id Software’s Rage had its fair share of detractors when it released, but you’ll find many (like myself) who loved it despite its glaring flaws. So when Rage 2 was announced I was naturally excited to see what was next for the series and perhaps get some explanation as to what happened after the previous instalment. This excitement was only slightly tempered by the fact that it would be a joint collaboration with Avalanche Studios (best known for their work on the physics-based mayhem of the Just Cause series), and not a pure id Software gig. So does Rage 2 remedy the flaws of the original, or is history once again doomed to repeat itself?
Old friends. Old problems
Taking place some 30 years after the controversially unsatisfying ending of the original Rage, Rage 2 places us in the shoes of a male or female soldier named Walker. After apparently being thwarted by the escapades of Nicholas Raine in the previous game, the militant arseholes known collectively as the Authority led by megalomaniac General Cross have re-emerged (quite literally, they were underground the whole time!) to take back the Wasteland. Walker’s hometown of Vineland is suddenly attacked by General Cross and his supermutant freak army in a show of force, and all of the nanotrite-augmented super soldiers (known as Rangers) that once fought for justice in the Wasteland are systematically slaughtered in the process. Walker is forced to don the armour of a fallen Ranger and effectively become the last of them. In a move that would make Rico Rodriguez proud, Walker vows to take down the tyrannical Authority and deal with Cross once and for all (or until he re-re-emerges from under the ground…again).
Rage 2 was a golden chance to flesh out the ending of the original, which ended with Raines unlocking the means of defeating the Authority, without ever actually showing us the outcome. But like Carlton’s Paddy Dow missing a sitter from 15 metres out it ends up being a huge missed opportunity. Much like its predecessor, Rage 2’s two-dimensional narrative ends up being criminally short and largely toothless. Although the post-apocalyptic world has a bit more vegetation in it compared to the original, it ends up being just as lifeless, with very little tying the disparate elements of its world together.
Although the why of Rage 2 is supremely formulaic and uninteresting, the how on the other hand is anything but. It’s clear that – for better or for worse – Avalanche and id have been more than content to let the story and setting take a back seat (we’re talking the uncomfortable very back seat of a seven-seater 1995 Nissan Pajero here) to the balls-to-the-walls action. At the outset the gameplay feels like a slightly maladroit mish-mash of the original Rage, Borderlands, DOOM and Just Cause; it fails to strike its own identity as it falls short of all those titles that clearly inspired it. But once the game finds its stride and your guns and abilities start to gel with one another, Rage 2 reveals its strongest assets as an incredibly fun and chaotic first-person shooter.
As you progress through the game and unlock Arks hidden amongst the Wasteland you’ll gain access to various new tech, including advanced weaponry and nanotrite abilities (read: superpowers) that will turn you into a post-apocalyptic wizard of pain. While the assault rifle and shotgun are likely to do most of the heavy lifting, there are several fun weapons to muck around with, including a multi-lock homing missile launcher, a revolver that sets people on fire and a gravity-based dart gun that lets you fling enemies wherever your heart desires. Besides guns, special powers like mini-vortexes that suck enemies in before exploding and a ground slam that sends enemies flying are extremely satisfying. Some abilities and guns are certainly weaker than others, but there are enough awesome ones to keep the power junkie within you sated. The action is extremely visceral and fluid thanks to a very slick framerate and well detailed but clean visuals. Guns have a deliciously meaty crunch to them and everything about the action simply feels immaculate. Whatever criticisms one may level at Rage 2, its core as a violent power fantasy is extremely endearing.
The Wasteland takes no prisoners
About as lively as the Wasteland gets
Guns have a deliciously meaty crunch to them and everything about the action simply feels immaculate. Whatever criticisms one may level at Rage 2, its core as a violent power fantasy is extremely endearing
But what power fantasy would be complete without RPG systems? It’s at this point that Xzibit turns up and says, “Yo dawg, so you like RPG systems.” Rage 2’s multiple upgrade streams and currencies are mildly bizarre and kind of convoluted, but you’ll strike a rhythm with them and the pace is such that progression is extremely rapid. Your guns and nanotrite abilities all have multiple tiers to unlock with the game’s core currency, a mineral called Feltrite. Feltrite spews liberally from just about everything including enemies and chests, and as you chain kills together more Feltrite will come tumbling out of your vanquished enemies (it also heals you, which is a great incentive to keep yourself in the action). Perks within tiers unlock different boons for your guns and abilities, and you’ve also got projects you can complete for your allies that earn you project points which in turn allow you to purchase other general perks. There’s also a doctor that can permanently increase your base weapon damage and health if you can gather three different upgrade materials for him that you harvest from more powerful enemies. If you’re not confused about all this yet then I’m doing it wrong. While it’s certainly not an impossible multi-faceted upgrade system to come to grips with, it’s semi-comical in how overly busy its execution is. Some streamlining may have been in order here, but at the end of the day we’re getting stronger, and that’s all that matters, right?
Well…strength is as strength does, and Rage 2 simply does not provide the proper context in which to flex this strength against worthy adversaries. Even on Hard the game is a bit of a pushover, and you’re never really forced to experiment with your abilities outside of your own sick desire to cause creative mayhem. There are a mere handful of actual story missions, with none of them being particularly engaging outside of killing everything that moves. The bulk of the game is comprised of completing smaller optional objectives that, despite being fun and varied, are so numerous that they can start to lose their lustre. Clearing mutant nests, destroying convoys and tracking down the corpses of ex-Rangers lost to the savage Wasteland does net you tangible benefits in the form of the various upgrade currencies you need to become stronger, but when you’re already way stronger than anything the Wasteland can throw at you, is there really much point? You can collect Feltrite ‘til it feels good, but a proper meaty challenge isn’t there to legitimise the core gameplay loop.
I feel like I have to mention vehicles, but I’ll keep it brief so this review is proportionate to how important they actually are to the game. In short, vehicles and vehicular combat work fine, but are largely superfluous. With extremely limited fast travel, they are a good way of getting from point A to point B, but I never pined to get back behind the wheel and would much rather let my guns do the talking if it was possible. Oh shit, Xzibit is back. If all the other upgrade systems don’t float your boat then one of the cars in your garage has its own separate upgrades and upgrade currency, so there’s that I suppose.
As mentioned, Rage 2 is visually quite impressive. Running on Avalanche’s Apex engine (and not id Tech 5), the game features a much wider colour palette than the exceedingly bleak original, and both indoor and outdoor areas are impressively detailed. When the action gets going (as it does often), the sound and spectacle of guns and explosions is a triumph. Lip syncing is fairly terrible however, and spoken dialogue often cuts in and out awkwardly. Other technical issues like a laggy upgrade menu (which you’ll be visiting a lot) and a randomly disappearing HUD are annoying, but from a technical standpoint the game is quite impressive.
Disrespecting the Authority
Cyber Crushers: Their bark is far worse than their bite
Rage 2 strives to be bold and bombastic, and when it comes to its core gunplay and power fantasy gratification it excels. It also looks and sounds fantastic, particularly in the fast-paced and wonderfully chaotic firefights. But with a lack of narrative substance, campaign length and proper meaningful challenge to throw your power against it feels like the power climb ends up kind of pointless. There is fun to be had in Avalanche’s Wasteland, but there was potential there for something far grander. Also, I’m not saying that the final review score would be higher if the game featured a collectible card game but…it would.
Reviewed on Xbox One X // Review code supplied by publisher