RAGE's story starts in the near future: a giant asteroid is heading towards Earth, and rather than launch a team of wacky oil-rig drillers at the problem, the governments of the world convene and decide to put most of the population into suspended animation and bury them beneath the surface in giant Arks. Years later, you're revived as the sole survivor of your malfunctioning Ark. I watched a hands-off demonstration a bit further along into the game, but there will be a brief tutorial during your revival process.
You emerge from your slumber into a post-apocalyptic wasteland (of course!) wearing an Ark jumpsuit (sound familiar?). Far more people have survived the asteroid strike than originally projected, and society has tried to rebuild itself haphazardly. The world is desolate and populated by mutants, raiders and peaceful humans just trying to make a living. There's new "government" in charge called the Authority -- and you're not going to like them.
After heeding the advice of a crazy coot -- "watch out for bad guys" ... um, thanks? -- and engaging in some brief pistoleering with local raiders, my nameless adventurer hopped into an armed dune buggy and sped off across the blistering sands. Along the way, I engaged in some gunplay with other armed vehicles (which quickly devolved into a who-can-turn-faster race; just like aerial dogfighting), and proceeded onto Well Spring, a shantytown built up around one of the few sources of clean water in the area.
There's a distinct Firefly vibe (replete with country 'n twang soundtrack) as you enter the town, where you're urged by a local to seek out Jackie Weeks. "Just look for the big inflatable gorilla!" Yes, some things from our world have unfortunately survived, including giant novelty car dealership balloons. You can shop at various vendors, talk to locals,and soak up the local color on your way to the next objective. There's a car mechanic in town too, and you can compete in the local races to win "racing certificates" that can be redeemed for repairs and mods to your car.
Your character has access to different engineering plans, and you'll encounter more throughout the game. These allow you to cobble together spare parts into different, useful items like a sentry bot with a mounted gun, a remote-control bomb car and personal turrets. You can also reclaim these items after usage. If they are undamaged, they just go back into your inventory, and if not, you'll get them back as parts. My demo guide tried to set up three stationary turrets to deal with a small group of bandits, but the trio of guns were flanked and quickly taken out. This was supposedly unplanned, but it showed off some smart AI that won't just charge blindly at you (and will take cover when it's appropriate).
You'll have access to a large number of weapons in RAGE, along with multiple types of ammunition for each gun, like electro-shock bolts. You select both weapons and ammo through pop-up radial menus. These looked a little confusing during their brief appearances during my demo, so they'll probably take a bit of getting used to. In contrast, you'll probably be quite accustomed to the game's regenerative health (thanks, nanotechnology!), given an interesting twist in the form of an 11th-hour "defib" opportunity. Provided it's fully charged up, the nanobots can bring you back to life and deal damage to the enemies in the nearby area. It takes time to regenerate, however, so getting killed without it will send you back to the last automatic or manual save.
RAGE won't be out until 2011, but it's already showing a lot of promise. The visuals alone make it stand out, and I'm eager to explore more of its new, wild world. id is also adding exclusive co-op modes and has "ambitious" plans for multiplayer -- we'll learn more about those in the future.