You find Wild West anarchy above ground. Rage's dusty orange landscape is seemingly overrun with bandits and mutants, but is actually in the shadow of a sinister totalitarian force called The Authority, which possesses suspiciously more advanced technology and is on the hunt for ark survivors and the "nanotrites" in their bodies that heal you back to life when you die. "You're Buck Rogers - a very futuristic man from the past," says Willits. There are hints that The Authority's experiments with nanotrites, rather than radiation, created the race of mutants.
For the moment, though, Willits shows us battling bandit gangs from the hub town of Wellspring. Here you can talk to characters, accept missions, buy and sell goods and race. (Of the second chapter, he'll only say that the hub is called "Subway Town" and is "completely different".) You can repair and upgrade your vehicle by indulging in racing and spending your winnings. Willits shows us a quick blast of vehicle combat, a buggy sprinting along a canyon floor firing twin roof-mounted machine guns at similar enemies; it's fast and thrilling, but doesn't look deep. "It's definitely an additive type experience," he says.
Shooting stuff in the face is still your primary concern, then. After dispatching a few fairly wretched-looking mutants we're treated to some markedly more wily bandits; faux-Cockney punks the Wasted, and the more challenging Ghosts, whose acrobatic moves and dynamic pathing through Rage's tangled, rusting industrial battlegrounds have them leaping down at you from unexpected angles.
The shooting is evidently meaty and tough, but offers a wide range of sadistic gadgetry and ammo customisation for variety. Most weapons allow for multiple ammo types, including the pistol's explosive "fatboy" bullets and electro bolts for the silent crossbow that can be used to fry groups of bandits standing in water. There's also a "wingstick", a three-bladed boomerang for quiet eviscerations.
The real fun is in the engineering items, though. These crafted gadgets are put together from recipes and parts that you find and trade, and include remote-control car bombs, gun turrets and spidery sentry bots. There's a new one of these toys in each area; if items like the turret take damage they fall apart, but some of their parts can be recovered. You can also loot enemies for items, and Rage has no inventory limit - carry as much around as you want.
That's one of several slightly old-school touches about Rage, despite its widescreen expansiveness and the granular detail of its world. And who's to say id's got that wrong? We may want sophistication and depth from the presentation and structure of our shooters these days, and Rage has that, but many gamers never lost an appetite for unsophisticated, twitchy close-range blasting with solidity and pace in their shooters, and by the look of it Rage has that too.
Plus there's the game's look; the artwork is hardly original, it's true, particularly when set side-by-side with the striking Brink, but the incredible level of detail, the vivid colours and the in-your-face, high-contrast lighting mean Rage looks anything but dull - especially in crisp, brisk motion. Willits promises there'll be more variation than we've seen too. True, his idea of varied is impact craters, canyons and a dried ocean bed, but that's already a lot better than endless steel corridors.
id won't say anything about multiplayer - beyond the fact there will be some - or the possibility of co-op yet. With Rage now not due for release until 2011, there's plenty of time. Time enough for Crysis 2 to come and go, too, but we still wouldn't bet on id's old cowboy getting left behind again - not while he still has his finger on the trigger.
Rage will be released for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011.