Welcome to the desert of the awesome

Just because id Software's Tim Willits declares that Rage is awesome (a word increasingly bandied about in the games industry these days) from the beginning of the extended hands-off demo we're shown during a recent press event in Paris, doesn't mean that we're willing to accept that claim at face value. But as it happens, Rage does look awesome because from the very moment Willits fires up the studio's first game since Doom 3, we're drawn straight into the rich and "uniquely textured" world, which could quite easily be on a high-spec PC, but in actuality we're looking at what is currently the least stable version on Xbox 360.

That Rage's Creative Director Willits claims that the PS3 version is more stable than the 360 code being shown is astonishing. If the game looks this good in its current state on Xbox 360, then how good and how well do the other iterations of the game run? For now, that's a question that will remain unanswered until we get hands-on time with all three, but we reckon that Rage is going to be a barnstormer where its visuals are concerned, but we still can't wait to find out how well it plays.

Sounding every bit the post-apocalyptic clich, Rage has elements of Borderlands' arid open-world deserts and Fallout's vault-dwelling, post-nuclear narrative, but the truth is, it has the potential to be so much more. It's very much an id FPS, and being from the studio that practically invented the genre, Rage looks characteristically hardcore in the same vein as previous iconic id shooters Doom and Quake. Big, bold and gloriously OTT, Rage puts its weapons centre stage with chunky assault rifles and brassy, staccato shotguns with real impact, splintering wood and carving chunks into masonry with each blast, but that's only really the tip of the iceberg.

Following the impact of an asteroid that wipes out the majority of mankind, transforming the world into a barren wasteland, Rage's protagonist - a human experiment and 'nanotrite' (nano-tech with regenerative properties) injected man-out-of-time - prematurely surfaces from an underground cryogenic facility known as an Ark. Emerging clad in a fetching and attention-grabbing Ark suit, your first port of call involves getting to the first Outfitters you can find to change your attire, avoiding the wrong kind of attention from Rage's omnipresent enemy and all-encompassing threat, The Authority.

It's not just The Authority that plagues Rage's hostile desert wastes though, as almost every kind of repellent scum imaginable roams the dusty plains looking for a fresh kill. Truly, Rage puts the 'waste' into wasteland as feral mutants and wild, violent bandits use you as target practice, attacking without warning as you make your way across the dangerous terrain and through the seedy underground. This of course provides ample opportunity to get your gun off and revel in what promises to be incredibly meaty and satisfying gunplay. And this being id, there is a variety of cacophonous, outlandish weaponry that will gradually be added to your expanding arsenal. You can carry as many guns and gadgets as you like too, as there's no encumbrance and absolutely no limits on how much firepower you can pack.

You've more than just guns at your disposal though with the Wingstick - a glaive-like throwing device that stealthily decapitates enemies, leaving a bloody, spurting neck stump where a head used to be - just one of Rage's alternate killing implements. You've also got several gadgets that can be used to distract and kill bad guys dead, such as crawling, spindly spider turrets and radio-controlled cars with explosives strapped to them. Failing to use a gadget means you can pick them up and re-use them or salvage for parts if they're expended or destroyed in the heat of battle. But before we get into the heat of battle, we need transport. We need an all-terrain buggy with turbo boosters.

Jumping behind the wheel of said buggy once again recalls Borderlands, but Rage's take on desert driving appears to be more solid and robust, with the vehicle reacting to terrain with bouncy suspension and twin mounted machine guns tearing enemy cars into scrap metal. Following a fast, action-packed drive across the teeming hostile wilderness, fenced in by towering, craggy rock formations, it's not far to the town of Wellspring - the first of the game's two main hubs, each of which will constitute an entire disc for the Xbox 360 double disc release.

After a brief loading screen, we're plunged into a bristling hive of activity, surrounded by a variety of colourful characters and ragtag store fronts built from salvaged junk. Everywhere you look, there's someone doing something, whether it's Jackie Weeks offering you the opportunity to earn a race certificate or Ginny suggesting you purchase some new duds so you can blend in, or gruff, tough guy Dallas sat in the rowdy saloon offering you an optional mission to collect precious bottles of water for him.

Wellspring is an environment positively dripping with detail and immersive audio, like the sound of flies buzzing around a flickering lightbulb or the chattering of the folk as they wander around, going about their daily business. In fact, the audio design in general is quite exemplary, wrapping you in all manner of sounds as you walk through Rage's atmospheric world. This could make investing in a surround sound setup most definitely a worthwhile consideration.

Moving onto the first proper mission, we're lead into a water-refining plant manned by an engineer named Carlson, who needs help clearing bandits from the lower levels of the sewers below, as they've hijacked the well and are threatening to poison the water supply. Beneath the surface - covered in the distinctive graffiti tags of the Ghost clan - we get to see Rage's hulking crossbow come into play, with fizzing electro bolts loaded into its chamber. Taking out groups of lurking mutants is a simple case of firing an electrified shot into the water they're standing in, toasting them nicely in an instant. Each of Rage's weapons will have different ammo types that you can switch between, the electro bolts being just one example.

There's absolutely no doubt that Rage is very much an id game, and on this showing Willits' statement that the development team "didn't want to do another Doom or Wolfenstein," is on course to deliver, preserving that indomitable id spirit while offering more. We reckon Rage's visuals look like concept art brought to life running and with it all running at an ultra-smooth 60-frames per second, it really does look unlike anything FPS-wise we've seen in recent years. There's added depth to be found in the upgrades and other details, but more importantly, those core shooting mechanics that make id such legends in the FPS genre look to be intact. A proper hands-on will only prove that instinct to be true, and believe us when we say it can't come soon enough.

For now we can only judge Rage on what brief gameplay we've seen so far, as the game is kept out of the hands of the press for the time being. Purely on the basis of our hands-off demo though, we can assuredly report that Rage has all the potential to live up to the buzz. No doubt id's enviable, unmatched FPS pedigree will guarantee that Rage plays like a dream when it releases at some point in 2011. "We just need to improve performance, get the bugs worked out and finish the game up," says Willits. You can bet that once id iron out the kinks - and there's plenty of time left for that - then Rage will be...well, awesome.

E3 Trailer