For a long time, it looked as if we would never get a Rage 2. The announcement of the sequel, released in May 2019, certainly took many by surprise. The original Rage (2011) struggled for an identity in the sea of monochrome first-person shooters that flooded the market at the dawn of the decade.
However, with eight years of hindsight, Bethesda has given the IP to a new studio (Avalanche). As a result, Rage 2 is not lacking in personality. The neon diesel punk aesthetic breathes life into the game’s world through eye-catching visuals and whacky dialogue.
Furthermore, the fast-paced shooting mechanics ensure that the open world gameplay maintains a frenetic pace. I just wish Avalanche Studios had paid more attention to the technical issues that plagued my journey across the wasteland.
The game begins with the resurgent Authority invading the city of Vineland. During this massacre, you choose to play as a male or female Walker. After witnessing the destruction of your hometown, you take up arms as a Ranger and set out to avenge your fallen comrades.
However, the game’s silly tone restricts any major emotional beats from landing during these traumatic opening moments. That’s not necessarily a complaint, as I found the out-there writing to be endearing for much of the experience. The writing is often so tongue-in-cheek that I feared it might have to go to the dentist. The game’s humor is far from sophisticated or nuanced, but the insanity that pervades the characters and world did bring a smile to my face on more than one occasion.
The actual story of Rage 2 involves Walker interacting with allies who can complete the mythical Project Dagger. Along the way, you meet a colorful cast of characters and complete some memorable missions.
For example, I had a lot of fun participating in a televised killing show so I could gain favor with an egotistical TV executive. Likewise, the mad scientist, Dr. Anton Kvasir, offers some deliciously twisted lines about the human anatomy. This is all heightened by great voice-acting all around. The deliveries range from Walker’s sarcasm to an NPC’s unhinged babbling, and all fit cohesively into this crazy world.
Rage 2’s gameplay takes the break-neck shooting mechanics of an Id software game and puts them into a Far Cry-esque open world. I had adrenaline rushing through me for many of the game’s chaotic gunfights. Moving and aiming are set at a rapid pace and the physics feel great. Everything flows with a speed that always kept me on my toes without making the action unreadable.
The game’s arsenal also makes fighting goons and monsters feel like a dream. The assortment of guns and throwables brings a few creative twists to established FPS staples. In particular, I found the boomerang to be great for quickly taking down weaker foes.
However, the nanotrite abilities are the true joy of Rage 2’s combat. These are superhuman moves and attacks that often work in tandem with your weapons. This can lead to some amazingly satisfying combo moves. I will never grow tired of force-pushing an enemy in the air only to finish them off with my shotgun.
There is a lot to do in Rage 2’s open world. The map layout takes inspiration from other explorative shooters from this generation, particularly Far Cry. Dotted throughout the world are bandit dens, roadblocks, arks and other enemy hideouts that contain valuable resources and unlockable abilities.
Each of these mini levels takes a slightly different approach to a familiar concept. They always involve clearing the place of any enemy presence, followed by either activating or destroying an environmental obstruction. I would have preferred more variety from these locations, but the enjoyable combat and comfortable difficulty curve meant I never truly tired of them.
There is plenty to sink your teeth into when it comes to the game’s upgrades. If anything, I feel like the myriad of currencies, menus, skill trees and sheer weight of abilities tips Rage 2’s character building into the obtuse. There is an addicting gameplay loop if you can wrap your head around how each resource relates to each equipment group. But, I can’t help but feel the developers could have done a better job blending the systems together.
Various technical issues undermine Rage 2’s competent design. There are big problems, like the HUD suddenly disappearing or not being able to talk to an important NPC.
Then, there are the frustrating smaller issues.
I dreaded opening the game’s menu, as it lagged more than a PC in the ’90s. The game’s framerate was also inconsistent and would chop about whenever the action really heated up. As a result, Rage 2 is one of the most poorly optimized AAA games in 2019.
That’s a shame, because Rage 2’s art style and visuals are gorgeous to look at. The sci-fi color pallet infuses everything with a neon radiance, and the hard rock soundtrack adds to the punk vibe of the game. The sound design is also top notch. Engine growls and bullet impacts sound appropriately metallic and crunchy.
Rage 2 slots into 2019’s large pool of post-apocalyptic shooters with a ton of personality to its name. The gameplay operates at an energetic pace and the addictive exploration gave me plenty of reasons to look around this eye-catching world.
However, its solid design is let down by frustrating technical problems that feel inexcusable in contemporary game publishing. As such, Rage 2 does fall behind its competition, but may only be a few patches away from being salvaged from the wasteland.