We take a long look at a playable version of 3DO's upcoming dragon simulator.
We first previewed Dragon Rage several months back. Back then, we were immediately impressed by its instantly accessible mechanics, as well as its insane pace. We'd hoped that its aesthetic presentation would eventually catch up with its tight mechanics, but if the latest version we've seen is any indication, 3DO still has a lot of work ahead of it.
Dragon Rage puts you in the role of Cael, a young dragon with a huge responsibility: to save his remaining kin from slaughter and bondage at the hands of the orcs. In Cael's world, the wholesale enslavement of dragonkind happened long ago, the once proud beings now reduced to the role of beasts of burden. Well, at least the lucky ones. Many are systematically "processed"--their heads are cut off, and their bodies are immolated in pits of lava. Cael was close to being put through this process, but, with his head literally on the chopping block, ancient power began to course through him. Mustering every last bit of it, he spewed flame on the orc technician at the controls of the foul device and thus freed himself. All of this is communicated by the game's opening cinematic.
What follows is the game's tutorial segment, in which you'll learn to use all the abilities that come with being a dragon. Essentially a free-roaming 3D shooter (albeit with a good many twists), Dragon Rage is definitely one of the more compelling draconian experiences available in the interactive realm. You're given a wide range of satisfying powers, and your range of motion is brilliant. Aside from the sometimes glaring absence of a real claw-claw-bite attack routine, your onscreen dragon does everything you'd expect it to--unleash all types of breath weapons, tear the flesh off enemies, and wield a healthy bit of dragon magic. All of this is powered by a smooth control scheme, which gives you ready access to all of your maneuvers and attacks.
Your primary weapon will be your breath weapon. This you unleash with the X button, and, depending on which element you're currently using, it will take a variety of forms. Elements take the form of jewels hidden, or otherwise scattered, throughout the gameworld. You can have only one active at a time, though you will often have a choice of which one you want active--many levels have several hidden within. The square button, in any event, enacts your "dragon magic," whose specific effects are similarly sensitive to your current element. When using fire, for instance, you're able to spew superpowered versions of your regular fireballs. Ice, on the other hand, will erect on you a cool reflect shield, which repels enemy attacks right back at them. Your most powerful attacks, however, are mapped to the triangle button, and the way you earn the right to use these counts among the game's most amusing mechanics. They're called "rage" powers, and they're really limited-use deals. Basically, they're earned by eating cattle--just one of the creatures (orcs included) that you'll be able to eat for health and mana. Eat five cows, and a shrine will activate somewhere on the map. Dip your face in the shrine, and you'll be granted a rage power. Up to 15 cows can be eaten in this constructive manner for a maximum of three rage points that you can hoard. The effects of these rage powers are not unlike smart bombs in that they demolish most everything in sight. The precise effects, again, depend on the element whose effects you're riding. Air will unleash mad thunderbolts, while fire will summon forth searing flames and such.