Review: Rage 2

id Software is credited with creating two of the most influential shooter franchises in history, Doom and Wolfenstein.  With such a pedigree, it’s a bit surprising that the same studio came up with such a miss like Rage. Rage, an open-world shooter with a brown aesthetic, launched in 2011 to little fanfare and was quickly forgotten. Seven years later, however, id Software aims to give the IP another shot. Teaming up with Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max), publisher Bethesda Softworks aims to reignite interest in the IP with lots of personality, fun, versatile weaponry and an explosion of color. Does Rage 2 blend it all these elements together into an exciting package or should the IP rage off into the night?

Rage 2 takes place thirty years after the events of Rage. The cybernetic Authority spent that time building up their armies and are ready to wipe humans from the face of the earth. Led by General Cross, the Authority lays siege to the settlement of Vineland. You play as Walker and are quickly thrown into the conflict after watching Cross murder your mentor. Promoted to Ranger, Walker sets off into the Wasteland to complete the mysterious ‘Project Dagger’ and destroy the Authority for good.

Though technically a sequel to the original game, Rage 2 has few connections to Rage. A short video at the start of the game catching players up with events and then it’s off to the races. All players really need to know is that General Cross and the Authority are bad guys and now you must destroy them. That’s the gist of Rage 2’s story and it never expands beyond that. As Walker, you’ll meet three lifeless characters as you work towards an unsatisfying conclusion. Though the story starts off with a bang, it’s not long before that bang sputters out.

Rage 2’s
story suffers from an identity crisis. The opening mission has difficulty setting a consistent tone. At one moment it’s lighthearted with silly things happening, such as watching an all-powerful Ranger quickly lose his head. The next moment, you’re watching your mentor get brutally murdered. It’s a problem that persists throughout the game with some missions taking on a more comedic approach, and others adopting a dark and gritty motif. Rage 2 consistently clashes with itself and it’s hard to get a grasp on what the developers want players to feel at any particular moment.

It doesn’t help just how short Rage 2 is. In total, there are only about eight story missions if you include the opening prologue. Each of the three Dagger Project characters gets two missions apiece followed by a final mission. In total, the campaign lasts about 10-12 hours depending on difficulty, but that time is deceptive. A few hours are wasted performing mind-numbing open-world activities to level up each character’s project meter. It’s an unsatisfying story that lacks a strong sense of direction and personality.

Rage 2’s narrative lacks personality, but that’s made up on the gameplay front. The gameplay is all about giving players a broad set of tools and setting them loose to do whatever they want with them. Though Walker’s arsenal starts off rather generic and bland at the start, it quickly expands to hold several powerful weapons and abilities. Littered throughout the Wasteland are arks, which house all the tools you need. The first bunch are easy to find, but later ones do require some sleuthing to find. Nabbing what’s inside, however, is always worth the time and effort.

Rage 2’s extensive list of weapons come in all shapes and forms. There’s generic fare like an assault rifle, shotgun, pistol and rocket launcher. What makes each weapon unique is that each has a secondary mode. For example, when holding the left trigger, the shotgun fires a concussive blast that sends enemies flying back and the rocket launcher sends out a volley of heat-seeking missiles. Additional, more out of the ordinary weapons, like the Grav-Gun, allow for fun experimentation.

Nanotrites power the game’s super abilities and add layers of depth to the gunplay. Shatter works much like a Force Push, sending enemies flying across the screen. A gravity grenade sucks nearby enemies into its vortex. The best is the Ground Slam, however, which is utterly ruthless in its destruction. After building up a meter, players can unleash their Overdrive, which increases the power and effectiveness of weapons and abilities. Rage 2’s combat mechanics are effective and satisfying. Running around a battlefield, juggling various weapons, and combining the different abilities and weapons together creates a pleasing rhythm. It’s a game that makes you feel powerful and provides well-designed combat arenas to test all your toys in.

Your arsenal of weapons and abilities evolves throughout the game thanks to an extensive upgrade system that can feel too excessive. Weapons, cooldown times, health upgrades, damage upgrades and such are all available, but how you get these upgrades depends on multiple different currencies. For example, to unlock a new tier of weapon upgrades, first you need to spend Feltrite and then you need a weapon modifier. If you want health or damage upgrades, then be on the lookout for special currencies that only drop from bosses and Ark Chests. The amount of depth and customization on display is impressive, but there’s a lot of micromanaging involved.

While Rage 2 offers players a lot of different tools of destruction, the game rarely provides exciting activities that make use of them. Most of the game’s sidequests are typical open-world activities you’d find in any game without any special twists. You have enemy bases, defense missions, enemy clearing missions and races. It all becomes somewhat redundant fare, especially since the story takes time to make you build up progression bars with each of the three characters. The seven main story missions fare a bit better and typically provide more challenging scenarios. It’s just a pity they’re so short and that there are so few of them. Additional variety opens up in later areas of the game, but the story barely has players go to these areas.

It’s also interesting that Rage 2 does nothing with its distinct biomes. In addition to the deserts that form the Wasteland, there’s also a swamp and lush forest available on the map, but the game rarely takes players to them. The bulk of the story takes place in the desert. It’s a pity that the world designers built all these areas that players barely explore during the campaign. You can go back and explore them, of course, but after filling the character bars to level 5, there’s not much incentive to continue exploring as the rewards are minimal and the side content so repetitive.

Driving around the open world isn’t meant to be a chore, but ends up as one. Players are given the Phoenix, a powerful APC equipped with machine guns, from the get-go. It’s customizable and additional vehicles can be unlocked, but there’s never a reason to spend time or money upgrading or unlocking new vehicles. Despite Avalanche’s excellent vehicle combat in Mad Max, Rage 2 surprisingly features little of it. Sure, there are odd cars on the road, and players can take on armored Convoys, but the sparse world offers little in the ways of vehicular mayhem in Rage 2. Ultimately, there’s never a reason to upgrade the Phoenix, unlock other cars or even drive once you unlock some fast travel points.

Rage 2’s open world feels empty, but overall looks decent. The presentation isn’t going to blow anyone away, but it at least nails the look of a post-apocalyptic world. The choice to pursue performance over resolution on the enhanced consoles is admirable, giving combat a high level of fluidity. The game does a solid job at maintaining a consistent framerate, though it can dip during effects-heavy combat. The presentation is muddled, however, in a surprising way: the UI. While the player screen looks good and all information is presented cleanly, Rage 2 makes some odd choices that hurt the flow of the game. For example, the game randomly cuts out audio or stops what you’re doing to inform you of your progression and rewards. Then there are the in-game menus, which are incredibly laggy when switching between tabs or even scrolling through a page. Considering the rest of the game runs so well, the issue with the menus stands out.

Closing Comments:

Bethesda Softworks has done great work reinvigorating its library of IPs over the past few years. MachineGames’ take on Wolfenstein and id Software’s Doom 2016 were fantastic games and the idea to reinvigorate additional IP is a solid idea. Rage 2 should make sense on paper, but falls flat in execution. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the minute-to-minute gameplay. The mixture of inventive guns and powerful Nanotrite abilities make for fluid and engaging combat scenarios. That excellent gameplay, however, is held back by its story, mission design and open world. The story is dreadful and short with no personality, charm or consistent tone. The Wasteland is vast but feels empty with repetitive side activities and large sections of the map underutilized. There’s a lot of great ideas and ambition here, but the excellent combat never quite gels together with the game’s other elements. Rage 2 kicks off with a bang of explosions and personality but ends with a whimper.