After a dreaded opening lore dump, Rage 2 asks you to pick between playing as a male or female protagonist. This decision has little bearing on the rest of the game aside from an obvious difference in your character’s seldom-heard voice, but whoever you didn’t choose is almost immediately crushed to death by a flying door. It’s a humorous moment borne from its suddenness and your character’s nonchalant reaction, yet, going forward, this quick slice of dark comedy isn’t indicative of the rest of Rage 2. While its combat may be fantastic, best-in-class stuff, the game wrapped around its frenetic shooting is surprisingly bland, unimaginative, and disappointingly dull.
All of the marketing material and Andrew W.K. performances painted Rage 2 as this wacky shooter with attitude, its apocalyptic wasteland doused in pink neon and eccentric, larger than life characters. In reality, none of this comes to fruition besides the pink neon, and even then the landscape is drabber than you might expect. The story is cookie-cutter drivel, with a small cast of forgettable, paper-thin characters, while any attempts at humour fall flat due to some humdrum writing. The barely-there plot is centred on your status as the last Ranger left alive in these Mad Max-inspired badlands. Rangers are the final bastion of hope and justice in this lawless world, decked out in fancy combat suits that grant them access to oodles of earth-shattering superpowers. Your goal is to put a stop to the nefarious Authority, an augmented army of techno fascists led by a cartoon villain who looks like Darth Vader on steroids.
This straightforward narrative informs Rage 2’s open-world structure as you quickly set off in search of three characters who will help you put an end to The Authority. There isn’t much more to it than that; you do two missions for each of these three characters and then it’s on to an underwhelming finale. The only thing padding out the length of the campaign are level thresholds you have to meet in order to advance, which means completing some of the myriad side activities cluttered across its modestly sized map. If you’ve played an open-world game in the past decade, the majority of Rage 2’s nebulous side content will be instantly familiar. There are enemy camps to clear out by blasting every occupying ruffian in the face, convoys of vehicles to lay waste to, races to partake in, enemy roadblocks to clear, slayed Rangers to recover, and plenty more where this lot came from.
The quality of each of these activities varies wildly, but the key component deciding how tolerable they are boils down to whether or not you can shoot things. Rage 2 clearly follows in the hefty footsteps of 2016’s Doom. The shotgun is excellent, which is usually an accurate barometer for how good a game’s shooting is, and the rest of the weapons are suitably meaty, packing the kind of punch that just makes them fun to use. Headshots are met with a satisfying pop of displaced brain matter, and each of the Nanotrites – those aforementioned superpowers – complement the gunplay in thrilling and diverse ways that encourage you to experiment.
Your arsenal of firepower is similarly varied, too, building from a standard assault rifle up to a Grav-Dart Launcher that lets you propel enemies in any direction you desire. You might set an enemy on fire using the devious Firestorm Revolver, then while they’re writhing in burning pain, knock them back 20-feet with the Shatter Nanotrite until they’re nothing more than a splat on the nearest wall. Nanotrites begin simply enough with a handy dash move and double-jump, but it doesn’t take long until you’re using an area-of-effect ground pound to reduce anyone unfortunate enough to be near you into crimson paste. Kill enough enemies in quick succession, and you’ll also build up a multiplier that allows you to activate Overdrive. This puts you in a suped-up haze of radiant colours and intense chromatic aberration that empowers each weapon and Nanotrite’s destructive capabilities for a short while.
Similarly to Doom, Rage 2 also incentivises you to keep on the move and push forward. Each enemy you kill drops a currency that’s so volatile it disappears after a few seconds, forcing you to wade out into danger to collect a currency that not only upgrades your weapons and Nanotrites, but which also heals you in that moment. In terms of upgrades, there’s a veritable bucketload, with various ways to improve and modify your guns, vehicles, base stats, and projectiles. This amount of customisation is welcome, but there are so many disparate types of currency, the upgrade system could’ve been streamlined and condensed to cut down on the amount of time you spend faffing about in sluggish menus.
This is an issue with Rage 2 in general, though. There’s a dearth of momentum, and it severely lacks any sort of fluidity. The combat is brilliant in a bubble, but it’s broken up by long stretches where you’re just driving from point A to B. There’s no spontaneity in the open world, with any signs of life restricted to the bandit dens and pit stops that populate the map. Nothing tugs at you to break away from your waypoint and explore, and the amount of scavenger hunts you have to partake in slow down the pace considerably, whether you’re searching for fuel tanks to destroy or Ark chests to open.
It’s impossible to play Rage 2 without thinking about how each of its elements has been executed better in other games, particularly those by id and Avalanche Studios themselves. There are brief moments of balls-to-the-wall fun, but they’re bookended by an unnecessary open world that dampens the impact and pacing of its kinetic gunplay. There are other issues beyond this, from samey mission design, terrible vehicle handling, and a slew of bugs, but Rage 2’s biggest crime is that it’s less of an apocalyptic rager and more like a tedious car journey to visit relatives you don’t particularly like.
Rage 2 isn’t always a looker; it often appears as though the screen is coated in Vaseline, and there are some muddy textures and noticeable pop-in. But, explosions are spectacular, with a vivid outburst of fire, flying debris, and rended flesh. And it’s all worth it for that sweet 60fps.
Rage 2’s combat is often brilliant, but it’s disrupted by all the trappings of a bland open world.
Developer: id Software, Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: Out now