Near the end of Rage 2’s campaign, I was given a small hoverbike to get from point A to B. It was a relief, letting me circumvent the windy roads of the desolate but colourful wasteland and hopefully reach my next mission a little faster. I set out across a chasm and directly to the blinking orange waypoint on my radar, ignoring the headlights and gunfire from below. All of a sudden, Rage 2 reloaded, and I was back on the ground where I had first lifted off, time wasted in the wasteland. Without explanation or cause, I could only assume Rage 2 didn’t really like its own hoverbike. Despite promising some degree of freedom, it was all a ruse, with the strict path ahead still the one I was being forced to take. This brief moment epitomises a lot about Rage 2 – a game which promises flexibility and freedom but pulls you back into monotony and routine at every corner.
Like its predecessor, Rage 2 flirts with the idea of an open-world structure to break up its tight and regularly fun firefights. With many vehicles to choose from and a vast open wasteland to explore, the initial rush of wondering what lies out there for you to explore is tantalising, as Rage 2 unleashes you immediately after its mundane introductory mission. This promise is quickly seen for what is though, and the facade of Rage 2’s world unravels shortly after. There’s not much to do in this expansive land mass, which makes your extended trips from one waypoint to the next feel boring incredibly quickly.
If there was an open-world checklist with boxes to tick, Rage 2 marks off many of them without any real effort to shake them up. You can routinely come across bandit camps which need clearing, roadblocks (which are just the same thing but, well, on the road), stationary Authority Sentries that all behave the same, and roaming vehicles that are more than happy to just let you drive by without notice. Rage 2’s world feels remarkably bland for one that is bursting at the seams with radiant pinks and blues, bathed in some remarkably good looking sunlight and bright neon signs. Its exterior hides what little depth lurks below, with repetitive mission objectives and a small pool of enemies to fight turning most sidequests into busywork before you’ve really had a chance to see them all.
There are two of these that stand out though. One involves you hunting down grotesque and monstrously larger versions of mutants around Rage 2’s world, which typically boil down to more unpredictable and fun fights (with suitably lucrative rewards). The other is roaming convoys that offer the only real enjoyment with Rage 2’s vehicular combat. These are multi-layered fights, where you’ll have to pick away guards escorting the large target, before using a combination of weapons and vehicle-mounted gadgets to expose weak points for you to take down. The speed of these fights injects a tangible sense of adrenaline, making you wish Rage 2 did more with its vehicles.
When you’re not roaming the disappointing world of Rage 2, you’ll likely be shooting anything in it that moves. As Ranger Walker (who can be male or female), you’re tasked with resurrecting a long-gone project to destroy the oppressive Authority – the mutant–strong army hell bent of replacing humanity, introduced in the first game. Rage 2 lays on its exposition thick at the start and expects you to have paid attention to its previous entry, despite its story being one of the weakest parts of id’s first outing. But nothing that Rage 2 does really builds on the established lore or singular conflict. Walker seeks revenge from the moment the game opens to the rolling credits, never going through any sort of development as a character. The same can be said for the only other four characters of note that you’ll meet throughout the short story,most of whom seem to appear solely to remind you of their appearance in the first Rage. The narrative is an after-thought, and it won’t take you long to start feeling tempted to just skip every bit of poorly written dialogue to get to the bits that really feel good.
Scripted play is equally thin. Rage 2 hopes that its side quests are entertaining enough to keep you engaged between its handful of primary missions, which ring in at just under ten in total. They’re incredibly simplistic too, never evolving past a loop of driving to a location, shooting up the place, and returning to your quest giver. Some even serve only to introduce more side activities, which makes their inclusion in the limited tally feel like a waste. Near the end, set-pieces start repeating excessively (the same mini-boss is introduced near the climax of a mission nearly four times in a row), sapping most of the life out of what should be Rage 2’s most inventive and exciting content.
Combat is the lifeblood of Rage 2, and its first-person shooting is consistently entertaining. Although it loses some of the gritty nature to its weapons in favour of more generic future looking weapons, the punch delivered at the end of each is satisfying throughout. It feels glorious to pop off strings of headshots with the Assault Rifle, which graciously offers little recoil for you to contend with. The Firestorm Revolver lets you strategically place slugs either on enemies or environmental hazards around you, igniting them all at once with the snap of your fingers. And it wouldn’t be Rage without a brutally effective shotgun. Without powerful shots that tear enemies apart at close range and a frequently useful long-range alternative fire that also lets you propel enemies away from you, it’s a gift that always kept giving.
The full arsenal of weapons you’re given to play with forces you to scour the map for Arks to be complete (which is needlessly tedious), but the way in which each offers up different types of play keeps Rage 2’s combat varied. Enemies help this, with standard raiders with squishy exteriors making way for fully armoured foes requiring multiple shots to dislodge their protective plating or sneaky foes that use cloaking to confuse you in tight spaces. There’re not enough to go around to make the entire campaign feel like it’s constantly dishing out surprises, but the switch you’ll need to make from tactically-minded soldiers to rampaging swarms of mutants does keep you on your feet. And constantly switch between weapons.
Being a Ranger, you’re also given access to a handful of superpowered moves that add an additional layer to combat encounters. A quick dash lets you sidestep incoming enemy fire or close the gap quickly for an effective shotgun kill, which can be combined with a devastating Jedi-like force push that rips enemy armour off effortlessly. You can start coming up with creative solutions to skirmishes too, engaging with a massive ground pound from up top before deploying mobile barriers to protect one flank while you launch enemies into the air on another. When properly used with each weapon and its corresponding alternate fire modes, there are instances where Rage 2 finds a satisfying harmony to its collective destructive chaos. It doesn’t sustain that all the time with surprising combat encounters or riveting set-pieces (it overuses many to the point of hilarity) but it’s difficult not to have a smile on your face when the screen is full of bright, gorgeous explosions and enemies being ripped apart by your sheer offensive power.
What isn’t nearly as slick are the many different skill trees, upgrade paths and modifications that your weapons, passive perks and powers are all governed by. Most of them are restricted by a single mineral resource, which feels frustratingly low in supply for most of the campaign. This constitutes only an upfront cost though, as you’ll need similarly rare weapon modifications to install new components to your favourite gear or auto parts to make changes to your vehicles. A separate, non-descriptive resource is used to upgrade NPC-specific projects, most of which unlock passive perks or minor abilities that can do anything from boosting the amount of ammo you find in the open world to being able to melee back grenades at enemies. All of this is encapsulated in a messy and wildly unresponsive menu that hangs between transitions, making simple navigation to the skill tree you want to engage with a chore. It’s messy and unfocused to the point where I was avoiding upgrading my abilities entirely.
Being messy seems par for the course in most of Rage 2’s individual pieces. It’s not hard to envision the many different ideas sounding good in isolation, but their combination strips their originality away and creating a confused and unfocused final product as a result. Rage 2 tries to cram in so many ideas into its short campaign that it forgets to do any of them especially well, with its slick combat only able to prop up the rest so much. It’s incredible that Rage 2 exists at all given the tepid reception its predecessor received. But given how poorly it turned out, perhaps the nostalgic memories of id’s first attempt should’ve been enough.
Last Updated: May 21, 2019