Rage 2 has carried the weight of a lot of consumer expectation after the brand damage of its predecessor. As a result, it’s had a lot of flak from games media which has exploded needlessly in the wake of that lofty expectation. Rage 2 is, for the most part, an excellent game. At the same time, it falls down by becoming dangerously derivative of existing titles. In amongst all the good this game has to offer, there’s enough here for sceptics to whinge about, bringing the negativity train to maximum speed.
This viral negativity reminds me of Mass Effect: Andromeda. A great attempt to reinvigorate a franchise plagued by naysayers who focused on one negative aspect, ignoring everything else the game had to offer. Sadly, this has happened to Rage 2, with physical sales down 75% on the first game. A crying shame as that is not the result of Rage 2 being objectively bad. It’s just more evidence that gaming media can doom a game’s prospects. Especially if it becomes fashionable to hate on it. In the below image, we can see what is becoming a typical divide between audiences and critics.
So this review will go against the grain. Not aggressively so – Rage 2 has its issues. Some glaring. But this review is not here to appease the status quo. It’s my hope that anyone reading can see through the fog left behind the hate train. Perhaps even learning that this game could well be worth their time and money.
Story was clearly a secondary goal for iD and Avalanche. If we’re being honest neither Mad Max (Avalanche) or even Doom (iD) had strong stories. But they were recognised for just about everything else they were doing. Rage 2 earns the right to follow suit but a weak story is something wider gaming media has preyed on. Likely because the first Rage ended in such a weird way. This is a particularly puzzling thing to complain about with Rage 2. We were never marketed a strong story-focused game.
Let The Past Die By Being Witty
Clearly in an attempt to wash away the muddy waters of Rage 1, Rage 2 has tonally shifted gears. Rage 1 was attempting to be dark and sombre. Rage 2 has leaned more into tongue-in-cheek humour. What little story is there plays off of this new angle brilliantly.
The game begins and wastes no time immersing the player. Playing the first game will be an added bonus but isn’t necessary. A quick evil speech from General Cross sums up all we need to know about the state of Rage 2’s wasteland and our part in it. Frankly it’s a lot to take in for newcomers but compliments a fast momentum to getting started.
The aforementioned tongue in cheek humour kicks off right away, as we pick up a pistol and turn to see the male/female character we didn’t select get crushed by a flattened door. Only for your sister to pop the head of the offending Authority mutant. She’ll go on to make quips about something as grim as seeing a high ranking officer get their head bitten off. It’s all a bit ridiculous but Rage 2’s pre-release marketing has seen to it that this is what we should expect. It works.
From there on out, it’s up to the player character to make contact with the leaders of different settlements. You’ll then perform your typical open world busy-work tasks to progress skill trees. Tasks that are essential to surviving later missions. On the one hand, cutscenes are of a high production value. They are complimented with some of the best voice acting in the industry. Although, all this busy-work across the map takes away from these great scenes. The tedium of which threatens to suck out any personality the game is so clearly striving for.
Ubisoft + Copy + Paste
The progress of the story is closely tied to the player working their way through this list of tick-boxes which strays dangerously close to the Ubisoft open world format. Far Cry 5 managed this in a far more interesting way.
So – story is not one of Rage 2’s strong points but I doubt that was ever the intention. Take a moment to remember Doom’s fairly straightforward and uninspired story. Even Avalanche’s Mad Max did little to wow. Neither of the teams are fantastic at storytelling. The focus was combat and the same design ethos has been applied to Rage 2. It’s not a bad thing – it’s just the kind of game it is. If it’s depth and emotion you’re after, go for the new Wolfenstein games, which marry this kind of combat to a masterclass in writing and storytelling. Whether that makes Wolfenstein or Far Cry better games is entirely subjective and up to your tastes as a gamer.
It is true that Rage 2 suffers from vast open spaces of beautiful emptiness. But there are plenty of areas sprinkled within the world that offer a truly believable wasteland. Those areas are where the player is most likely to go and, rightfully so, the most effort has been put into these places.
Rage 2 Remembers Its Roots
Disgusting mutant hideouts underground have endured from the first game. The kind of intense corridor shooting that was the main strength of the first game is back. It’s possibly one of the strongest parts of Rage 2 as well. Mutants are often relentless and numerous, putting every one of your skills to the test. It was only when I started to fiddle around with photo mode that I realised how much care has been put into NPC design. Zooming in would reveal boots cut open to make for wrist bracers. The spikes on their armour are actually knives and forks and their faces have a slither of humanity still hiding in there. Brilliant.
Discovering a new settlement is always a joy too, thanks in no small part to the variety of environments to be found in Rage 2. Wellspring takes pride in generating its own hydro-electricity from a massive well in the middle of of the town. Particularly satisfying for Rage 1 players is to see how this town has grown since 2010. The result is a beautifully lit town with a neon glow of all kinds of colour at night. Gunbarrel is more of a Mos Eisley hive of scum and villainy, the bar of which is guaranteed to dazzle newcomers with a showcase of iD Tech’s mastery of mixing lighting of different colours seamlessly. These are just two towns near the start of the game and even more variation can be found to the north in the swamplands.
The Open World Is Fantastic… Sometimes
Avalanche surprised me with Mad Max with a giant nondescript desert that became an interesting place. In large part, that was due to frequent encounters on the road and those encounters are few and far between in the case of Rage 2. So unfortunately, that consistent curiosity to explore isn’t inspired by Rage 2’s map. But the areas in which the player is likely to go are varied, colourful (beautiful even) and filled with loot that is worth collecting and searching out.
In a nutshell, this quality of world design is really what we should be expecting these days from the likes of Fallout. NPCs are incredibly varied as some can be found fooling around on all fours in a bar, some conversing on the street and many will be mission givers that provide a small story of their own for players to invest in. Frankly it is refreshing to play a first person open world game that looks this good with hardly a load screen to be found. All of this quality is there for the taking and you’ll only see a load screen if you die or fast travel. Despite the negative press Rage 2 has somehow garnered, it nonetheless has a few lessons to teach other open world games even if the hunger to dig into the more obscure areas just isn’t there.
Explore, earn, loot, upgrade and fight. These elements make up the gameplay loop of Rage 2 and repeat relentlessly until you’ve finished the game. Sound like a tired out formula? Well that’s because it is. After countless Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry games, Rage 2 lends to the idea that perhaps our love for open world games is finally waning. Perhaps this gameplay loop is need of a little innovation.
Mechanics to Make You Rip And Tear
Like I said earlier, some of Rage 2’s best moments are in the more claustrophobic areas of the game. Not only are these areas beautifully detailed and leagues more atmospheric than the open world but they force a kind of frantic combat style that this game was really designed around. It makes me wonder if Rage 2 would have been better off going the Doom route – a little more linear. Then again, if it did that, Bethesda’s generous roadmap of free DLC wouldn’t be a thing.
The combat in Rage 2 is every bit as satisfying and punchy as all those hype trailers would have you believe. Unfortunately (and it’s very rare that I recommend this) to get the most thrills out of Rage 2’s combat, it’ll be better to play on Normal. Typically I go for Hard by default – it squeezes the most tactical know-how out of the player and typically gets the game played in a purer form. But Rage 2 is all about getting up close and personal. To do that to maximum effect, Hard mode is not the way to go. Conversely, it’ll have you playing far more conservatively. Not something Rage 2 wants out of you.
This is proven by a mechanic that spurts out Feltrite from fallen enemies, partially healing you as you fight. It encourages as aggressive a playstyle as possible. This is complemented by superpowers gained from discovering Arks, each serving a different purpose. Each requires tactical knowledge as to when to use them as they often determine victory in crowded areas. Wasting a Shatter will make life a lot harder when dealing with shielded enemies. Grav slam is great for wiping a group of unaware enemies, especially if you have the unaware enemy damage buff. When all powers have been collected, Rage 2’s difficulty curve eases a little. The mix and match nature of the powers combined with weaponry is a tried and true formula for all-out fun.
Rage 2’s combat would have been spectacular without the powers but they certainly make things all the more satisfying and juicy. Bear in mind the people who made the combat element of this game. iD practically designed the building blocks for every first person shooter that exists. They’ve been doing this for a bloody long time and, my god, have they honed their craft to a fine tee.
Death And Destruction Pick ‘N Mix
A great example of weapon variety can be found in the shotgun. Like all other weapons in the game, it has three fire modes. A standard hip fire, precision fire that is more of an aggressive force push relying on momentum to smack enemies into walls to kill them (in the case of the shotgun – other weapons have different tricks up their sleeves), and Overdrive mode. This is simplicity in button mapping at its finest and it helps any player to become a badass in next to no time at all.
Sending enemies flying off their perches from a great height to see a kill marker on the reticle three seconds later never gets old. The headshot sound effect combined with an occasional slo-mo moment is smooth and gratifying. Boss fights encourage players to learn the benefits of the dodge function. Everything in combat is chaos but, by your hand, it has to be organised chaos with all that you have. Without tactical application death is all but guaranteed.
Taking down evil convoys, though few and far between, offers a great high speed challenge. Ammo for your trusty Phoenix is not unlimited and every shot must count. Each convoy varies in how it challenges you, how they fight back and where enemy weak spots can be found. It’s clearly a strong nod to Mad Max: Fury Road as the hard metal blasting out my speakers had me looking for that red clothed dude and his guitar.
Rage 2 Is A Little Overweight
With all the upgrades at play however, things can start to feel a little bloated. Too far into the game, I still felt a little discomfort in that there was so much to remember to upgrade. I was collecting items blatantly of value and still struggling to remember what they were for or how to put them to good use. These items include (take a deep breath) Nanotrite Enhancers, Weapon Core Mods, Feltrite, Junk, Vehicle Parts, Chemical Components, Electric Components, Mechanical Components, Explosive Components, Upgrade Schematics, Ark Tek, Life Glands… and – you get the idea. Rage 2’s focus on combat and upgrades has made it into an RPG-lite but its shoddy menu system prevents players from really wrapping their heads around it at pace that syncs with the game’s progress.
In the case of the PS4, Rage 2’s in-game menu struggles under the weight of its stylised screen switching. Cycling through tabs is not smooth at all. As if we were using it on an under-powered PC. Stubbornly stuttering from screen to screen is annoying as we’ll be jumping into these menus often to enhance our abilities or upgrade vehicles. We’ve been fortunate in other games to have snappy menu systems. We press a sequence of buttons, not even reading what’s on the screen and making changes in a split second. That is not the case in Rage 2. The menu systems of which may have you wondering if the devs should have taken their foot off the gas in terms of flowery presentation.
Graphics and Sound
While Doom blew us all away with its incredible levels of iD Tech engine detail, Rage 2 is a slightly different story. In terms of demand on your processor, Doom had the advantage of loading relatively small but dense, separate levels. That loading buffer no doubt earned it the 60fps prestige across all platforms. But Rage 2 is a massive open world, with a day/night cycle and barely any load screens. As a result, the iD Tech engine, while still looking breathtakingly beautiful is stretched a lot thinner this time around.
Rage 2 Is Like Butter Spread Over Too Much Toast…
We’ve seen in the past how powerful engines dumped into open worlds can go. Frostbite going from the condensed maps of Battlefield to the likes of Mass Effect: Andromeda and Mirrors Edge: Catalyst was a disaster, leading to frame rate drops of colossal proportions. While not as dramatic in the case of iD Tech and Rage 2, frame rate drops have been reported across all platforms. All that juicy detail and incredible lighting is clearly pushing the engine to its limits in its first foray as an open world.
Very occasional texture popping can be spotted, especially when flying around in the Icarus. Some of the more frantic scenes begin to prove all of the engine’s calculations for AI, explosions and lighting (oddly) make a sacrifice to sound. Indeed, if things get too frantic, sound will begin to suffer. Occasionally, the player will get trapped in a kind of metal box arrangement of acoustics that is typically reserved for Overdrive mode. Occasionally a subset of sound effects would disappear altogether. Other weird bugs encountered include disappearing NPCs and progress blocking doors that won’t open and shouldn’t be there.
…But That Shouldn’t Be The Focal Point of This Review
That said, I cannot stress enough how rare these bugs are. If you buy the game you absolutely will encounter them but in my entire playthrough, I only encountered around two instances of each. That said, it’s no excuse. In this cutthroat gaming industry, these little holes in quality are unacceptable as we look hopefully to the future and any patches it may hold.
The other 95% of the time, where everything is working fine, music is great. Carefully selected areas offer unsettling and minimalist wails of tension. Others, like the convoy races smack you in the face with downright dirty metal. As we would expect nothing less from the folks at iD, weaponry is endlessly punchy. Whether you’re firing a weapon or changing fire modes, it’s all crunchy and mechanical.