|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Avalanche Studios, id Software|
|Release: May 14, 2019|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Strong Language, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Suggestive Themes|
by Lucas White
Rage 2 is the latest shooter IP revival from Bethesda as a publisher, with id Software and Avalanche Studios in the driver’s seats. While best known until fairly recently for in-house RPGs, Bethesda saw great success with the DOOM and Wolfenstein brands. When it brought known party animal Andrew W.K. out to reintroduce Rage, it seemed like we’d have yet another banger on our hands. From the bright colors and high-octane energy in the marketing to the clear DNA shared between Rage 2 and Avalanche Studios’ underrated Mad Max, I had a lot to be excited about. The end result, however, is much more complicated than I had bargained for. While there is a lot to like in Rage 2, especially the run-and-gun nuts and bolts of the thing, overall the experience feels undercooked. It lacks the personality and wit found in Bethesda’s other recent shooters.
From the get-go, Rage 2 betrayed my expectations. The entire introductory sequence feels out of place, compared to the way the game has been sold until now. You play as a Ranger, a sort of Iron Man meets Captain America super soldier. Your home base has been attacked by an army of evil robot-people, and the biggest, baddest robot man presents himself as the Big Bad. The neon colors are dulled and dark, and the violence on display is on the wrong end of cartoony. The whole sequence isn’t stylish, as much as it is directionless. It feels like a random shooter from the early 2000s tripped its way into today. After that, the open world opens up, and you’re sent on your way with some words vaguely resembling a plot.
At this point, Rage 2 simultaneously gets much better and falls apart. Once you’re out of the starting area, the world turns into a wide-open, post-post-apocalyptic desert that has Mad Max written all over it. Rage 2 gives you a car to start with, and as soon as you hop on and the perspective shifts, the game immediately feels like a relative of Mad Max. Then, once you find an objective, be it a super power-granting “Ark” or simply a stronghold at a gas station, that id software DNA kicks into gear and suddenly you’re playing a lite version of DOOM. As one might expect, the combat scenarios are where Rage 2 truly feels like the game it’s supposed to be.
Like other id shooters, Rage 2 is about momentum. Your arsenal and subsequent abilities (which you unlock more or less of through collecting currency) are all designed around keeping you moving during a firefight. Early additions include a dash and double jump, while eventually you’ll be sliding into goons to knock them into the air, using a sort of area of effect blast to break armor and take out weaker foes. Breaking armor is amazing, by the way. Seeing bits and pieces blown apart from your shots really sells the action. You’ll also be using the wingstick as the extremely lethal boomerang it is. The more abilities and upgrades you apply to yourself and your weapons, the more of a one-person instrument of chaos you become. If Rage 2 was a more linear experience with corridors, monster closets, and unrelenting boss fights, it could very well have been a riot all the way through. Unfortunately, the open world aspect of Rage 2 makes everything feel like a big waste of time.
In Mad Max, Avalanche Studios nearly mastered the idea of open world car combat. Players had a number of tools at their disposal to handle various situations, but even then car combat was an intense, sometimes drawn out affair that made every encounter a blast. In Rage 2, you have various vehicles and attachments at your disposal, but you’re never really encouraged to use them. Car combat is oddly scarce, and passing by small groups of enemies generated on the map doesn’t really have consequences. You can kill them if you want, for a meager reward, or pass them by easily. Attacking convoys is more like chasing down enemies than engaging them in mortal combat, and most of the open world involves empty spaces. You spend more time traveling between enemy hideouts and mission locations than anything else.
The biggest problem, perhaps, is Rage 2 doesn’t sell me on its world. As I played through the surprisingly short campaign, I never really got a sense of who anyone was or why things were the way they were. I followed directions, got my upgrades, killed the bad guys, and moved on, all while confused about whether or not the whole deal was supposed to be wacky or not. Rage 2 doesn’t really have a consistent tone or aesthetic, instead feeling more like it takes a kitchen sink approach. It’s a bunch of post-apocalyptic and open world tropes mashed together haphazardly, with no one thing done particularly well, except for the core combat. Even then, each encounter ultimately ends up feeling the same, broken up only by upgrades that feel optional compared to how effective the default guns are. It’s like all the parts are here, but most of the connective tissue is missing and none of the bells and whistles have been polished beyond “totally passable.”
This lack of presence on display is perhaps most apparent in Rage 2’s menus and UI. While the game itself performs quite well on an Xbox One X. the platform I played it on, swapping tabs through the menus is accompanied by bizarre lag. Some half-baked visual flair loads up the rote menus and skill trees. The skill trees are so uninspired in design or purpose that some of them don’t even make noises when you purchase new abilities. It all feels so phoned in, and I felt it the most whenever I needed to do something to progress.
Rage 2 is presented as a wild ride through a post-apocalyptic playground, with people invited to attend a festival of blood, guts, and spray paint. Wacky characters and bright colors adorn the box art and marketing materials, but the reality of the game is much less colorful. Were the outside trimmings more accurate, they would feature a grey supercop holding an assault rifle. The pizzazz and graffiti are merely background decoration for a collection of tropes and mechanics we’ve seen elsewhere, done better by the same developers to boot. It’s certainly fun to play, and shooter diehards who love open worlds will likely have a blast checking off objectives and discovering new powers, but anyone looking for more style or substance will be disappointed.
Writing Team Lead