Rage isn't exactly old-school, but it does refuse to accept modern conventions in some areas. You can carry loads of weapons at once, and movement is fast and steady. Willits reckons these things have become unfashionable "because Call of Duty sold like 30 million copies".
The detailed weapon and item customisation system, where goodies like spider robots, auto-turrets and RC car bombs can be assembled from blueprints and scavenged parts, looks compelling. Customisation shouldn't preclude Rage from spitting out gun ideas that cast long shadows - a mainstay of id's output since Wolfenstein - although designer Matt Hooper is realistic. "We'll have what you would expect with some twists," he says, "but it's hard to come up with the rocket launcher again."
It also has driving. When Rage was announced at QuakeCon 2007, fans complained that they didn't want a driving game, and id changed tack in future presentations. "We knew that we wanted to have a driving component to the game so we thought, let's make a racetrack," says Willits. "But we assumed that everyone knew we were going to make a first-person shooter - we're id, what else would we make?"
The first major town has an area dedicated to repairs, upgrades and races, and while the terrain we see outside Wellspring has a few roads and tracks to it, this isn't Borderlands, let alone the Capital Wasteland: the megatextured world is busy with mountains, bridges, trenches, shacks and brush. It feels ordered and linear; the game itself is described as "open but directed".
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Driving, an "additive experience" to use Willits' phrase, looks like a work in progress too - the quad bikes' rigid suspension fractures the classy aesthetic, while a machinegun-mounted pickup, fronted by a snow-plough, bullhorns and bulging with air-scooped muscle, is skittish over terrain that it doesn't look comfortable navigating. Car combat is basic - auto-targeting weapons and lots of circling and backing up.
Rage is more comfortable, as is the QuakeCon audience, when Willits and company are tossing grenades through doorways, or catching a bandit between the eyes just as he's about to start a double-handed downswing with a lump of metal.
There's still no word on multiplayer, beyond the usual spiel about "a very talented group of guys working on that", but Willits hints at separate co-op again. "That's the most fun, and that's a logical thing to think. I won't confirm that."
He also says downloadable content will follow the game's newly minted 15th September 2011 release. id may have invented DLC to some extent with its patches, mod tools and point releases in the nineties, but it's a newbie again in this day and age - Doom III, released in 2004, predated the current trend of expansions and premium map packs. As part of ZeniMax and sister studio to Bethesda, however, id has lots of expertise to draw upon. "We haven't finalised any DLC plans, but we know it's important," says Willits. "It's been important to Bethesda. We'll do it, we just don't know what we'll do yet."
For now though, as it pretty much always is with this storied developer, it is all about that graphics engine. Staring into the screen and struggling to pick out a single repeated detail, 60 times every second, is almost disorientating. If the kids don't know who id Software any more, they should do by this time next year.
Rage is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 15th September 2011.