A wise man once said that you can only take so much first-person shooting at a single gaming convention, and he may have a point. With more than a few shooters at this year’s E3, most developers and publishers are realizing that a unique approach, aesthetic or mechanic is needed to separate yourself from and rise above the competition. Id Software’s RAGE has been doing that by presenting a post-apocalyptic environment populated with living, breathing characters, and by squeezing every bit of graphical fidelity the PS3 and Xbox 360 are capable of. We got a chance to play RAGE on both platforms, and our first impression is truly a surprise.

A game’s art style is one of the best ways to send a clear message to those who may only have a passing knowledge of your project before it’s released, but for RAGE the look of the game’s world isn’t going to be doing that.

Not to say that more post-apocalyptic games with unique visions aren’t welcome, but with literally dozens of shooters set within an apocalyptic or war-torn city these days, the environments of RAGE just don’t grab the way they could, or possibly should. Developers may not realize it yet, but grey isn’t the most inspiring color.

With so much talk about id Software’s stunning visuals, there’s a good chance that many of you reading this can understand our personal desire to simply see the game with our own eyes. Unfortunately, the game we saw was not what we had hoped. The PS3 version of the game in particular suffered from some awkward visuals as a result of different levels of focus on the foreground and background.

The farthest objects and buildings from the player’s perspective looked out of focus and blurry, while the gun and hands of the character stood out in sharp contrast. Depth of field is fine for giving the sensation of distance, but the points at which the two elements met was rough, and in some desperate need of work. On the Xbox 360 the problem was better, but those of you hoping to see Battlefield 3-level visuals – at least on consoles – shouldn’t get your hopes up.

Several levels were made available in the demo, including Mutant Bash TV, a prison location, and stages emphasizing outdoor clearings and vehicular exploration. We know what to expect from Mutant Bash TV, and the vehicles looked and operated well within the Mad Max-esque environments. The vehicles certainly showed the most promise, so hopefully the multiplayer modes centered on them will get some attention.

But what stood out the most from our experience with RAGE was the lack of sophistication in the gunplay and combat scripting. You might be tempted to expect mindless carnage from the developers of the original Doom, and wouldn’t be disappointed with RAGE’s mutant enemies. Being mindlessly rushed by the unarmored and crazed crawlers that every shooter now seems obligated to include wouldn’t be so bad, if only the weapons felt powerful enough to deal with them.

RAGE E3 2011 Impressions

Mowing down enemy after enemy certainly isn’t going to be incredibly satisfying venture, but that at least makes sense from a basic action standpoint. But with assault rifles and shotguns seeming to do nothing against the bounding opponents, any strategy aside from running backwards at first sight and shooting them from afar quickly descends into chaos. Keeping in mind that these creatures are completely devoid of protection or weapons, the fact that emptying shotgun rounds into their arms and legs is not only ineffective, but doesn’t seem to affect their combat effectiveness is as irritating as it is disappointing.

The problem only escalates when taking on a more sophisticated opponent, like prison guards in full body armor. Even if we forgive the fact that in a game as apparently advanced as RAGE, trained enemies still crouch behind cover oblivious to the fact that they’ve been flanked before it’s too late, having to empty clip after clip at them with no result isn’t what we consider challenging combat these days.

It boggles the mind that an enemy’s head seems to be no more vulnerable than an arm, but standing six feet away from an armored opponent and emptying multiple shotgun rounds into them without so much as a flinch is just not fun. Don’t confuse our criticisms for complaining that RAGE’s enemies are too hard to kill, because that’s not the case. We’re merely pointing out that when an attack like that draws no blood, let alone any sparks or sign of contact whatsoever, something is wrong.

It’s impossible to know if these issues will be present throughout the entire game, or if these are isolated incidents. But in this day of mind-bogglingly accurate hit detection and real-time enemy injuries, simply shooting at things isn’t quite what we’re looking for from our ‘leading-edge’ properties.

There’s a chance that the lack of context or story present in the E3 demo is lending an unfair amount of attention to the combat of RAGE, but even with a compelling story, simply shooting opponents until they stop chasing you isn’t what combat means to us.

We hope that we’re proven wrong when RAGE is shown in greater detail, but if you prefer accurate injuries and enemies that can out-think you as well as out-flank, you may want to wait before picking this one up.

RAGE is scheduled for a release on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on Sept. 13. Have you seen any of the issues we’ve mentioned for yourself? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.