RAGE starts with the end of the world. A thunderous meteor pelts towards the Earth. It clips the moon on its way in, like a flashy trickshot in a game of genocidal snooker, and sinks the Earth. You survive in an Ark, your body enhanced to survive cryostasis. When you awake in the wasteland of the future, your enhancements make you a commodity worth selling, and a threat worth killing.
Tim Willits is the creative director of RAGE, and he's aware that RAGE is a difficult pitch. So, instead of trying to describe it again, he's letting us play the first two hours, to get a feel for how the snapshots of action we've seen so far gel together.
RAGE has the heart of a shooter, with the detachable wheels of a racer. The mutants and bandits you come across are enemies who are fun to fight, leaping, rushing and soaking up your bullets. There's very little shooting heads as they pop out of cover, which is always a relief, and it's all extremely smooth, thanks to iD founder John Carmack's obsession with making RAGE an unfailing 60 frames per second.
With those resilient enemies, it can get tough - one headshot often isn't enough. However, you've got one ace up your sleeve - the nanotrites that were injected into your system pre-freezing allow you to defibrillate yourself from near-death, and electrocute anyone nearby. You can only do this once every six minutes, though - at least, at the beginning.
While there's no levelling up, the mission structure, loot and inventory system, and engineering recipes all display RPG sensibilities. Combining loot to build bandages, remote control explosives and lock grinders gives you a reason to explore your surroundings. And on the other essential part of RAGE - the combat racing - only two races are compulsory to the plot. The other 20-odd racing events are there if you want them.
The engineering system is pretty limited in the opening hours, with the ingredients you need getting handed to you as you need them. Willits explains that us that this is for the sake of tutorial. Some recipes are rare, and some ingredients rarer still. For example, in a little alcove that feels like we should be discovering a bit of spare ammo, what we discover is a ramshackle toilet. Just a bucket, a swarm of flies, and a mucky-looking plant. Willits explains that this plant is a Nightblossom - if I'd come there at night, it would be in bloom, and provide me with an ingredient for an adrenaline-overdrive recipe. Other components will be rarer still, and limited in number.
Playing RAGE for a couple of hours gives the impression of an Adam Sandler movie, in which a pure-blooded FPS has been given a job at the RPG embassy. He's doing his best to fit in, but keeps shooting Borderlands in the leg. But come the finale, everyone loves him for who he truly is - and he's become a bit more sophisticated.