There’s a handful of games every year that are marked on the calendar as notable releases, yet will be completely forgotten in mere weeks. Rage 2 is one of these games. While there is some fun to be had blasting your way across the wasteland, it leaves a lot to be desired in other areas.
Rage 2 gets off to a bombastic start where you, the main character named Walker (male or female) and your community are attacked by the aptly named Authority. This group is headed up by the big bad from Rage 1, General Cross in a shiney new robot body. He kills the leader of your group, who is also your parental figure and you inherit a special suit of ranger armour which basically gives you superpowers. You set off into the wasteland tasked with revenge. It’s a tight sequence that sets up the stakes of the story while introducing you to the core combat loop. Unfortunately, as soon as you enter the open world it becomes clear how uninspired Rage 2 is.
Let’s start with the positives though. From a technical perspective, the game is rock solid. I saw no bugs or crashes at all while playing, and it maintained a pretty solid frame rate even on my aging PC. Although the world itself is muted and boring, the use of neon colour throughout the game was pretty effective at creating some interesting interior spaces. There are great particle effects from explosions during firefights which makes it quite the spectacle when you’re tearing through a bandit camp.
Combat also feels great in this game, the guns are punchy and the powers you have at your disposal do add spice to the encounters that keeps your momentum at maximum at all times. The simple act of dashing around splatting enemies against a wall with my shotgun and force push power kept me entertained for most of the time I spent playing. You can tell id Software handled the weapons tech, because it feels as good as 2016’s Doom did to play. There’s a nice variety in the guns you can acquire, everything from your classic assault rifle to a grav-dart gun that lets you fling enemies around like rag dolls. The weirder guns are a lot of fun to play around with when you acquire them, but they quickly reveal their inefficiencies in long term combat; why bother setting up the multiple shots the grav-dart gun requires to launch opponents off the map when the shotgun will do it in a single slug? Your equipment comes from Arks, which are basically Fallout style vaults. Due to events from the first game they have all surfaced and are dotted around the map for you to pillage at will. I found it pretty tedious to track them across the map, but the gameplay variety they afford is important.
It’s good that the combat kept me engaged because you’re asked to do a lot of it, in fact it’s pretty much the only thing you do. There’s a very small variety of activities that you will discover around the map and they all boil down to this one thing. Bandit camp to clear out? Shoot some guys. Got a bounty you picked up in town? Shoot a smaller number of guys. Got a convoy to take down? Shoot guys from your car. There’s almost no variety to any encounter in the game, and it’s shocking how barren the world is in general. You can go huge stretches driving around the map without seeing anything but the bare wasteland while heading to your next objective. The driving overall feels pretty bad as well, there’s no sense of speed and your main vehicle feels extremely heavy making it easy to spin out or fall off cliffs. The car combat is also forgettable, it mainly consists of auto locking to weak points and pressing the button. This is a big downgrade from a previous game Avalanche developed Mad Max, which I think had pretty interesting car combat. As soon as I unlocked the flying vehicle I basically ignored this aspect of the game because it simply wasn’t fun.
Although this is a little subjective, I think it’s important to mention I found the game extremely easy, even on hard difficulty. After a few hours of gameplay I had a handful of defensive upgrades and I was basically a god, sprinting from enemy to enemy shotgunning them in the face regardless of the numerical difficulty rating each icon in the map has. The large mutants which act as the only real boss encounters in the game also posed little to no threat, as I was often able to kill them before they got more than a few attacks in. This lack of any difficulty and tension in combat really undermines the longevity of the best part of the game.
This game also does the thing where it lists all the loot you haven’t collected from the locations on the map, leaving them annoyingly lit up. This led me to spending inordinate amount of time hunting around these locations for that one last chest just to have that location crossed off the map. I know I could just leave them there and the sky wouldn’t fall down, but I wish they had looked at other games like Assassin’s Creed, where they knew this was annoying so they let you tag them easily with your bird companion. You do eventually unlock a short range scanner for these collectibles, but it’s very vague and only makes it slightly easier to find them.
Probably the single most disappointing thing I found while while playing this game is just how short the campaign actually is. I counted a grand total of eight story missions (including the intro and final mission) that take mere hours to complete, and amount to little more than sending you to a larger than average bandit den to grab something they need. Rage 2 extends this by employing the trick Anthem made famous earlier in the year by creating an arbitrary level grind for the three mission givers which tasks you with going out and clearing icons on the map in order to extend the campaign. I happened to hit the requirements naturally doing side content as I saw fit so it wasn’t a massive roadblock, but the fact such a short, dull campaign gets extended in this way isn’t a great solution.
Unfortunately this dullness is not just reserved for the storyline, it pervade almost every aspect of the worldbuilding. The towns you visit are largely just filled with idle NPCs with no meaningful interactions and I ended up only using them as fast travel points to get around the map. I’ve already mentioned that the world is a barren wasteland in the truest sense of the word. There’s no mystery off the beaten path and you will spend your whole time just driving from waypoint to waypoint. The three main characters you take story missions from aren’t any better than the narrative they’re part of, falling into forgettable post apocalypse stereotypes. Even the three factions of outlaws you spend 90% of the game killing are devoid of personality. The bandit punks with neon coloured mohawks look good in the marketing, but in game they have little to say. They don’t even have a gleefully evil leader to interact with, which would go a long way to injecting any kind of interest to the narrative. As it stands they simply exist as meatbags to throw against walls. There’s little to no personality to be found from anything in the game that doesn’t shoot bullets.This is probably the single most disappointing thing to me because based on the excellent trailers and pre release showings of the game, I was pretty bought in on the idea that this world was going to ooze Doom levels of cheesiness, and to have it reveal itself to be so lacking in personality was a let down.
Rage 2 starts with a bang but quickly loses momentum as you murder your way across the wasteland. id Software brought the fire with gloriously violent guns that are a joy to shred enemies with, but Avalanche Studios didn’t follow suit. They created a boring world, forgettable characters and a narrative that in 2019 it’s generous to even describe it as that. If you’re content with a mindless romp through the wasteland turning baddies into paste, maybe take a look when its price tag is inevitably slashed, but I’ll be shocked if anyone is still talking about this in a few weeks time.