The announcement of RAGE 2 came out of left field. As soon as the wacky, colourful, W. K. Anderson-infused marketing campaign began its relentless march towards launch, all I could think was: had anyone been asking for this?
Eventually, this sentiment shifted into a feeling that, in a post-DOOM 2016 world, the idea of another ID Software shooter with the added vehicular expertise of Avalanche Studios (known best for the open-world mayhem of the Just Cause series), might mean that RAGE 2 could actually be a good time. This turned out to be around half true. RAGE 2 may contain the elements of a great shooter but its ultimately held back by almost everything else.
RAGE 2 kicks off 30 years after the original game and is essentially a soft reboot for all that the backstory tends to matter. The Authority (see: ugly, cyborg bad guys) have returned to conquer the wasteland and you, as the last ranger (see: power suit-wearing good guys), must put a stop to them.
The story is not a strong point. It’s about as generic as the above premise makes it sound and the supporting cast is entirely one-dimensional but refuse to act like it. In order to take the fight back to The Authority, you must help three prominent wasteland figures complete Project Dagger. What this amounts to is essentially ranking up with each character by doing different open-world stuff, like clearing bandit camps, finding old world tech, and exterminating mutant nests.
Upon reaching rank five with each ‘faction’ you’ll unlock the next stage of that particular story mission. Wrap up each of the three threads and then complete the final mission to complete the story. Pretty straightforward stuff.
The idea, I think, is that all the open world padding between story moments is supposed to flesh out the overall experience, but it quickly feels like checklist busy work. There’s an almost overwhelming amount of stuff to unlock or upgrade, but the most exciting of which (nanotrite abilities and the various weapons) you unlock at very specific points on the map.
Through the power of your ranger suit, you can send enemies flying with a melee blast, spring into a leap that ends in an explosive shockwave, zip back to your vehicle with super speed among other things. These are all extremely satisfying to use and taking out wave after wave of bandits or mutants remains entertaining throughout.
The weapons are similarly fun. My personal favourite was the grav dart launcher, you shoot darts at a target then aim where you want to send them, hit right click and away they go. The speed at which they fly is determined by the number of darts you stuck them with. This allows for some hilarious moments, sending a red barrel into a group of enemies or flinging a bandit off a cliff or into a ceiling, for starters. The combat in RAGE 2 is undoubtedly it’s biggest strength, which is why it’s so frustrating and somewhat bewildering that the level design doesn’t really compliment the weapons or abilities in an interesting way.
Every time you pick up a new ability or weapon you’re transported into a featureless virtual training room and forced to complete a tutorial. It’s completely lost on me as to why the surrounding environment is not used to introduce you to the new thing you’ve picked up. It seems like a great opportunity to have a location tailored to using the grav dart launcher, or perhaps an escape sequence that requires the use of the speed boost. There just seems to be a lack of imagination when it comes to delivering on the potential of some these really cool weapons and abilities.
RAGE 2’s whole mission statement pre-release seemed to hinge on the idea that it “knows what it is” but this is so rarely the case. This game almost prides itself on interruptions. Whether it’s completing location objectives, ranking up or acquiring certain upgrade materials, the game will stop as if you’ve paused it, the screen will show a progress bar filling up or a description of whatever item you got, and several seconds will pass before you can actually press a button to return to the game. When the music is pumping and the body parts are flying through the air and you’re frenetically switching weapons and priming your nanotrite abilities, the last thing you want is to be interrupted and forced to look at a redundant pause screen. Why it couldn’t just be a small pop-up that splashes across the screen during gameplay like any other open-world game released in the last 10 years, I couldn’t say.
I also encountered some rather significant bugs, mostly to do with dialogue. The protagonist would either not say their line (although the subtitles would still display) or the NPC I was interacting with would take a strange amount of time to actually respond. Aside from this, it was just your usual open-world jank, ragdolls getting stuck in the environment and the like.
Part of what made DOOM 2016 work so well was its purity. You were there to shoot demons and that’s exactly what you did, and the game did it’s best to never get in your way. RAGE 2 would benefit greatly from being set free like this, but instead, the by-the-numbers story, unimaginative tutorials and jarring pop-ups absolutely kill all momentum and drag you back down to the ground. This partnership between ID Software and Avalanche Studios seemed to be pitching a solid shooter with a visually stimulating and expansive open word and a much bigger focus on vehicular combat. While RAGE 2 does deliver on its promise to be a bombastic, intermittently fun shooter, it falls significantly short when it comes to everything else.
RAGE 2 was reviewed on PC with a code provided by Bethesda.