For all its promise of anarchic mayhem and its striking punk palette, Rage 2 is a surprisingly vanilla experience. Though on paper it delivers a lot of the contemporary triple-A features we’ve come to expect – meaty combat, open-world exploration, sassy (if occasionally grossly stereotypical) NPCs that offer secrets and side missions, unlockable fast travel, and a perfectly serviceable, if somewhat derivative, post-apocalyptic story – it sometimes feels as though these disparate parts are pieces of a puzzle that don’t quite mesh together as a whole. Despite its deliciously decadent violence and unapologetic gore, Rage 2 is trying to be all things to all people, and its own identity just might have been lost in the shuffle.
While this sequel includes a handful of subtle, hat-tipped references to its predecessor, you can safely embark on this adventure without having jumped into the last. You play as one of the last remaining Rangers, an almost unique symbol of virtue and citizenship in an otherwise lawless, impoverished society rife with bandits, mutants, and ne’er-do-wells.
You can select either a female or male Ranger and they’re fully-voiced and fully-realised, complete with an intriguing-if-not-particularly-unique backstory that drives much of the main campaign’s impetus. Consequently, your foes are numerous, ranging from mutants who have been physically and intellectually scarred by experimentation, lawless bandits – including the oh-so-colourful punks you’ve seen adorning the marketing materials – and the military might of the Authority, a technologically-savvy army led by General Cross. It’s the latter that is the most formidable, and it’s those battles that are likely to be the most challenging, too.
I’ll admit that the heady union of id – the godfather of modern shooters – with the open world expertise of Avalanche did more than pique my interest when the sequel was announced (enough that I wondered why these kind of collaborations aren’t more commonplace). And while there is, without question, plenty of balls-to-the-wall action and beautifully distressed setpieces to explore, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Rage 2 is anything but a linear adventure shoe-horned into an open-world experience. For every occasion the game funnels you towards a mutant-infested sewer or a grotty, grime-encrusted interior, you know you’re in for some tight, tense, and glorious gunplay. Beyond the walls of these scripted events, however, and you really do feel as though you’re in a barren wasteland. And although exploration is rewarded by way of bulging containers of Feltrite and cold, hard cash – not to mention Ark chests that provide the all-important components needed to boost your weapons and powers along the way – before long, it starts to feel frustratingly repetitive.
That’s not to say it isn’t incredibly good fun, of course. Rage 2 is never better than when you’re stomping through a bandit den or mutant nest, hurling enemies into the air as you quick-dash and pump them full of lead, flicking between grenades and wingsticks and drones to mete out maximum damage in-between explosive bursts of Overdrive, your ultimate ability. You’ll rarely run out of ammo which means you can let loose with gleeful abandon, particularly as you upgrade your armoury and throwables.
There’s a smorgasbord of sub-abilities to locate, unlock, and experiment with, too, but unless you’re prepared to deviate off the main story pathway fairly early on, you won’t get them until you’ve already battled through half, if not most, of the campaign; a shame, really, given these abilities are chiefly Rage 2’s USP.
That said, it’s not aggressively difficult – I’m a fairly average FPSer, and didn’t struggle with the combat, chiefly because the enemy AI isn’t particularly refined or inventive – but a stand-back-and-shoot game this is not. Only by charging into the fray and collecting that all-important Feltrite can you keep topping up both your Overdrive charge and your HP (not to mention your XP, too). It takes a little getting used to, admittedly, but it’s undoubtedly the most entertaining way to clear out those nests of bad guys.
Outside of the campaign, however, and it’s a different story. Maybe it’s more realistic to have a chiefly barren post-apocalyptic world than one bustling with life – insert shrug emoji here – but it doesn’t make for particularly intriguing gameplay. Activities – such as roadblocks – that force you into a fight quickly become irritations that only serve to prevent you from reaching your destination. The same can be said for some of the main campaign missions, such as one that requires you to not only pass a mandatory arena mode but also complete a derby race in pole position, too. There’s no doubt that these elements are nice-to-haves and help break up the monotony, but it’s surprising that these modes are compulsory; most people have signed up to Rage 2 to shoot stuff, not compete in races.
It’s pretty overwhelming at first, too. There’s a deep-dive menu system, tutorials, and a plethora of side quests and bounty missions, all of which unlock from as early as when you convince your first Project Dagger recruit to climb aboard. Superficially, it clutters the map and makes it feel like you’ve plenty to do, but you’ll soon learn that they’re chiefly repetitive tasks and as satisfying as Rage 2’s combat is, it’s surprising how quickly it’ll grow stale – particularly as the vehicular combat isn’t quite as satisfying as the devastation of your shotgun.
That said, it’s a brief experience – 6-8 hours should get you through the main campaign, and double that should see you complete the game entirely (sans DLC, of course) – so at least you can say that Rage 2 doesn’t outstay its welcome.
It’s also peppered with bugs and glitches, too. While the majority of them – such as delayed/missing audio and subtitles – is more an annoyance than anything else, occasionally you might find your system crash entirely, or be forced to reboot when an important prompt needed to progress simply doesn’t pop. While not remotely as egregious as some of the issues seen in Bethesda-games-past, they occur enough to routinely intimate that Rage 2 lacks that final coat of spit-shine and polish. A peculiar input lag on the PlayStation 4 – most noticeable in your UI/menu system, but occasionally spilling into the game proper, too – doesn’t help matters, either.
In its desperation to be edgy and in-your-face, this sequel sometimes falls just as flat as its predecessor, the copious neon pink daubings incapable of concealing its bland, repetitive wasteland and elevate this open-world shooter above its siblings of a similar ilk. But in its quieter moments – usually away from the Goon Squad scrum – you might find glimmers of surprisingly sophisticated storytelling, perhaps hidden in the lines of a datapad, or conveyed by a nameless NPC.
While Avalanche’s revival-from-the-ruins environmental storytelling packs welcomed meat onto an otherwise unremarkable frame, few things in the game affected me as profoundly as witnessing a guard attempt to resuscitate his fallen colleague after a vicious firefight in Wellspring. Not a word is spoken – the only sounds are his puffs of mouth-to-mouth and the grunting of chest compressions – and despite watching on for several minutes, his efforts never wavered.
It’s a poignant, potent vignette that says so much about Rage 2’s war-torn world in ways pink paint and crude graffiti never could; oh, how I wish there’d been more of those intelligent insights to support its bloody, brilliant – and bloody brilliant – combat.