With the recent Walmart leak (more like Leakmart ammirite?) and several not so subtle teases by Bethesda, the existence of Rage 2 is more or less a certainty, and will probably be a cornerstone of their E3 2018 showing. While I personally welcome this leak with open arms, many who were alive in 2011 (mostly 90s kids) when the original Rage was released will probably remember the game was not well loved by the general populace. So what did id Software’s Rage do in particular to draw the ire of the masses, and what are the pitfalls that the sequel should avoid?
Show me the wingsticks
A quick perusal of the ever reliable Metacritic will show a healthy average of 80% for the game amongst critics across PC, Xbox 360 and PS3, but the user average tells a different story – a mere 61% across those same platforms. Now it should be noted that user reviews on Metacritic feature incredible amounts of unchecked bias, and the sheer volume of 0s and 10s on the user side of the fence should give anyone pause when questioning their validity, but nevertheless, anyone who played the game will remember the slightly lukewarm reception it got. So what went wrong?
Let’s start with what went right. Typical of id Software, the game was an absolute visual and technical wonder. Lovers and haters of the game alike praised the visual fidelity and the incredible amount of detail packed into the post-apocalyptic world thanks to the revolutionary id Tech 5 engine, and even on the aging consoles of the time it was a visual marvel. The game also featured some incredibly tight gunplay, interesting weaponry (love you, wing sticks) and solid enemy design that made the moment-to-moment FPS gameplay sheer joy (unsurprising considering the developers helped shape the FPS genre itself). Sounds like the game should have been a homerun, but it was seemingly everything that was built around the visually splendid FPS core that let the game down (other than the sweet collectible card game Rage Frenzy of course, which was a revelation).
The game was billed as being a blend of Fallout and Borderlands, but where those games featured innovative writing and genuine humour, Rage’s narrative execution was a bit of a train wreck. An overdone post-apocalyptic setting that did little to explain itself or why you should give a toss about both it or the people that called it home, two-dimensional side characters, a protagonist with the personality of a wet cardboard box and possibly the most deflating (to the point of being insulting) ending of all time assured that Rage was no Shakespeare, and even struggled to manage a drunk Stephanie Meyer. An FPS with a bland story is nothing new, but Rage was guilty of trying super hard to establish a narrative identity, but failing at the most basic level to make it a reality.
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Another aspect that Rage was not particularly loved for was its open-world structure, which desperately craved to be as deep as Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, but ended up feeling like needless filler. Sidequests in the wasteland were uninspired (for instance there were no settlements that Preston had gotten word of that needed your help), and really the open-world aspects were barriers in the way of getting to the next shooting gallery. The open world did manage to showcase some fairly solid vehicular combat, but most would agree it wasn’t really compelling enough to sustain the sheer amount of it present.
This brings us to the multiplayer section of the game. So your game has great gunplay and cool weaponry, of course you’re going to want to showcase that in some balanced multiplayer deathmatch scenarios. No, vehicular combat is what you get and you will learn to love it, damn it. To the multiplayer’s credit it did feature some surprisingly originality, but it’s odd that a studio so renowned for crafting engaging FPS experiences would decide to walk that path.
At the end of the day, I felt that Rage’s overwhelmingly strong points made it easy to overlook its weaker aspects, but this didn’t seem to be the general consensus. Personally I believe the tepid reception amongst the average consumers was the result of a gaming landscape that had become oversaturated with FPS games, and a gaming public that was becoming increasingly cynical as a result. But 2018 is a different time, we’ve still got plenty of FPS out there but it’s generally accepted that if a AAA studio is going to push one of these bad boys out it has to be distinct. DOOM is a prime example of this, managing to reinvigorate the genre with its action firmly planted in the old school FPS deathfests of yore, but with plenty of new school sensibilities to appeal to a new generation and evolving landscape. All id Software really need to do with Rage 2 is decide where the focus should be. Are they going to showcase the gunplay, or attempt to put a focus on an engaging narrative? In an ideal world they’d do both, but the past has demonstrated that those things don’t really exist in the same room at the same time when it comes to id Software. Give me guns, give me a continuation of Rage Frenzy, ease up on the vehicular stuff and to me you’ve got a sure winner. Just don’t try and be something you’re not, Rage 2.