With Wolfenstein 3D, id Software single-handedly invented the first-person shooter. Few developers have had as much impact on the games industry, although these days their only notable releases are Doom and Quake sequels and spin-offs. But they've been busy.
Their software, id Tech, has powered games as influential as Half-Life and the Modern Warfare series. And now they're ready to show off the latest version, id Tech 5, using the supremely good-looking Rage. id's lead designer Tim Willits walked us through a demo of the game, showing off its gameplay and their remarkable technology.
Set on Earth years after an asteroid impact reduced our fertile planet to a dry, decaying wasteland, you emerge from a cryogenic slumber deep underground in a bunker known as The Ark. What follows is a struggle for survival in a violent, feral world overrun by mutants and gangs.
"Because you've been in The Ark during the cataclysm, you're like this futuristic Buck Rogers guy lost in a rustic, downtrodden, recycled world, where people are making ends meet any way they can," explains Willits.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
Sounds like Fallout, right? That's because it is, although only in concept. This is no survival RPG. It's a lean, brutal shooter with an emphasis on big guns, and even bigger enemies. A town, Wellspring, serves as a hub where you can pick up missions from the colourful locals, but the role-playing ends there. "We call the game's structure 'open, but directed'. You'll mostly be progressing through the story, but you can do side-missions and explore and talk to NPCs if you want."
The combat is quick and satisfying, reminiscent of id's early games, with intelligent enemies that jump and climb over the environment to confuse you, like swinging on overhead poles. And it's all procedural: there are no canned animations. But some concessions have been made to modern games, as Willits explains: "In The Ark, you were injected with these things called NanoTrites that heal you, and let you defib yourself if you die. I hate dying in games."
Visually, it's sensational, running at a full 60fps, with beautifully atmospheric environments. Everything looks like it's been carefully, lovingly crafted, rather than generated by a computer, which is thanks to id
Tech 5's MegaTextures. These let them use large textures on objects, rather than repeating smaller ones. It makes a huge difference to how the game looks. "When a shooter runs at 60fps, you just feel locked in and more connected. It makes the experience really tight, and John (Carmack, id boss, daddy of the FPS and videogames industry legend) loves to get things running as fast as humanly possible!"
Just because it's set in a desert doesn't mean the world will be all rocks and dust. "We have huge impact craters, we have a placed called the Red Cliffs which is a bit like Bryce Canyon in Utah, and we have these crazy rock formations and dry ocean beds, plus other things to bring the environment to life."
WET AND WILD
The level we saw didn't take place in one of these epic environments, though, sadly, but in a
dank underground water processing facility. It still looked amazing, with a beautifully crafted, gloomy atmosphere and some superb textures and lighting effects on display. Testament to its power, id Tech 5 can even make grim sewers and tunnels look pretty.
Willits faces off against enemies calling themselves the Ghosts: angry mutants trying to take control of a nearby town's water supply. It was a fairly simple 'kill everything' mission, but Rage's varied arsenal made it much more entertaining than we expected. As well as regular pistols and the like, Willits had access to smarter toys. The Wingstick is a one-use glaive-type weapon that, with one precise throw, can lop an enemy's head clean off. Then there's the remote control bomb
car, which is self explanatory. We drove a tiny C4-laden truck into a group of enemies and detonated it as they exclaimed "Hey! Who's driving that?" You can also drop spider-like mobile turrets that scuttle around beneath your feet during combat, wearing down enemies' health. And when they've run out of steam, you can salvage parts to sell in town and upgrade your weapons.