Rage 2. This is a tough one.
Rage 2 definitely feels like a game made by two studios with conflicting ideas of what they wanted to build. On the one hand, you can tell that the game’s shooting mechanics were made by Id Software, the same team that brought us the in-your-face-shotgunning miracle reboot of Doom. On the other hand, the other studio in charge of the open world gameplay, Avalanche, created the not-so-well-received Mad Max and the strangely unremarkable Just Cause 4, and somewhat shows in the execution. But regardless of who did what and to whom, the game feels like it had a lot of great ideas that just miss the mark.
So Rage 2. Living in a post-apocalyptic that has been rebuilt from the ashes of war. The idea behind the original Rage was that humanity was mostly wiped out from an asteroid strike, except for selected pockets of humanity and a group of exceptional humans squirreled away in underground bunker project known as Project Eden. Your original protagonist was one of these Vault Dwellers…oh, wait, did I say “Vault Dweller”, like in the game Fallout? I mean “ARK”…residents…yeah…
Anyway, we are now 30 years in the future, where humanity is fighting against the oppression of a militant group of mutants known as the Authority. They see the time of humans being over and that their evolution is the direction the planet needs in order to survive. Led by the tyrannical General Cross, the mutants are laying waste to settlements across the land. You play as a man (or woman) named Walker and watch as your mentor and mother-figure are murdered at the hands of this General Cross, and so starts your quest to cleanse the land of this group and seek vengeance for your razed settlement and dead mother.
Rage 2 is short. To be able to complete an open world game from start to finish in 10-12 hours feels somewhat criminal for a $60 title (while looking for graphics for this review, I saw a Youtube video announcement talking about beating it in under two hours, yeeeeesh). And make no mistake, it’s not because there’s not a lack of things to do. There are car races where you can win parts to upgrade your car, and over 20 or so vehicles you can use. There are combat arenas you can test your might in to get some of the multiple currencies used to unlock your characters “Ranger” abilities. There are over a dozen Ranger weapons that are scattered around the world for you to find and add to your permanent arsenal. There are convoys rolling around the map that you can take on and destroy for their loot. But there’s no reason to do any of them.
There are three “factions” you’re doing missions to unlock access to General Cross, and when you level up your reputation with these three factions, that’s it. General Cross is unlocked and you can go take him on. So 4-5 quests or side missions from each faction leader, and boom, end game is unlocked, so all that side stuff to get more loot becomes wholly unnecessary. I started the game with a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle, and those were the three weapons I used. The game gave me a vehicle that I could manually repair and it could not be destroyed, so I didn’t bother with any of the other vehicles. I got a few basic Ranger “nanite” abilities, but I rarely used any of them outside of the original “dash” move you start with to get out of the way of projectiles. I leveled up my skills to absorb damage, output more damage, and identify collectibles on my heads up display, and everything after that was me having extra points I needed to use. Uh, I unlocked an ability to kick grenades back to the person throwing them at me, okay, I guess I’ll grab that, why not? I’ve got the points, but hardly a game changer.
You can do all this scavenging to find loot to level up your weapons, to level up your abilities, but in the end, you don’t need to do any of it. Outside of experiencing a few of the side missions like destroying an Authority turret (trust me, it’s a thing), or tackling a vehicle convoy, you see one bandit outpost, you’ve seen them all. Sure, they have different layouts, but it’s all for that same loot that’s seemingly unnecessary. Oh, I did a mission and got can upgrade my vehicles armor? Why bother? Vehicles in the wasteland never attack me, and I’m never getting into shootouts in my vehicle. Outside of the one convoy I took down just to see what that mission type was about, I never used my vehicle except to drive from point A to point B, running over the occasional mutant on the side of the road for funsies. There is fast travel to major settlements in the game, which is a blessing. I get having a game about driving across the wasteland loses some of its thrills just being able to teleport to various spots, but they never actually tell you that until you happen to just mouse over a settlement on the map to see a “Press X to Fast Travel” there, because I guess Rage 2 just assumes you know that open world games will have some kind of fast travel mechanic.
Rage 2 never fully commits to either the gritty realism of a post-apocalyptic Fallout game or the wacky hijinks of a Borderlands. It tries to skate the line between both of them and comes up worse for it. It’s getting serious about the fate of humanity while getting into a “pun-off” with one of the faction leaders (this actually happens, spoiler alert). The marketing in the run-up to Rage 2, including all the neon neo-punk wasteland art, punk/metal music blaring every chance they get, make you think that you might be in for a silly romp. A lot of the non-playable characters that live in the wasteland might as well be named “Poopy McFartbutt” (no, I’m not kidding). The intro sequence where you select your character from a male and female standing in a barracks, then whichever character you do NOT select gets insta-murdered by a rampaging mutant to a “better them than me” quip from your character. Then your adopted sister swings in to tell you the settlement you grew up in is getting demolished and people are dying in the streets with an “I can kill more bad guys than you” challenge…minutes before your mother figure is murdered in front of you.
And I get the enemy’s motivation in Rage 2 is to build an assembly line of super mutants, but could you seriously not have come up with some other variants of your mid-bosses? Five or six times, they wheel out the same “Cyber Crusher” giant mutant, where you shoot the center of his chest to overheat his engine, then weak spots pop out of his back. The first time, pretty cool, seventeenth time, it’s like, “Okay, no change to any of its abilities or mannerisms, guess I’ll kill it again…”
It’s not all bad news. The few guns I DID play through Rage 2 were a hoot. Playing on Hard difficulty (I bumped it down from Nightmare fairly early on, as it was particularly…nightmarish), there was very satisfying feeling of zooming around in close combat, staggering an enemy with either my “force push” ability or a few pellets of a shotgun blast, then run up, put the shotgun in their face and pull the trigger, barely stopping to sop up the health that flies out of their corpses. Did you say “health flies out of their corpses”? Yes, I did, and if that sounds eerily familiar to another close-combat/first-person-shooter mechanic that was the transformational game design of Id Software’s Doom remake, then you’d be right.
Look, Rage 2 isn’t horrible. There may be way more fun locked up in some of its side content and missions that mainlining through the storyline did not afford me. But the question then becomes why should I be forced to find the fun in your open world game? When you’re sprinting through an area with your shotgun blasting away, dodging left and right around folks and killing them with your various skills, that’s an intense amount of fun, but it wears out quickly when you’re just killing for the sake of getting more unnecessary power-ups or currency. Rage 2 might have been better if it had (shudder) loot drops of some kind or another instead of just resupplying ammo. Random enemy bosses spawning on the map to hunt down in this wasteland that might have something neat on them (sorry, I hated even writing those sentences down, but there’s no real reward for exploration at all).
Might want to hold off for a sale on this one…oh, it’s already discounted? Eeeek. Well, looks like I’m not alone in my review here.