When it comes to first-person shooting in video games it's safe to say that id Software, the creator of Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake, has got the genre down to a fine-art. Hell, the studio basically created the genre – what more proof do you need?
The developer's next game isn't just a shooter though; it also has a strong racing component. Yes, Rage is actually something of a shooter/racer hybrid. While this may sound gimmicky, after spending a few hours with the title, we can say that not only does the racing fit wonderfully with the post-apocalyptic setting, but that it also holds up well next to the game's intensely satisfying shooting action.
The reason the driving in Rage works so well is due to id's insistence on building a driving model for the whole game, based on arcade-style racing games, rather than the game-specific driving controls seen in titles like Halo. Whether you're driving around the huge environments in the game or speeding around in one of the game's racing circuits, the driving controls will feel second nature to anyone that's ever played a racing game before.
"We wanted to use the same vehicle physics that you use in the wasteland for when you're racing," id's Creative Director, Tim Willits, tells us. "If you're strictly a racing game, and you never spin it out past shooting, you can do a lot of different things. It's the same if you're only a combat game."
The result is quite successful. While most shooting games that feature vehicles require a bit of getting used to in terms of their controls, jumping into a vehicle in Rage and driving it around immediately feels like the majority of big name racers this generation. You use the right trigger to accelerate, left trigger to brake and reverse, a button for boost and a button for the handbrake. Within moments of getting into our first ATV or buggy we were already manoeuvring it around with precision.
Rage's game mechanics switch quite seamlessly between the shooter and the vehicle elements and both feel very refined. We ask Willits what the challenges were in getting those to feel right from the get-go.
"We went through front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel; we had all these torque tables, acceleration tables. It was tricky!" he says. "But we did want it to feel pretty seamless. We used controls that everybody's familiar with – gas and break, because those are in all racing games, and we tried to make it feel like – I know you're not walking, but we tried to make it feel very similar. That was a very conscious effort to make it that way, because a lot of first-person fans were very nervous about this whole driving thing."
About the only change between racing and tooling about the world is that the team upped the speed about 10 per cent for races.
"That's the only physics change," says Tim, "and it's so minor that most people don't even notice, and it does feel a little bit better."
Upon arriving at Wellspring, the first major town we encountered in our playtime, we opted to postpone the mission at hand and head straight to the local Speedway to enter into some racing events. Though we were expecting to find something that would prove to be a nice little distraction, we were surprised to find a racing mode that's not only in-depth, but is actually a legitimate competitor to other standalone racing games.
Races are arcade-style and frantic, with the ability to use tactics such as throwing up shields that will protect you from incoming fire, dropping mines on the track and using various weapons to gun down your opposition. The result plays like an uncivilised WipEout where the future didn't end up being quite so rosy.
"Someone told me that it reminded them of Mario Kart-meets-Mad Max!" laughs Willits.
There are several tracks to choose from at Wellspring Speedway, with different requirements for entry. Some races need a certain amount of trophies to enter, while others require a certain weapon. There are even standard Time Trial modes. Already the level of variety in this one town alone reinforces the fact that this is the real deal when it comes to racing.
We tell this to Willits, who's not surprised at all by our reaction.
"You know how you go out and buy a racing game, you do about three races and you get bored? We've had people actually race more in Rage than they do in racing games that they've bought," he says. "It's because you upgrade your stuff, and you can continue it into the single-player campaign. But in a racing game, you upgrade your stuff and you just… do racing; more normal racing."