The original RAGE was a bit of an odd ball… a highly ambitious shooter that promised a lot yet didn’t quite have the tech out in the world to really show off the vision. Largely forgotten by gamers, the sequel announcement took many by surprise, and not just because another game was inbound, but because of who was developing it. Bringing in support from Avalanche studios and their experience in the massive worlds of Mad Max and Just Cause, id Software have attempted to create something truly special that might be likened to an open world DOOM. Have they managed to pull it off or will RAGE 2 just anger its audience?
Dispensing with any kind of backstory – if you need a primer it’s Asteroid hits Earth, creates wasteland, nanomachines injected to cryogenically frozen subjects develop superpowers, time to kick ass – we join our protagonist Walker having to fend off a resurgent Authority led by the returning General Cross, thought to have been taken out at the end of the last game. In short order the invading army have wiped out anyone who was an original Ark survivor with special abilities and left the rest of the population of the outpost picking up the pieces, including bits of their own bodies. Without anyone with the skills or potential to take on the Authority things are looking bleak for the human race, except there’s a twist. Walker is really an Ark survivor brought up to think he’s a normal human, but he’s chock full of nanotrites that he didn’t know about, and is the only person who can stop Cross from creating a new genetic race by developing his own super skills and triggering the mysterious Project Dagger. Makes sense, yes? I hope so because this is pretty much the pace of story in RAGE 2 and it’s hard to work out whether to try and keep up or just let it flow by.
RAGE 2’s way of introducing the player to the world is bombastic, OTT and absolutely tongue in cheek. It sets up in those first few minutes the pace of the action and the level of ridiculousness that’s going to be the root of the rest of the game. One thing to be really clear on is that this does not take itself seriously at all, keeping up with the marketing campaign will probably have given that away. It knows it’s absurd and it runs with it, though that doesn’t mean it sacrifices any of its playability, and it’s designed to provide a playground of chaotic and emergent behaviour for a unique experience. With a true open world this time around, the focus is on driving, exploring and upgrading whilst making the wasteland a safer place – Walker is a ranger after all. There’s an interesting approach to the mission structure in that there are three options open right after the intro and no particular order to tackle them in, so the whole game feels completely free, but that’s a double edged sword as there’s no real guidance either. At least the map is just the right size to balance feeling big without having too much distance to navigate through.
Regardless of the driving and exploration that at first seems to dominant RAGE 2, it’s really a shooter at heart and has all the pedigree of the masters of the art behind it. Gun play is slick and satisfying, and the inclusion of powers to mix things up works seamlessly. Weapons and abilities are unlocked through finding them in the world and it’s possible to improve everything so that you can build your own personal play style. When things start to get too frantic there’s Overdrive on hand which amps the violence to the next level, and it can work as a last resort tool when health starts to drop a little low. Automatic health regeneration isn’t as prevalent as it is in other shooters, and keeping an eye on the gauge is essential. Fortunately, killing bad guys showers out Feltrite – a mineral that’s used for upgrades that also gives back small amounts of health – and causes a combo meter to rack up that reduces the time to the next Overdrive depending on how high it gets. And we shouldn’t forget the wingstick that was introduced in the first game and is used as a homing projectile, or the explosive environmental options… there are multiple ways to deal with foes.
The variety continues in getting prepped for defeating the Authority because it’s all about stopping whatever shenanigans are happening out in the wild, and there’s a decent amount of activities to take part in. Of course, they all revolve around killing the local goons, facing off against giant mutants or running down convoys; but because they need slightly different approaches it’s refreshing jumping from one to another in the early part of the game. Completing an activity rewards by levelling up your standing with one of the three characters that act as overseers of the regions, and this in turn allows the continuation of the main campaign missions. There’s also cash doled out that can be spent with the various traders that occupy the towns. Whilst we’re talking currencies there are a lot in the game – money, Feltrite, project points, nantrites… it’s actually a bit too many and where some of them work in multiple areas it can be easy to get lost with it all. As with the level structure, there’s no guidance and you need to spend time digging through the menus to work out what is used where and how it will benefit you. It leads back to tailoring to your tastes, though could have done with some refinement.
For everything that RAGE 2 does right, there is something it does wrong too. The currencies overload already mentioned is one, and they’re metered out at a slowish pace too. The short length of story is another as there are only a handful of missions after the intro (and one of these was pre-order DLC!). Finding additional weapons and powers is a chore and there’s a high chance that you’ll see the conclusion before you’ve even got to 60% of the these. The wingstick is next to useless despite the amount it can be upgraded. There are far too many boxes and crates to open to collect goodies from. Hunting for data pads, drones and Feltrite deposits seems to go on forever. It gets repetitive picking up every flashing object because you think you need it (unless it’s ammo, you mostly don’t need to bother). Man… I could keep going. I imagine that at the start of the development process there was a brief put together that said this had to be a freeform adventure, and it is, yet it feels so full of busywork that it’s gets tedious.
At least during these actions of blandness there’s a good looking world around Walker. Playing on a PC, Pro or X means that it runs at a rock solid 60 frames per second and it really benefits from that fluidity. The differing biomes in the map also build distinction into the areas so that it’s not just miles of hot and dusty sand under the wheels. There’s even a good feel to the driving with multiple vehicle types to get to grips with. Mechanically RAGE 2 is sound, I can’t fault that. Characterisation is good as well with things erring on the Borderlands caricature side, and the acting delivered with conviction. With the short campaign though none of them really get fleshed out, and some are even completely wasted opportunities, or are being saved for the announced expansion packs. Whilst it performs well with framerate, it loses impact somewhat with lighting and shadow glitches, and the audio has effects missing completely at times. It doesn’t stop it from being playable, it just distracts from what is a really well presented game most of the time. Even the much advertised announcer voice packs are strange additions because they’re great fun for about 10 minutes, but then you get sick of them telling you to use your Overdrive against non-existent enemies and end up switching them off.
Things have taken a bit of a negative turn haven’t they? RAGE 2 is like an overstuffed piñata – it’s exciting to look at and has loads of goodies inside that you can’t wait to get to. You beat it with a stick a couple of times and it explodes a bit too quickly spilling its guts on the floor and making you spend hours clearing it all up… if you want. Or you can just grab the bits that interest the most and leave the rest where it is. I’ve loved the combat in it, it’s brutal and brilliantly executed with masses of choice that makes you feel incredible when you string it all together. The sense of fun and humour is oozing out of nearly every pore – from the cartoon level violence to the individual names of NPCs (Belle Ender, I’m looking at you); it’s done firmly in the knowledge that we’ll get a kick out of it. Yet I’ve lamented how quick it’s gone by even when there’s nothing really driving the progression forward. I’d like to tell you how long it’s taken to complete but the clock doesn’t stop in rest mode so currently it’s showing over five days, in reality I think it’s less than 12 hours, and the majority of that being spent driving between activities. It’s almost the ultimate game for those that love getting sidetracked by map markers because that’s really what it’s made up of. The first game struggled with the tech unable to support the vision, this one has everything in place but doesn’t know how to focus it enough to make it last.
RAGE 2 is out now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £45 depending on platform, and has a roadmap of additional content and challenges planned out for the next 6 months.
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I’ll be picking this up in 2022, when I get through my backlog. Another great review Matt.