Release Date: May 14, 2019Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, Switch, PCDeveloper: Avalanche Studios & id SoftwarePublisher: Bethesda SoftworksGenre: First-person Shooter
The most important thing there is to know about Rage 2 is that it is a ton of freaking fun. It’s not perfect or groundbreaking or particularly unique, and it’s got its share of design weaknesses and presentational pitfalls, but the game is such a joy to pick up and play that these minor flaws almost never distract from the experience.
The game plops you into a gigantic, rolling wasteland terrorized by bloodthirsty factions of mutants, raiders, desert ninjas, and swamp gangs, all warring over the wasteland’s most valuable resource, a blue, energy-rich, crystalline substance called feltrite. You’re outfitted with a robotic super suit that allows you to master an ever-growing set of skills you’ll use to wipe out your enemies in gloriously violent fashion, ultimately taking on the biggest bads, a twisted army of militarized monsters called The Authority. The story is simple and forgettable, but there’s a cheeky, off-the-wall sense of absurdity and humor that keeps things amusing enough to pull you through the campaign.
Like most open world games, Rage 2 offers a variety of activities and missions scattered across its map, split between two primary modes of play: first-person action/exploration and vehicular traversal/combat. The on-foot gameplay feels much like id Software’s blistering 2016 version of Doom (which is a very, very good thing), and driving feels like the first time I took the Mako for a joy ride on the dunes in Mass Effect (also a good thing), just a lot faster and way more destructive.
Avalanche Studios developed the game alongside id Software and both studios’ strengths shine through. Rage 2 has freewheeling energy and an irreverent sense of humor similar to Avalanche’s Just Cause series, and the wasteland setting will feel familiar to those who played the studio’s brilliant take on the Mad Max in 2015. id’s shooting mechanics bring a lightning-fast pace to the game and an emphasis on mobility, quick reflexes, and quick gun swapping.
I can’t stress enough just how good combat feels. Gunplay is fun on its own, but the abilities you have at your disposal up the intensity and spectacle of combat in a big way. An ability called “Slam” sees you leaping into the air and then come crashing down on groups of enemies, smashing the weak ones into a bloody paste and sending the baddies lucky enough to survive flying 30 feet from the point of impact. It’s epic stuff. “Shatter” is essentially a force push that can blow enemies’ limbs off, and “Vortex” creates a void that sucks enemies and objects alike into its center before launching everything into the air. I’ve seen stuff like this before in other games, but the lack of novelty frankly didn’t bother me one bit. Combat in Rage 2 is a blast.
Enemies drop health-restoring pieces of feltrite when they’re killed, which encourages you to employ an in-your-face style that puts you in position to collect as much feltrite as possible, not just to keep your health bar full, but to upgrade your arsenal. Feltrite can be spent to improve weapons and abilities, and there is an assortment of special items littered across the game world that’ll also help you progress, including mutant glands, neotrites, weapon mods, and more.
Truth is, the various skill trees and progression systems are a little confusing. Some of your resources can be spent on leveling up your weapons and abilities in-menu, but some resources can only be used to augment your stats in a particular shop in a specific town. Sometimes I’d collect a special item of some sort and I’d find myself scratching my head trying to remember whether I can use it in the menu or if I have to bring it to that one shop. On top of that, the game’s menus themselves are convoluted and clunky, which is actually surprising considering how efficiently the rest of the game is designed.
This is a minor complaint at the end of the day, and there aren’t any major, deal-breaking issues with the game. There is one pervading annoyance that stuck out in my experience, though, and should be noted. Some missions and objectives task you with scouring an area for hidden items, and until you purchase an upgrade later in the game, there’s no way to find these items without searching more meticulously than is justified in a fast-paced adventure like this. At times I’d spend a half hour looking for a damn supply crate with no indication of where the hell it is on the map, and needless to say, I started questioning why the hell I was wasting my time. Thankfully, the aforementioned upgrade helps ease the pain once you purchase it.
Presentation-wise, Rage 2 is a mixed bag. At times, the wasteland’s vast, picturesque deserts, valleys, jungles, and mountains can look downright majestic thanks to brilliant environmental design and some good post-processing effects. Avalanche’s Just Cause games, while also silly, were surprisingly beautiful as well, and while the wasteland in Mad Max was bleak and sparse and a little one-note, Rage 2’s environments pop with bold neon colors, vibrant sunsets, and a spectacular sense of scale and enormity.
The visuals aren’t exactly pristine, however, with low-res textures pretty much everywhere and some noticeable pop-in occurring constantly as you explore the large environments. The great news, though, is that load times are shockingly fast for a game this size.
What’s striking about the game’s presentation, perhaps more so than the visuals, is the excellent sound design. All of the heavy machinery, from the guns to the vehicles, have a wonderful sense of weight to them and feel grounded in the game world, an effect that can largely be attributed to the hefty sound effects. The shotgun has a muscly kick to it that’s borderline addictive and the crunching and cracking sounds the cars make when they dislodge heavy stones piled up offroad is just delightful. The sound is functional too, creating a nice sense of spatial awareness, which comes in handy when you’re getting swarmed from all sides by a dozen enemies.
In the open world, you’ll find tons of quests and mini-quests to embark on, stumble on hidden locations, take down Authority convoys with your heavily-armed car, enter races, find underground mutant lairs, kill cyborg giants, and the list goes on. Like all games in the genre, Rage 2 is constantly trying to give you reasons to spend more time in its world, dangling incentives in front of you in hopes that you’ll feel compelled to hunt for and open that one last loot chest. In this respect, the game is a success—there’s a pervading feeling that each quest and activity is worth the effort. I’m 30 hours in and I’m still having a great time, partly because the game is dense with things to do, but mostly because shooting stuff in Rage 2 is—I’ll say it again—a ton of freaking fun. Plain and simple.
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.