By now you’d be forgiven for finding the release of every open-world game as interesting and exciting as most of the late-series episodes of The Walking Dead. With systems and mechanics, plot points and characters, world design and art styles that could be considered borderline asset flips, a lot of them can be largely forgettable. Rage 2, however, comes kicking and screaming right for you from the instant the title screen fades up, all the way until the credits roll. From first to last it is a raucous, bombastic assault on the senses that refuses to be ordinary, and can never be ignored.
Developed in tandem by id Software and Avalanche Studios, Rage 2 is an unapologetic riotous orgy of explosive first-person gunplay and anarchic, open-world hijinx that sets a high bar in terms of output quality for both companies. However, no matter the exceptional pedigree of both companies, a couple of significant stumbling blocks encountered in the first game have returned in the sequel and have made this psychedelic jaunt through the post-apocalypse more of a trip than it otherwise might have been. Despite a frustratingly threadbare story and an open world that might be just a little bit too open for its own good, Rage 2 has all the components of a great game — they just haven’t necessarily been put together in the right order.
Set thirty years after the events of the first game, Rage 2 casts players as one of the last survivors of mankind’s few remaining technologically advanced communities. After a devastating defeat at the genetically enhanced hands of a techno-fascist organization known only as The Authority, you are charged with crossing huge swathes of hostile territory in order to locate a small group of veteran survivors with the talents and resources required to exact revenge and finally bring peace to the wasteland. The only things that stand between you and achieving your objectives are rampaging gangs of brutal thugs and ravenous hordes of flesh-starved mutants who give you no option but to obliterate them. The story itself is broken down into a short series of missions that last no longer than the average Call of Duty campaign, but (almost literally) offer more bang for your buck.
Rage 2 features fantastic combat that will no doubt give even id’s own upcoming Doom Eternal a run for its money as far as fun factor is concerned, and has an open world that is as breathtaking in scope as its unashamedly florid color palette. However, a factor that really lets it down is the lackluster nature of the narrative. The same criticism was leveled at the original Rage, and unfortunately, it seems that neither development team working on its sequel was able to overcome that glaring flaw. This genre of games has never really been particularly well-known for its focus on story, however — even Far Cry 5, as great as it was, could never be said to have a groundbreaking narrative — but it’s a pleasant surprise when one turns out to have bit more substance to it.
As far as Rage 2 is concerned, that’s not the case. It’s an enormous shame that Avalanche’s writing duo of Odd Ahlgren and Loke Wallmo couldn’t craft a story that was as hefty as the game’s arsenal. What narrative there is does indeed serve its purpose, but it’s so bare-bones that it might as well be a skeleton shambling alongside the player as it guides them through the macabre magnificence of the remnants of the world that came before. Perhaps a story and mission structure similar to that seen recently in Days Gone, with story arcs tied to each specific settlement and its inhabitants, would have given the game a much-needed boost of meaning and direction.
If a bit more effort and thought had been put into the campaign, and if the side missions involved more than just ticking off a kill tally, then Rage 2 could have been close to perfect. Without it, the whole experience seems more than a little hollow. There’s no doubt that it’s an amazing amount of unmitigated fun blasting your way through camp after camp of the kind of futuristic freakazoids that would feel right at home in a Paul Verhoeven ‘greatest hits’ showreel, but a little bit more context would have gone a long way to making the player’s actions feel more relevant and impactful outside of the narrow scope of the main missions.
Luckily, as the company responsible for developing the legendary Doom series, id Software is expertly accomplished at extracting the maximum amount of entertainment value out of every moment of gameplay. They are the undisputed masters of arcade-style first-person shooters, and in Rage 2 their expertise is proudly displayed in even the most minor of skirmishes. From small engagements against wandering groups of bandits skulking around graffiti-daubed outposts to the larger set-piece battles that take place during specific missions, the combat is never anything less than a relentless ballet of beautiful insanity.
The main driving force behind that is, of course, the weaponry that players have at their disposal. The developers behind the creation of the BFG don’t even come close to disappointing in that regard; at various points throughout the campaign, either as a result of plot events or exploration, players obtain bigger and better weapons that offer ever more exciting ways of eliminating their enemies. From genre mainstays like the rocket launcher and combat shotgun all the way to more unusual armaments like a revolver that can set people on fire, and a gravity-manipulating dart launcher, Rage 2 features a giggle-inducing plethora of ways to bring death to the psychopathic gang members and blood-crazed mutants that inhabit its world. With such a range of weaponry available, the gunplay makes players feel like a genetic hybridization between Master Yoda and Deadpool.
The inventory and crafting system that augments the player’s arsenal could be considered rudimentary at best, but it knows exactly what it needs to do, and isn’t bogged down by unnecessary complications that would detract from the core design. The ability to make useful items on the fly such as grenades, drones, health packs, and ability boosts allows players to keep the action flowing, and adds small tactical choices that keep combat varied. Components and resources are plentiful and readily available, so players never find themselves desperately scraping around for supplies, which eliminates the need for tedious scavenger hunts for materials. As a result, the game offers players choices as to how they use the supplies they acquire without ever punishing them for making a decision either way. Admittedly, that’s a minor detail, but it’s one that’s often overlooked or mishandled in games of this kind, so it’s encouraging to see the developers so committed to the concept of unobstructed fun.
The first Rage was built using the id Tech 5 engine, a choice that garnered the game several accolades for presentation and style. Set in a sun-blasted wasteland that could have been lifted straight out of the petrolhead nightmares of George Miller’s Mad Max films, Rage had a raw and brutal aesthetic that made the end of the world more believable than ever. The switch to Avalanche’s Apex engine for Rage 2, which was used to spectacular effect in Just Cause 4, has resulted in an open world that is as intricate and vibrant as it is expansive and compelling. Given that the market is just a few notches below peak open world on the saturation scale, there’s no denying that they all start to blend into one another after a while, which is why it’s of paramount importance that developers do their absolute best to make their worlds as distinctive as possible. Even though Rage 2 has a largely forgettable story, the environment that it takes place in is truly remarkable.
Avalanche Studios have a well-established reputation in the open world genre thanks to their Just Cause series, but their work on 2015’s Mad Max also means that they’re no strangers to the post-apocalypse. If id’s outrageously over-the-top gunplay is the squirming guts of Rage 2, then the Day-Glo, pastel-splattered landscapes created by Avalanche are its chitinous outer shell. By and large, the world map of Rage 2 is localized to the same basic geographic area as the previous game, but with one crucial difference: vitality. The murky, grim-dark, steampunk visual aesthetic of Rage may have granted credence to the realism of its world, but that never stopped it entirely from feeling drab and monotonous — even if it makes sense for a game set at the end of the world as we know it to be to dominated by blasted landscapes studded with ruined buildings jutting out of the scorched earth like broken teeth. History has taught us that the end of civilizations is always a grim affair.
However, as much as such verisimilitude is artistically admirable, it’s not always particularly visually appealing or contextually appropriate. A slavish devotion to a realistic representation of environmental details works perfectly in a game like Metro Exodus, where emotional triggers and player immersion are more important to the essence of the playspace than the creation of a conceptually distinctive landscape, but by taking an approach to world design that blends both impressionist and expressionist aesthetic sensibilities, the artists of Rage 2 have concocted a vision of the post-apocalypse that is a veritable feast for the eyes. No matter where you go, the landscape is a fractured and contorted homage to the bizarre beauty of annihilation where players are confronted by the kind of vistas that wouldn’t be out of place in even the most surreal of dreams. From twisted canyons of razor-sharp rock etched deep into the earth, to glistening sand dunes littered with the towering cadavers of skyscrapers, and semi-sunken suburbs surrounded by mangrove forests, the world of Rage 2 constantly provides spectacular backdrops to its joyously cartoonish violence.
Rage 2 may not be the most interesting or innovative game of the year, but it’s certainly one of the most fun that I’ve played so far. With its eclectic art style and gorgeously pyrotechnic gameplay, there’s basically never has a dull moment during a playthrough. Although at times the game feels like it could be an overblown tech-demo or mechanic test for Doom Eternal, the only thing that really drags it down is a woefully short campaign. If the developers had provided a central story that was just twice as long as the one in place, then the scale of the environment would have felt more appropriate. As it stands, however, the central plot gets somewhat drowned out by the bombardment of explosions, lost among the gnarled remnants of a world struggling to recover in the wake of an extinction-level event.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Rage 2; it’s just unfortunate that most of that time was spent traveling between objectives and engaging in ultimately futile — though awesome — firefights. I can’t really fault the game for what it is, but it’s hard not to think that it could have (and should have) been so much more. Having said that, neither developer should feel like they’ve let fans down with Rage 2, as its pulse-pounding combat and spectacular landscapes more often than not make up for its narrative shortcomings. If you’re looking for a fresh and light-hearted take on the end of mankind after games like Metro Exodus and Days Gone, then Rage 2 is exactly what you need.