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‘Rage 2’ Review: Fast, Frantic Fun at the End of the World

Despite some narrative shortcomings, the pulse-pounding combat of ‘Rage 2’ should satisfy fans looking for a light-hearted shooter.

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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.

Rage 2

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.

Rage 2

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.

Rage 2

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.

Rage 2

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.

Rage 2

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

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.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

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Game Reviews

‘House of Golf’ is No Hole-In-One, But it is Below Par

‘House of Golf’ may feel appropriate for Switch, but a lack of variety and reused content make this course nearly reach above par.

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Perhaps adding the word “mini” to the title would have been far more appropriate regarding the in-game circumstances of Atomicom’s newest family arcade sports styled game House of Golf. In the slew of golf games currently available on the Nintendo Switch, House of Golf may feel the most appropriate for the console’s capabilities due to its key focus on simplicity, portability, and accessibility, but a lack of diversity in individual hole design and reused content nearly makes this humdrum course reaching above par.

Simplicity is a key focus within House of Golf’s core mechanics. Controls, menus, and even gameplay are as simple as video games can get. The left analog stick operates the camera and holding down the A button fires your ball with a distinct power meter located on the right-hand side of the screen. Your goal is to attempt to achieve a hole-in-one or stay below a par number that changes depending on course and difficulty- just like regular golf, mini-golf, or any form of golf you can imagine. It never gets more complicated than that.

House of Golf may claim that its selling point is that it contains over 130 different holes divided into 5 different environments- or rather rooms- and 3 difficulties, but variety becomes bland after less than an hour of playtime. Despite there being five different environments, after completing one course on either the medium or hard difficulty setting, you practically have experienced all there is to do. Courses always remain compact and easy to navigate, but the game never gets challenging or adds some sort of flair that allows each hole to stand out from one another. It is a shame considering that the fluid gameplay foundation the courses are built on might just be the most tightly controlled golf game available on Switch.

As the title of the game implies, every course is designed around the interior aesthetics of a house- a rather small one at that as the game chooses to focus on table-top scenarios- quite literally. Each hole is rapid-fire short and manages to achieve a miniature sense of scale. They are stylized well but the game often reuses assets for each room despite the settings being entirely different. The atmospheres themselves manage to create a comfy aesthetic for each hole that only adds more cheerful feelings to the laid-back easy-going gameplay on top of a soundtrack that is extremely mellow yet quaint, but when you are on a nine-hole course that never completely changes that atmosphere can become tiresome.

What initially seems like House of Golf’s greatest strength though is being able to choose any environment, hole, and difficulty directly from the get-go, but this feature quickly takes the game south rather unintentionally. As soon as you open up the game, players can accommodate to their own personal skill level leaving the vast majority of them to skip more than a third of the levels. With no learning curve or incentive to play the game on its lowest difficulties, House of Golf rapidly begins to dwindle in new content.

When it comes to the ranking system, it is designed exactly like a traditional mini-golf game where your goal is to achieve a set number of strokes that will keep you above par. Stars will be awarded to players based on performance- a hole-in-one obviously being the highest gold star rank a player can achieve and a triple-bogey being the lowest. These stars, however, only unlock one feature: golf ball designs.

Extra unlockable golf ball designs are the only in-game rewards to collect throughout the game- and it is nothing to look forward to or worthwhile to commit to. They are charming to gander at for more then a couple of seconds, but they serve no real purpose in the long run- not even when it comes to the multiplayer. Rather then these rewards being applied to each individual player’s ball, House of Golf does not allow players to choose what golf ball design they wish to use. For some ridiculous reason, whatever player one chooses is applied to every golf ball.

Speaking of, while the singleplayer can be rather tiresome, House of Golf’s one notable addition that might just keep you on the course for longer than a few hours is the inclusion of a local multiplayer ranging from two to six players. Multiplayer presents a higher-stakes challenge for each course, which makes gameplay not only far more satisfying to win at but overall entertaining to play. Due to the compact course designs, often you can mess with your friend’s positions and overthrow the score of each hole. Multiplayer was clearly the go-to way to play as it is the first option that appears on the main menu.

One thing that should be noted is that only one joy-con is required for everyone to play as there is no other option to use multiple controllers- a convenient addition that you have to wonder why more games do not have it on the Nintendo Switch. It is by far the game’s most redeeming quality that absolutely deserves mentioning. For a game where one player controls the field at a time, this streamlines a lot of issues outside even that of the game itself.

It is no hole-in-one to ride home about, but Atomicom has managed to create an arcade-style sports game that is a mix of both simplistically relaxing and mildly infuriating. In its final state, the lackluster courses can make this one turn into a quick bore, but adding a few friends to the multiplayer scene can turn House of Golf into a few delightful hours. At its retail price of ten dollars, any Switch owner planning on picking up House of Golf should wait for it to land in a sale target-hole. It is not bad by any means, but there are better places to look to fill your golf fix, especially those looking for a single-player experience. For a cheap alternative, however, it might just be worth it for the multiplayer alone.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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