Bethesda takes another crack at proving its Rage-fuelled universe can deliver on the punchy promise of the premise with a new dev driver behind the wheel of Rage 2.
Not every game deserves a sequel. And yet, there are these Hollywood-type shots at redemption for the likes of Knack, Kane and Lynch and Red Steel. Today, redemption is spelt ‘R-A-G-E’.
References to a cult-classic noughties comedy aside, the original Rage was the first sign that something could be rotten in the shooter state of id Software. It’s less that Rage was terrible and more that it felt half-baked and, ultimately, not up to snuff with the Christopher Nolan-like pedigree of every delicious id-forged Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake dish that came before.
In the retrospective rear-view, Rage’s primary problems were twofold. The game engine wasn’t designed to handle an open-world setting, which is why Rage was more ‘faux-pen’ than open in its game world. And, linked to that, its dev team were (and, arguably, still are) the veritable masters of corridor shooters but decidedly light-on when it came to what amounted to a sparse open-world experience.
Out of the garage, Rage 2 is fanging to address these two gripes. With id relegated to co-driver, Avalanche Studios is now behind the wheel and its patented Apex game engine has already shown its explosive open-world wonders in the likes of Just Cause and Mad Max.
The criminally underrated latter game likely served as the unofficial audition tape for Avalanche’s Rage 2 gig, and some of the core DNA of that open-world romp – most notably the abundance of madness, vehicular combat and a post-apocalyptic desert-load of sand – is immediately evident in the Rage sequel.
Instead of Rage’s presentation, which felt like an open-world stitched atop a corridor shooter, Rage 2 effortlessly shifts between the two. When the combat gets intimate, id’s special shooter sauce rises to the top. And when you’re out in the open world, it’s where Avalanche is most comfortable.
The core gunplay loop feels a lot like a toned-down homage to another criminally underrated shooter: Bulletstorm. Instead of ham-fistedly challenging players to combo overkill abilities to score points, Rage 2 is more subtle, empowering you with the kind of abilities that lend themselves to clip-worthy carnage.
“Believe us when we say there’s plenty of blood and body bits in Rage 2“
Sure, you can pick your favourite eviscerating weapon – and believe us when we say there’s plenty of blood and body bits in Rage 2 – and shoot your way through the stacks of demented enemies. But you’d be robbing yourself of a lot of fun. You can (and should), instead, consider starting some cartridge carnage with a goon-splatting Slam.
Then follow it up with the Force push-like Shatter to smash the survivors into a nearby spike wall, or off a Wilhelm Scream-inducing cliff. After that, you might consider popping a Barrier to block the retaliatory lead the other goons express post in your direction. That’s bare basics, but the real beauty of this bullet ballet is in sniffing out new ways to combo these abilities together with Rage 2’s smooth mobility.
Employing these kinds of self-determined challenges is especially important because the enemy AI ain’t too bright if our hands-on time toying with them is anything to go by. Instead, the waves of dummies seem to be there for your post-apocalyptic genocidal entertainment more so than to impress you with their Shakespearean sass and associated smarts. That said, they will frag you if you don’t respect them.
When you stumble on a goon squad, toss out a black hole Vortex to first collect then launch them into the air. It’s like shooting flying fish in a giant barrel, without the associated guilt. Frag enough foes and you can pop a colour-infused, screaming-soundtrack overcharge mode that kicks the moderate time to kill to the speedy-gibs side of lethality. The promise of these types of powers, as showcased in the trailers, is the real appeal of Rage 2 – because what we played was more on the underwhelming side of things.
Our first taste of Rage 2 was a short corridor-shooter demo that felt more proof-of-concept tutorial than anything else. The real potential, though, was always going to be out in the bigger badlands. These next few hours were spent mission chasing and making our presence known in the open world, without this apparently hostile world returning the favour.
It doesn’t help that the sci-fi rides are on the floaty side of things, and the driving woes are compounded in races that have a clear rubber-band catch-up mechanic in play. It’s hard to feel like a skilled driver or motivated to master the mechanics of driving when the game is actively gifting you the pole position.
Worse, our vehicular combat was restricted to one or two cars at a time, without a taste of the convoy carnage witnessed in Rage 2’s trailers. For a game that, on paper, effectively breaks down to the ‘shut up and take my money’ combo of Doom’s movement with Bulletstorm’s gunplay (curated by id) and Mad Max’s vehicular combat, there was a strange absence of that all-important third pillar in our three hours of open-world time.
What did fare better was the abundance of Borderlands-like larger-than-life characters, an actually challenging Running Man-type playable episode of Mutant Bash TV, and a satisfying boss fight. While the free-flowing gunplay is on point, the driving and lacking hostility of the open-world were cause for concern in this slice of the early game.
There’s still hope, though, if those convoy-smashing, enemy-igniting, power-comboing trailers are any indication of the fun of the final product. Avalanche still has a smidge more development time to iron out some of these kinks and deliver on the post-apocalyptic potential of this not-so-little sequel that could.
Rage 2 launches on PS4, Xbox One and PC on May 14.