Rage 2 Review — Definitely Not Time To Party Hard
You better get ready to kill.
The marketing leading up to Rage 2 was vibrant, wacky, and included a live performance from party enthusiast, Andrew W.K. For better or worse, the vibe of the reveal and the numerous trailers that proceeded, along with id Software’s collaboration with Avalanche Studios, set clear expectations. This was going to be the fast and fun open-world shooter the first Rage was intended to be. What we have instead is another dull, post-apocalyptic wasteland brimming with monotony.
Rage 2 is set 30 years after the events of the first game in a much more luscious version of the Wasteland. General Cross and The Authority are back and have swiftly struck the Vineland Rangers, a group of elite soldiers that protect the Wasteland. During the attack, most of the Rangers are eliminated, including its fearless leader and your adoptive mother, Erwina Prowley. You play as Walker – which can be a man or woman – the last of the Rangers and the Wasteland’s last hope to rid it from General Cross’ inevitable takeover. To do accomplish this, you must meet with three of Prowley’s past partners, Dr. Kvasir, Loosum Hagar, and John Marshall, to start work on Project Dagger.
This covers roughly the first hour of Rage 2 and it is loaded with an overwhelming amount of information, especially for its gameplay. I like that it gives you everything you need up front to become the super soldier you are portrayed to be. Even after unlocking a handful of different abilities and weapons, I primarily used the dash, shotgun, and assault rifle until the credits rolled.
The best thing I can say about Rage 2 is that its tight shooting mechanics in conjunction with the super-powered Nanotrite abilities is the perfect combination. Simply put, Rage 2 is one of the best shooters currently on the market from a mechanical perspective. There is a reason why I primarily used the shotgun; it’s just that good. It is quite possibly my favorite shotgun in gaming next to DOOM 2’s Super Shotgun and Gears of War’s Gnasher.
This is largely due to its two firing modes. When shooting from the hip, it shoots like your standard shotgun. When you aim down sights, it shoots a slug that can push enemies at far distances when taking a body shot or decapitating them with a headshot. It was so effective, I never really had a good reason to switch to anything different unless the target was far away. In which case, I would switch to the assault rifle, which isn’t unlike any other assault rifle from other games, but it still felt good.
The rest of the weapons, like the pistol and the smart rocket launcher, also had a second firing mode when aiming down sights, but many of them lacked utility, especially when the shotgun was so effective. For example, the smart rocket launcher’s secondary firing mode could lock onto two targets and fire multiple rockets in their direction simultaneously. In theory, this could take out a large group of mutants or goons if they were bunched together. But because the combat is so fast-paced, similarly to DOOM (2016), locking on takes just a tad too long, and you become a sitting duck. It was better to keep moving with the shotgun or assault rifle and pick people off rather than sit in an area an maybe have the chance of taking out a ton of enemies at once with a rocket launcher.
That isn’t to say each weapon wasn’t fun to use. Quite the opposite, actually. Each weapon felt great and unique to the game. In addition to the aforementioned, one of the more “wild” firearms you can unlock is the firestorm revolver, a weapon that plants explosive rounds onto an enemy. Then, with a literal snap of your fingers, which is done by pressing in the left trigger, the rounds explode. Every weapon in Rage 2 feels great; some are just more effective than others.
Similarly to the weapons, every Nanotrite ability I used made me feel like the Wasteland superhero the game makes you out to be. But there were hardly moments when I absolutely needed to use the slam or vortex ability. I could even say the same thing about the overdrive ability too. They’re incredibly fun to use, there is just a lack of practicality to a majority of the abilities.
Despite Rage 2’s exemplary shooting gameplay and boisterous introduction, it is downtrodden by its uninspired mission design. Kvasir, Hagar, and Marshall all represent a certain type of mission indicated by a colored logo on the map. By doing this mission, or “project” as they are referred to, you will level up that character’s progression. Once you’ve reached level five, you’ll do one of the very few story missions Rage 2 has to offer to unlock one of the keys to executing Project Dagger.
This open-ended design wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t so repetitive. Almost every mission, with the exception of the races, you are going into an area and eliminating waves of enemies. There is no story attached. There is nothing to really reel you in. You just go into an area and eliminate the threat. Sometimes, you’re tasked to shoot some gas tanks, or maybe it’s just one giant mutant, but the objective is still the same. It all feels mundane and redundant. Sure, the combat is amazing, but essentially playing the same mission for ten hours straight isn’t my idea of a good time.
If that wasn’t bad enough, those ten hours culminate in a predictable and terribly executed ending. It’s as if nothing was learned from the first Rage, which has one of the worst video game endings of all-time. This time around, you do get to go back so you can get that 100% completion, but it ends just as abruptly with those final moments leaving no satisfaction whatsoever. Especially since every fetch quest leading up to it seemed so inconsequential.
In an interview with id Software’s Studio Director Tim Willits from PAX East, he told us the decision to make Xbox One X and PS4 Pro run the game at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second was because the team felt the “players want speed over 4K.” I love id Software games due to how technically sound they are and this statement gave me some comfort in knowing that when I would play Rage 2, it would perform at the level I expect. That was not entirely the case.
Playing on an Xbox One X, Rage 2 does run at a fairly consistent 60fps and the Wasteland environments look good to boot. But it was a bit of a buggy mess in my experience. I saw double of the same character standing next to each other, my player got stuck to a wall during a boss fight, the list goes on. There were two occasions where I had to restart the game. One was because an enemy was trapped in a wall so I couldn’t finish the mission and the second involved the audio freezing while I was driving so all I could hear was my engine revving. There was even one time where it crashed entirely. It is just disappointing to play something that feels so tight but is undermined by bad bugs.
While the environments out in the Wasteland look great, there are certain aspects that are not so great. Up close, textures are pretty muddy which are particularly noticeable in settlements like Wellspring and Gunbarrel, places where gameplay slows down and you have time to take in everything in front of you. All of the character models that inhabit these places, except for the few main characters, are not very detailed, absent of any differentiating features save for their attire. Many of the characters wear masks and the only reason I really see for the accessory is to hide that their dialogue doesn’t match with the character’s mouth movements. Or because it looks cool, I guess. There is a lack of polish here, from these small details to the problematic bugs, that with a few tweaks could have made a more satisfying experience.
I am so surprised by Rage 2. From the preview events, which mostly showcased its gameplay, I thought this game could be pretty special. Love it or hate it, the “attitude” those initial Rage 2 trailers exhibited made it distinct. Implementing that in a colorful open-world with Doom-style shooting is what I’ve been dreaming of since last year’s E3. In some ways, what we got is exactly that. But for everything Rage 2 does right, there’s another thing hindering it from being great.