Rage 2

Rage 2

Written by Sean Colleli on 5/21/2019 for PC  
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I have to admit, I’m still kind of astonished that Rage 2 happened. The original game wasn’t necessarily bad, but it wasn’t the runaway hit Id was hoping for and for better or worse, today it feels like the product of a studio very much trying to re-discover their voice. Despite the game’s warts—the shaky Idtech 5 engine and its flaky megatextures, the bizarre lack of a day-night cycle in its open world, the meandering story—I actually liked Rage a lot, at least in those solitary stretches when it wasn’t pushing one of its many clashing gameplay mechanics. Naturally Rage invites numerous comparisons to the Mad Max franchise, but while Rage did indeed take place in a savage wasteland, the original game at least didn’t go for the eye-rolling B-movie cheese that defines Mad Max.

When I was out wandering Rage’s constrained open world, with nothing but the wind as my companion, I had strong flashbacks not to Mad Max, but the more speculative dystopian cinema of the 60s and 70s. Rage’s meticulously crafted wasteland evoked the same kind of tragic, decayed beauty from the quieter moments of Logan’s Run, Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green. Rage might have struggled to find a defining gameplay dynamic and it didn’t have much of an overt personality, but if you let it catch you all alone out in the wastes, Rage could haunt you.

From a business perspective, it makes perfect sense for Id to hand the keys to Rage 2 over to Avalanche Studios. After all Avalanche has the Apex Engine, built for open world sandbox gameplay, and they have tried and tested post-apocalypse chops after they released the underrated but impressive Mad Max game in 2015. It was clear from the early trailers that with Rage 2, Id and Avalanche also wanted to instill the Rage franchise with a distinct, rebellious personality and expand the gameplay beyond the somewhat incongruous mishmash of experimental mechanics that made the first game feel a bit confused.

Rage 2 takes place decades after the first game. At the end of Rage, Nicholas Raine activated all of the buried Arks, time capsules of humanity that were designed to seed the planet with life and human specialists, effectively restoring an ecosphere after the planet was devastated by the Apophis asteroid. This greatly displeased the Authority, a fascistic organization of cyborg supremacists who wanted to purge earth of all other humans and take the Arks for themselves. Now led by General Martin Cross, the Authority is moving up its plans to eradicate the rest of humanity and shape the new Earth as they see fit.

You begin the game as Ranger Walker, one of the few surviving members of the Resistance against the Authority. With your commanding officer (and adoptive mother) dead after a devastating raid by General Cross, it’s your job to venture out into the wasteland, secure vital Ark technology, and rally the support of other wasteland community leaders. Your adopted sister (or brother, depending which sex you choose for your character) stays behind ad de-facto commander of what’s left of the Resistance, to take charge of the remaining soldiers and try to regroup while you do all the wasteland errands. It’s a pretty standard opening but it takes just a little too long to get things going, and it frontloads a ton of exposition to help new or lapsed players catch up with the goings-on in Rage. After all, the first game is nearly 8 years old, but I would have appreciated a more…organic opening and tutorial.

For instance, once I was cast out into the wasteland, I knew I had to beeline for one of the three local community leaders—Loosum Hager, Dr. Kvasir, and John Marshall—to ask for their help. I also vaguely knew that finding other Arks would let me plunder them for useful tech, abilities and weapons. What I didn’t know is that I would be woefully outmatched against the roving gangs of motorcycle mutants and punk rave rejects unless I made finding these Arks my priority. The early Arks all contain crucial Focus abilities, which are your basic superpowers like a double-jump, a rush attack and a revive to give you another fighting chance after you go down in combat.

I understand that Avalanche was probably going for a Zelda Breath of the Wild approach here; they wanted you to explore naturally, make your own way and learn by doing, making mistakes and formulating your own gameplay style. However, Breath of the Wild equipped and trained you with its core abilities—the rune powers—before it let you leave its tutorial area. In Rage 2 I was trying to get a feel for what I could tackle early on, getting a handle on my Mad Max-style car, and learning the ins and outs of combat, all while the game kept adding new things for me to keep track of.

Not only that but as you explore and open Arks, Rage 2 also frontloads a lot of detail on its upgrade and crafting systems. Rage 2 has a fairly deep upgrade tree that covers five main areas: nanotrites, weapons, special projects, your car and finally your cyber augments. These various upgrade trees are tied to special items you find in the world, like weapon cores for beefing out your guns, vehicle parts for upgrading your car, project points for helping the community leaders, or Life Glands for boosting your health. But hey, not so fast; some of these upgrade trees are tied to the game’s XP currency, Feltrite, which is leftover material from the asteroid impact, pops out of dead enemies, and tops off your health meter. For example, you can’t upgrade a weapon or focus ability until you unlock each successive upgrade tier by spending Feltrite, and then you can dump in those novelty items like weapon cores. Confused yet?

Granted once you feel these upgrade trees out a little bit, all of this complexity becomes a lot more natural, but getting a lot of it force-fed to you at the beginning really makes the early game feel like a chore. It’s certainly not as straightforward and intuitive as the upgrade paths in Id’s other franchises, Wolfenstein and Doom, but then again Rage 2 is an open world game with a lot of ground to cover and items to collect. It isn’t nearly as bad as the Skinner box nonsense in a looter-shooter, but I still wish Rage 2 had imparted all of this complexity with a little more grace.

I encourage you to stick it out through these early exposition and gameplay info dumps, because once you build Walker out a bit and get your hands on some better weapons, Rage 2 becomes an absolute blast to play. Where the original Rage seemed indecisive and dithered between first person shooting, car combat, racing and open world exploration, it’s clear that with Rage 2, Id and Avalanche know what their strength is: first person combat, combat, combat. Everything else in the game, including the story, is fairly decent in its own regard, but it all works to bolster the first person shooting. Once you get a hang of the upgrade trees, most of them work to make the FPS action even better too. While other open world action games use the sidequests and exploration to pad out a main story quest, Rage 2 works in reverse; the community leaders mostly send you on errands and favors anyway, so after a fashion the main thrust of the game is causing mayhem in the wasteland and taking it to the gangs and the Authority.

When you’re toting a beefed up shotgun, rocket launcher, firestorm revolver and a fistful of homing wingsticks and you storm an enemy stronghold with your Overdrive powerup on, you become this ferocious force of nature that leaves nothing alive in its wake. Rage 2’s combat is less of a gun ballet than Doom—where you swap weapons on the fly to deal with different eneimes—and more of a freestyle jazz form of combat where you’re really just having fun. Some of the weapons are less practical and more goofy as well; the Gravdart launcher lets you pepper an enemy with gravity projectiles, and then kinetically yank them in whichever direction you point. This can send them hurtling into the air, or more frequently, into a nearby solid object with terminal gibbing force.

All of the other elements of the Rage formula are still there: the wasteland, the outlandish characters, the hideously deformed mutants, the Authority, the car combat and races. The difference is that this time all of these ancillary aspects serve the core gameplay loop, instead of distracting from it. There are car races, but as far as I can remember only one was necessary to complete the main story. There are vehicular boss battle chases that turn into Mad Max Fury Road disaster areas that play out across the wasteland, but they feel like an exciting diversion instead of a tedious chore. All of this feeds back into the shooting and use of Nanotrite powers and that addictive freeform combat dance; the extraneous activities work to make you into a more lethal wasteland marauder, so you feel inclined to go out of your way and diversify the gameplay loop.

Granted, this comes at a stylistic cost. Rage 2 ultimately has a more diverse palette of locales, including foothills, mountains, and swamps, so the whole thing doesn’t just look like a Mad Max copy-paste. At the same time however, some of these locations get a bit repetitive and none of them have that handcrafted, stark, sun-bleached desolation that made the original game so distinctive. Rage 2’s trailers billed it as this neon-pink-drenched cheesefest, a goofy one-liner-spouting celebration of post-apocalyptic silliness that would inject some much-needed personality into the staid, understated Rage franchise. I was worried this would go too far, that Rage 2 would sacrifice what little was special about the original game on the altar of mainstream appeal.

Instead, Rage 2 feels like Rage 1’s rebellious little brother. It has something new to prove and does it with a bit more attitude and irreverence, but it also pays respects to the game that started it. In the end, this makes Rage 2 feel just a little bit disappointingly safe, but this grounded aspect also makes it easy to get into once you sort through its frontloaded tutorials and exposition. The core of sublimely satisfying first person combat is what saves Rage 2 and makes it more than the sum of its parts. I think Avalanche’s steady hand and greater experience with the open-world genre gave Rage 2 this much-needed grounding, so in future installment it can move out of its comfort zone and explore the more extreme, silly elements that Avalanche toyed with in this game.

In that respect, Rage 2 is a remarkably solid second entry in the series that doesn’t go quite as off the rails as its trailers indicated, but still delivers an addictive and satisfying combat loop that reminds you that yes, this is an Id Software IP. If you’re a fan if Id or even just the original Rage, have no reservations about jumping back into the wasteland.

While it’s a bit slow to start, frontloaded with tutorials and exposition, and generally muddled at the outset, Rage 2 shapes up into an incredibly fun time and a natural evolution of a franchise I was worried Id had written off as a dead end.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been gaming off and on since I was about three, starting with Star Raiders on the Atari 800 computer. As a kid I played mostly on PC--Doom, Duke Nukem, Dark Forces--but enjoyed the 16-bit console wars vicariously during sleepovers and hangouts with my school friends. In 1997 GoldenEye 007 and the N64 brought me back into the console scene and I've played and owned a wide variety of platforms since, although I still have an affection for Nintendo and Sega.

I started writing for Gaming Nexus back in mid-2005, right before the 7th console generation hit. Since then I've focused mostly on the PC and Nintendo scenes but I also play regularly on Sony and Microsoft consoles. My favorite series include Metroid, Deus Ex, Zelda, Metal Gear and Far Cry. I'm also something of an amateur retro collector. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my fiancee and our cat, who sits so close to the TV I'd swear she loves Zelda more than we do.

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