From its debut, Rage has been touted as a carefully crafted single-player experience. As such, followers may be surprised to learn that booth cooperative missions and competitive multiplayer have been integrated into the upcoming release.
That being said, developer id Software feels it has found the sweet spot that allows for replayability and diversity, without compromising the campaign it has worked so hard to polish. I was treated to both a demo showcasing the new features, in addition to face time with id Software Design Director Matt Hooper. Read on for a breakdown of Rage’s triple-tiered offering.
Single-Player: The Rage Experience
“At its heart, Rage is a first person shooter. It is an action game. But there is this element of open world,” Hooper began when asked to summarize the thrust of the single-player campaign. “You jump in a vehicle and you go from place to place and you battle it out with other vehicles. And then you go back into one of the shooter experiences. These crafted experiences will always offer something new. Not to mention we have these traditional weapons, and then we have these quick-use buttons. With one [button] press you can throw out anything from a wingstick, to a grenade, to a sentry bot, to an RC bomb car. And then we have the weapons and the ammo types. There is lots of diversity. So that is the single-player."
To date, id has focused on previewing encounters with various clans in the single-player campaign. An intentionally obscure faction has been held back until now, according to Hooper. “We talk a lot about diversity. Diversity in the way that environments look. Diversity in the different bandit clans,” Hooper continued. “You’ll fight six-foot-tall mutants, 16-foot-tall mutants, and 60-foot-tall mutants. So there is a lot there. Our final main faction is the Authority, however. They have a bit more sci-fi to them and are substantially more difficult to fight. They are sort of unexpected when the player first runs into them. The player doesn’t have to relearn how to play Rage, but the Authority will react differently. Again, it’s about the diversity. Not just about the way the game looks, but with the way it plays.”
Because the Authority will play such a large role in the narrative, Hooper was hesitant to divulge much more about the enigmatic entity. The Authority is key to the story from the moment you step from the ark, but really makes its presence known in the latter half of Rage. During my demo the Authority was both felt and heard, first when I was introduced to Subway Town.
“The first thing, visually, is that it looks a lot different,” explained Hooper, comparing it to the familiar hub of Wellspring. “Subway Town is addicted to electricity. It is built under the city. People are a little more standoffish. The guy who runs Subway Town is more of a mafia boss than a mayor.”
From a gameplay standpoint, Subway Town is much the same as Wellspring, ushering in new missions, new races, new minigames, and new characters with whom you can interact. The most important mission in Subway Town will be to win over the aforementioned mayor, Redstone, who is more likely to sell you out to the Authority than to come to your aid.
After a quick tour of Subway Town, I was transported to a prison facility and thrown at the Authority for the first time. The Authority inherently behaves different from mutants and bandits, employing tactical precision, taking advantage of the environment, and communicating with one another. An easy comparison can be found in Borderland’s formidable Crimson Lance. Expect a challenge.
Dropping in from the air, Authority troops immediately ran for cover, utilizing energy shields and other defensive tools. Attempts to ferret them out with an RC car bomb failed, as they took them out before the gap was closed. Heavily armored, the Authority made good use of recharge stations, and special ammo was needed to take the brutes down. The mission’s context wasn’t provided, but the encounter climaxed with the player manning a turret, mowing down a surge of Authority troops.
Co-op: Legends of the Wasteland
“Co-op, that was a no-brainer,” explained Hooper. “Everybody seems to like co-op, especially in shooters. We really weren’t sure how we could integrate it, but we tried it, we liked it, we added split-screen so you can sit on the couch and play it or play it with someone across the world.”
Hooper continued by revealing that instead of trying to force cooperative play into the single-player game, id saw an opportunity and opted to take advantage of it.
“A good example is looking at the town of Wellspring,” he continued. “We thought it would be really cool if bandits took over and you could battle against them. We couldn’t make it fit in the single-player campaign, but when we started thinking about co-op campaigns, we said ‘let’s do that.’ And there is actually one part in the story where someone talks about how bandits are harassing them, and you have to take them out. So there is a connection.”
I had a chance to see this particular mission in action, with a pair of players tasked with protecting Wellspring’s water supply from bandits by disarming bombs. An indicator made clear where the companion player was at all times, and the pair was able to revive each other if need be.
Hooper introduced another cooperative mission via a line of dialogue from the campaign. In the single-player offering, the sheriff of Wellspring mentions that his guys have gone to find plans to build RC bomb cars. “We took that little bit of fiction, and we fleshed it out. So now you are those guys. You and a buddy get to take part in this little aspect of the story, which is directly tied to the single-player campaign.”
The exact implementation of Legends of the Wasteland is still being worked out. Will all the missions be unlocked from the beginning? Will they become available as the player progresses through the campaign? We'll have to wait until a later date for these answers.
Hooper divulged that weapon loadouts will be optimized for each mission, in order to further craft that particular experience. The dev team is also toying around with a scoring mode unique to cooperative play. At least eight co-op missions with loose ties to the narrative – including one focused on Mutant Bash TV – have been promised thus far.
Multiplayer: Combat Rally
Despite id’s status as a pioneer in the multiplayer arena, it felt a traditional FPS multiplayer mode wasn’t right for Rage. Rather, id felt that rally racing would be the best outlet to encourage social play.
“We like vehicles, and we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be cool if you could jump in the vehicles and battle it out against other players online?’” Hooper questioned out loud. “We tried it and we liked it, and we iterated on it through the design, and then we decided to add it in the game.”
Combat Rally features dual objectives. The player must speed through rally points while engaging in serious car combat. Points are divvied out for both actions, and multipliers are earned for exceptional performance. New rally points spawn in front of the leader in order to encourage forward momentum – a constant goal for Rage’s multiplayer.
Other modes were hinted at, such as classic vehicle deathmatch, team rally, and chain rally.
At least five maps will be available out of the box, and id is aiming for six player matches. Some degree of progression will be implemented, too, with novices racing in base level vehicles. As they level up, they will have access to better weapons, vehicles, and more.
Will any sort of traditional FPS fodder be included in the multiplayer offerings? “No, nothing on foot,” confirmed Hooper. “Not for the initial release.”
Bonus: The Rage Anarchy Edition
Capping off the demonstration, id unveiled a special Anarchy Edition of the game. The preorder incentive will include a slew of downloadable content, including a one-handed double barrel shotgun, the Rat Rod buggy, Fists of Rage, additional underground missions, and most importantly, the Crimson Elite armor. This armor will provide the player with the top attributes of all three suits offered in the game, making them a formidable opponent from the start. As of right now, the edition has only been announced for North America.
While id stresses that the single-player campaign is still the meat of Rage, implementing cooperative missions and competitive multiplayer is a surprising and ambitious endeavor. The coming months should yield a few chances to test out both the new modes in detail.
Rage releases for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, and Mac on September 13, 2011. Check out a gallery of new screens below.