Rage 2 is buggy and features a by-the-numbers open world, but the core shooting mechanics are exemplary and the progression systems are a ton of fun!
The sequel to 2011's divisive post-apocalyptic shooter brings a new flavor to the punk rock apocalypse, and the result is delightfully akin to an open world version of Doom. Many were surprised when Rage 2 was announced; while the original title has its fans, the ambitious project ultimately fell short of developer id Software's pantheon of genre-defining FPS titles like Quake, Doom, and Wolfenstein.
For Rage 2, Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max) is in charge of development duties with the aim of imbuing the open world genre with the fast-paced FPS action of classic id Software titles. Does Rage 2 surpass its predecessor and justify its existence, or is it another missed opportunity destined for the scrap heap of history?
Rage 2 begins with a brief pre-rendered (and horribly compressed) cutscene before throwing players into a succinct tutorial. It doesn't take long before the player character, Ranger Walker, is thrown into a dense open world and tasked with recruiting allies in an effort to take down General Cross of The Authority. The story is pretty flimsy and the basic plot remains unchanged throughout the course of the game, but it's enough to motivate the player to start completing tasks and progressing through the open world.
With regards to lore and storytelling, the game does very little to explain the setting of Rage 2 for those who missed the original, but the immediate scope of the story isn't exactly a gripping tale of revenge and redemption, or even pulpy and irreverent. Walker must recruit three allies to take down the bad guy, and... Well, that's the entire plot. It's hyper violent and light-footed at times, but never strikes the proper tone to coalesce with the open world antics of the core gameplay. There are some compelling voice acting performances, but most of the writing is surprisingly rote, considering Rage 2's bombastic setting and punk party aesthetics, which are played up far more in the game's marketing than in the game itself. Despite the smattering of pink graffiti, there's little in the world of Rage 2 to distinguish it from any number of post-apocalyptic games out there. Rage 2 falters in terms of storytelling and world-building, but what about gameplay?
Most of your time in Rage 2 will be spent in a familiar open world loop of driving to waypoints, gathering money and feltrite crystals to improve skills and buy perks for weapons and abilities, and using said weapons and abilities to shoot bad guys until they explode into showers of blood and dismembered body parts. With Rage 2, it's clear Avalanche Studios was aiming to capture the frantic action of classic id Software titles, and they absolutely succeeded in this lofty goal. Both visually and mechanically, the combat in Rage 2 is as visceral as it is rewarding.
There are eight weapons in Rage 2 (not including the Deluxe Edition-exclusive BFG-9000), but some of them are well-hidden in the world, only revealing themselves to players who stumble upon their Ark locations in the open world. Even players who dedicate a fair amount of time to exploration may find themselves completing the game without finding items that would be spoon-fed in other games. It's a bold choice, and one which makes finding of new tools that much more exciting. Some weapons are more useful than others; the Firestorm Revolver sounds cooler than it actually is, while the basic Ranger Assault Rifle and Combat Shotgun remain completely viable throughout the entire game.
While the weapons offer variety and utility, the real game-changers in Rage 2 are the Nanotrite abilities. Found in the same Arks as most of the weapons, Nanotrite abilities include double jumping, a super-sprint, and more destructive powers like Shatter, an open-palm kinetic blast which sends enemies flying, or Slam, a ground pound move which sends enemies flying. There's also Vortex, which acts kind of like a gravity grenade which – wait for it – sends enemies flying.
The real magic kicks in when the player combines abilities to unleash stylish destruction which can only be described as jolly sadism. There's nothing cooler than using Vortex to spring oneself twenty feet into the air, landing on a second floor, using Shatter to eviscerate a grenade-tossing raider, and then leaping down into a Slam on his buddies below, all while hammering distant enemies with assault rifle fire. Nearly every weapon has an alternate firing mode depending on whether one is aiming down the sights or not, so running like a madman while shooting frantically from the hip is delightfully encouraged. A perhaps too-generous aim assist keeps the kills coming at a breakneck pace, and the explosive "overdrive" mechanic – which supercharges damage output while boosting health restoration – motivates players to fight aggressively and charge straight towards packs of enemies like a one-man-army.
Thankfully, the controls are responsive; the game runs at a mostly-consistent 60 frames per second on PlayStation 4, though one should expect that number to dip when too many explosions occur simultaneously. Enemy animations during shootouts are frequently gorgeous, while the models during in-game mission briefing segments are stiff and robotic, endlessly cycling through the same pre-baked animations like a theme park animatronic. It's a shame they don't look better outside of combat, but at least Avalanche Studios had its priorities in the right place.
Level design is integral to Rage 2's success as a shooter. Even though it's an open world game (with no loading screens!) and players will spend a lot of time driving from one map marker to the next, nearly every single location on the map is designed with gun combat in mind, and populated with enough enemies to give anyone's trigger finger a healthy workout. The world of Rage 2 is full of forts, outposts, camps, and other gathering spots for villainous ruffians, all of which are designed to showcase massive shootouts. It's important to think of Rage 2, not as an open world game, but as a first person shooter with open world elements. There's little to see outside of the numerous map markers, and venturing off-road is rarely rewarding, though map markers do pop up frequently when simply driving from one location to another, so that feeling of open world discovery is still present.
Pretty much everything contributes to one avenue of player progression or another. Each of the three ally characters has their own skill tree to be upgraded, and completing side missions in the world earns XP which can be used to upgrade any of their skills. Cash and feltrite are also found out there, and both can be spent to upgrade weapons and abilities, as well as buy components which can be used for other upgrades. Everything in the game feeds into making Walker stronger, and this constant sense of momentum and progression – along with its gold standard FPS mechanics – keep the repetitive shootouts from becoming stale.
The original Rage was touted as much for its vehicular action as it was its FPS pedigree, so it's only natural that big-wheeled behemoths return in the sequel. There are quite a few different cars and trucks to drive, but the default Phoenix is almost always the best option for any given job. For the most part, driving is just a way to get from one insane gunfight to the next, and there's generally not a whole lot happening on Rage 2's asphalt. Still, the Mad Max-inspired convoy side missions are a healthy source of high-speed car combat, and the racing activities provide a decent palate cleanser after an evening of sustained run-and-gun action.
How Long is Rage 2?
Our playthrough of Rage 2 lasted around eighteen hours, including a decent amount of open world exploring. On the default difficulty setting, there's not much resistance from the wasteland, so it may be wise for skilled players to switch to hard mode once they're comfortable (there are no difficulty-related trophies/achievements). The critical path through the story is noticeably brief, but impatient players will lack proper skills and weaponry by the time they reach the final battle. That being said, the ending of Rage 2 is pretty underwhelming; it's not as egregiously disappointing as that of the original Rage, but the grand finale comes and goes without much fanfare and a twist in the ending is resolved almost immediately afterwards, rendering said twist utterly meaningless. Still, in a game like Rage 2, a bad ending is but a minor annoyance. Of major annoyance, however, are the sheer density of bugs and glitches.
While Rage 2 never outright crashed on us, a wide variety of minor and major glitches impacted the gameplay experience multiple times. From little things like invisible NPCs and multiple models of a key named character standing right next to each other, to bigger issues like a disappearing HUD and the sound of a car's engine ringing into perpetuity, drowning out all other ambiance until we reloaded our save, it felt like every hour in Rage 2 saw a different glitch interfering with our enjoyment of the game.
The biggest annoyance in Rage 2 comes when the player presses the touch pad to open the menu screen. Navigating menus are something most gamers take for granted, and only notice when they don't work properly. In Rage 2, players will definitely notice the menus. Each tab on the main menu brings obnoxious stutters while the game loads the different screens. As a result, navigating menus becomes a tedious chore, and upgrading abilities (all done in the menus) takes much longer than it should. The menus in Rage 2 feel worse than archaic; they feel unfinished.
Despite the bugs, the undercooked story, and a few other shortcomings, Rage 2 is a nonetheless successful fusion of id-style FPS action and sprawling open world design. The moment-to-moment gunplay is as righteously brutal, while the open world, though lacking personality of its own, features rewarding progression and gives players freedom to tackle objectives at their own discretion. Rage 2 is an audaciously violent delight for those who like a little open world adventure mixed in with their non-stop shooting action.
Rage 2 releases for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC starting May 14. Screen Rant was provided a PS4 Pro code for review purposes.