasty. Descending further down into the well, we enter a chamber to find a stack of bloodstained bodies piled high. Strange, mystical-looking symbols have been scrawled on the walls, and there's more blood dripping from the ceiling and pooling on the floor.
But before there's time to investigate further, Hooper wants to show us another area of the game. It's called the Dam Facility and it's where the Wasted clan reside. Their speciality is building vehicles, so this is the place to come when you need a new buggy.
Unfortunately, it's also the place to come when you want to be shot at by terrifyingly aggressive homicidal maniacs, some of whom have tattooed not only their chests but their entire faces with Union Jacks. The environment has a vehicular theme, with road signs peppering the walls and old car seats, parts and tires littering the streets. Entering a garage, we take cover behind one of the dozens of cars on bricks. But a crazed bandit appears in a huge, roaring truck and screeches towards us, smashing through everything in its path.
The demo's almost over, but there's just time to take a peek at a place called Dead City. This is indeed quite different to the other two environments. It appears to have once been a buzzing metropolis, but now the huge skyscrapers lie toppled and crumbling in the streets. Weeds push through the torn-up roads and pavements. Everything is presented in greyscale but has a sickly greenish tinge.
Dead City may look different, but it's the same old story, at least to start with - club-wielding mutants appear from the rubble in all directions, requiring fast moves and dexterity on the part of the main character. A much taller, broader enemy emerges from the shadows and starts lumbering towards us, but a bit more blamming teaches him who's boss. Then, however, we hear a huge roar and turn around to see a true titan striding through the ruined skyscrapers. He raises a giant fist, lets out another massive roar and then... The demo's over.
There's applause. Proper applause, not polite applause, and excited noises from the crowd as they file out of the demo booth. Because what id is bringing to the table looks very impressive, so far. Rage is a beautiful-looking shooter and there are some intriguing gameplay ideas being implemented here. It's impossible to say whether this game will have the same instant impact and lasting influence as titles like Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake. But who better to have a go at replicating their brilliance than the people who made them in the first place?
Rage is due out "when it's done" on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.