I can’t say I was particularly anxious to be back in the world of Rage. After having a so-so time with the original, my memory is somewhat hazy in regards to that game. I know it put to use some revolutionary new tech that marked one of John Carmack’s last contributions to id Software before leaving for Oculus in the form of mega-textures, a feature that ultimately made that game unplayable on many (at the time) beefy rigs, but outside that, very little of it felt memorable.
So when Rage 2 was announced last year to tremendous fanfare by Bethesda at E3 after a hilarious leak-turned-joke by Walmart Canada, I was skeptical about the whole thing. Bright colors, crazy-looking raider types acting all menacingly and heavy metal permeated Rage 2’s marketing from the very get-go, which in and of itself didn’t help make it too memorable for me in particular, but it was at least consciously in my radar up to its release. After having played and finished it in a bit more than a dozen hours, I can safely say it’ll sit alongside the first game as something I’ve gotten through, but will probably won’t remember much of in the future.
The thing about Rage 2 is that it’s an excellent balls to the wall id Software first-person shooter trapped within the confines of a middling open-world structure that slows everything down to a crawl. Its map isn’t all that huge to begin with, as it’s about as large as any of the recent open-world games like it, but navigating through it felt like an absolute chore to me, thanks to the slow vehicles and general low number of fast travel points I could use. And adding to that the fact that everything around the actual shooting is just plain repetitive made my time with the game feel like an exercise in trying not to get frustrated while actively attempting to see as much of it as needed for this review.
The open-world and general gameplay portions of Rage 2 were handled by Avalanche Studios, the folks behind the Just Cause games, heralded as some of the most fun open-world action romps, as Leo made it clear in his review of the most recent entry, as well as Mad Max, which I found to be okay. Overall, the wasteland looks as good as a post-nuclear apocalypse could, but it also manages to be somewhat visually varied, going with more than just deserts and craters, throwing in lush jungles and even a swamp in for good measure. The issue is that these environments have little to do in them outside of the main story content and very few side quests, and even then, those manage to be damn repetitive and not that fun to partake in, some actively borrowed from Mad Max in the form of convoys you have to take out.
Doing these extra missions help you gain favor with the three “factions” you’re aiming to please throughout the game. The main thrust of Rage 2 is getting revenge over The Authority, a group of superpowered mechanists who are bent on converting sentient beings into machines, as well as themselves. The game opens as the Ranger base of operations is attacked by enemy forces, who basically wipe out their entire squad, leaving you — either a male or female grunt — and a friend mechanic to pick up the pieces and take the fight to them, with you becoming the last Ranger upon donning the power armor left behind by a now fallen comrade. The three folks you do the main missions for each hold a necessary skill or item that will be put to use in order to take down the leader of The Authority, who’s little more than a human head on top of a robot body, and has the personality of the latter to match.
They are also tied to the kind of side content you partake in, and depending on the color of the activity icon you finish as you drive through the map, you’ll earn reputation points for that particular group. For instance, if you destroy one of the aforementioned convoys, an orange icon, you’ll earn favor with Loosum Hagar, the mayor of Wellspring, the biggest town in the game, or by taking out a bandit lair, a pink icon, you’ll get on John Marshall’s good side, a gruff ex soldier who now minds a backwater bar, and so on.
You’re gonna have to take some of those even if you plan on beelining the story missions, since further on, you’ll be required to reach a certain level with each before continuing on. This is sort of there to help inject some play time into Rage 2, because the main story is limited to a handful of missions before moving on to the finale that would otherwise come in way too quickly, but thanks to the padding, comes in at ‘just quickly’.
Overall, it’s the way that the game is built that makes so it feels like it reaches its conclusion all too soon. The story is unbearably boring, and there’s an uneven feel to the whole game where it seems like it never really takes anything seriously and at the same time it does. Thanks to the way the game structure is put together, you won’t have time to care about any of it, though, and even if you did, there’s not much there to begin with. You’re in the far future, farther than the one in the first game, if you played that game and still remember some of its characters, you’ll see some of them again, now way older and even more demanding of your precious in-game time.
That happens with the main protagonist, who is voiced this time around and just won’t shut up throughout the whole game. He or she are probably the most broken part of the story delivery of Rage 2, since their personality is in constant flux. At times, they’re pissed and all game in regards to what’s going on, while at others, totally indifferent and even ironic. I played as the female protagonist, and every (and I mean EVERY) I would ride up to a fortress, she’d say “hey, here’s another one of those bandit camps” in the most bored, affected way humanly possible. The rest of the cast isn’t far off that mark, and for as much as the writers have tried to inject them with character, I hardly wanted to pay attention to them because nothing they had to say had any significance, outside of pointing me where to go and destroy next.
The going to part of that is also somewhere where Rage 2 slides off the track. The driving model in this game feels extremely weird, and it’s an issue I’ve had with Avalanche’s games since Mad Max. It conveys a visual “sense of speed” as you drive around the dirt roads from point to point, but the actual speed isn’t there. I can only describe it like sitting in a stationary car with the backdrop moving. It’s odd and unsettling as it triggers erratically during driving segments, especially when nitro is used.
You get a pretty cool ride that you get to upgrade with new guns, armor and even a flag, and it works as a nice means of getting around, even if it’s not particularly fast. Other vehicles are awarded to you as you progress through the game, and you’re also able to capture random ones about the world for cash and to add them to your garage, but none are as good as the Phoenix. Car combat plays out in pretty chaotically, and in Avalanche style, it can get somewhat involved, even more so during the convoys, where some of the biggest enemy vehicles in the game tend to pop up — they’re a doozy to take out.
Actually shooting things in first-person is by far Rage 2’s strongest point. Following the mold of Doom and the first Rage, it’s positively fantastic in this game. It’s relentless, fast, and feels really good. You get to mess around with some special powers too, like a force push substitute that helps do away with armored foes, a jump/shatter combo that demolishes enemies that happen to the bunched up, as well as a shield and a black hole of sorts that pulls things in and throws them around. Combining these with the gun fire is a lot of fun, and the more you upgrade your abilities, the better the combat gets.
Finding new weapons to add to your arsenal proves to be the main thrust to actually putting time into exploring the game’s map, since a lot of them are hidden within Ark vaults scattered all around the world. There’s no loot to speak of in Rage 2, so all the guns that you pick up are unique in their own way, and can be upgraded as well, unlocking new powers that benefit your playstyle. I have a soft spot for the combat shotgun, but there’s a lot of variety among them, including the wind blade, making a return from the first game — it even has its own tech tree. The impact of the shots feels feels damn good, even down to the handguns. Nailing headshots quickly became second nature to me, but that only went so far, considering some foes can’t be taken down that way. Sneaky bastards.
You improve abilities (be it activate or passive, such as health and attack buffs) and weapons by spending one of the many currencies within Rage 2, and those are earned by exploring, or are given to you as mission rewards. At a pinch, they can also be bought at trading posts. The bane of my existence when it comes to open-world games is the needless abundance of currencies, and funnily enough, even though Rage 2 has a lot of them, it sometimes feels like they aren’t enough to fit in all the upgrading you can do within the game. There’s simply too much to put money into, and some trees each off of each other’s currency, like the blue crystals you mine off of dead enemies and off walls, it can be used for a variety of tech upgrades like weapons and stats, so you have to balance out your spending, otherwise you end up having to farm that specific coin in order to keep your progression going. Others are even harder to come by, like more specific currency that’s uniquely tied to upgrading the trees that are associated to the three factions.
I played the PC version of the game for this review, and at its current state, it’s rather buggy, a couple of patches in. There’s an annoying bug that randomly cuts off audio during dialog, so unless you’re playing with subtitles, you’re probably going to miss some of what’s being said. That also happens during firefights, where sound effects simply stop playing altogether. There’s a number of glitches when it comes to the interface, with objective markers disappearing and reappearing off of the guide tracker, as well as the waypoint indicator losing track of your position in case you use a fast travel point. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out in later fixes.
Technically, Rage 2 is a pretty, if somewhat uneven looking game. The lighting is the strongest part of its visuals, and the vistas can be quite beautiful at sundown, depending on where you manage to find yourself in. Characters off of the main cast can animate quite badly at times, their mouths looking like a puppet’s when they talk to you. The modeling is well done on the guns, and the enemy designs are as disturbing as you’d expect from an id game, with plenty of freaky tech/biological creatures to fight, as well as standard military grunts and by-the-book road warrior gangs, a staple of the post-apocalyptic worlds Bethesda has gotten so used to delivering by now. The sound design in the game loses a lot thanks to the audio glitches, and the voice acting can only do so much with the weak script that it’s given, and as a result, a lot of the dialog in the game feels long-winded and boring to sit through. But it can thankfully be skipped.
Sadly, you can’t skip the other bad parts in Rage 2. It feels like a lot of work like many open-world games are wont to. And at the same time, it lacks enough significant content, the kind people will want to see through at the very least. Surely enough, if you hope to 100% every single ticker in this (including all the tech trees), you’re more than likely to clock in a lot more time, but it’s all ultimately busy work, like looking for supply boxes tucked away that blend with dark corners of huge maze-like buildings. I have played my share of these games lately, and to be frank, I’m getting worn out.
That’s why even Bethesda’s own modern Doom and Wolfenstein games are much better alternatives to Rage 2. They’re condensed. They know their strengths and they play off them, fast and dirty. They sometimes even manage to throw in some actual good story bits, like Wolfenstein: The New Order and The New Colossus, but they’re conscious of what they are: action games. Rage 2 fails to capitalize on its best aspects in favor of trying to keep you busy for longer than it ultimately should, and in that, it misses the whole point.