In a world where Call Of Duty: Black Ops has topped $1 billion in sales, where exactly does id Software fit in? Once upon a time the Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake developer was synonymous with the FPS, but now id has faded into the background, its identity less distinct following its failure to release a new IP since 1996’s Quake. Talk to the kids these days and it’s all about Bungie, Infinity Ward and DICE – we wager most wouldn’t even know what id Software is.
But the Dallas-based company clearly recognises things have changed since the days when Doom reigned king, and Rage very much seems a reaction to this shift in the industry. More closely resembling Fallout and Borderlands with its spacious, blue-skied outdoor environments; boasting a greater focus on immersion, story and NPC design; and with a development team of 100+ rather than the smaller, tight-knit groups that created id’s previous titles, Rage is a game well aware that it occupies the same canon as the likes of Half-Life, BioShock and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Id may have defined the genre, but right now it’s looking for ways to catch up.
But to suggest that id has completely abandoned its heritage would be more than a little unfair. There’s a great deal about Rage that isn’t exactly old school, but certainly refuses to accept modern conventions, such as the ability to carry more than two weapons without becoming over-encumbered. And yes, Rage’s post-apocalyptic setting (caused by an asteroid this time, rather than nuclear war) is open-world, but there’s far more direction to it.
You get quests from various NPCs, but there are virtually none of the peripheral timesink mini-quests that you’ll find during a standard play session on New Vegas. Missions here nearly always have a narrative purpose; you always know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Rage may have light RPG elements, but at its core it very much remains an FPS. Id may be attempting to distinguish itself from the creative choices that defined its past, but it’s far from abandoning them.
Id’s reliance on technology to deliver never-before-seen visual experiences is still very much front-and-centre, too. Programming genius John Carmack – a man who can outclass last-gen consoles on the smallest of systems (just check out Rage on the iPhone) – has created a brand new engine in id Tech 5 that we’ve no doubt the creators of CryEngine 3 and Unreal Engine 4 are considering with no small sense of concern.
It’s capable of some truly beautiful work, rendering a world that feels dense, full, chunky and satisfying, with subtle use of light and shadow grounding the environments. The ‘MegaTexture’ tech allows the developers to paint every texture uniquely, meaning less repetitive, more realistic environments. Outdoor areas are decorated with sculpted canyons and rusting cityscapes, while hub towns where the player can buy and sell items are full of so much incidental detail it’s difficult to pick any one individual item out from the beautiful clutter. There’s none of the repeating, tiled textures we’re accustomed to from Fallout; the entirety of Rage is natural, organic, astonishingly unique, and runs at a flawless 60fps across all platforms. Impressive stuff.
But to return to our earlier point, in today’s world good graphics and a sophisticated engine aren’t enough. Amazing textures and lush detail are all well and good, but we’ve come to expect such flourishes from id. The real test in Rage’s ability to earn its place alongside the best FPSs of the generation will be in the more abstract, difficult concepts. Is id any good at creating entertaining characters that do more than grimace and growl, for instance? Is it capable of creating an absorbing and complex story? Can id create vehicles that are enjoyable to drive and race, and will these sections be woven seamlessly into the flow of action in the game? Outside of Doom 3 we’ve seen very little to demonstrate id’s ability in these areas, meaning there’s a lot of responsibility resting on Rage’s shoulders.
But if id does prove itself in these previously unexplored areas, then 2011 could very well be the year that id regains its place alongside the Bungies and Infinity Wards of the industry. We’ll be waiting with bated breath to see if it’s capable of such a feat.