“…players are rewarded for embracing the mayhem!”
If you are a fan of Bethesda’s big-name games like Doom, Fallout or Dishonored, or Avalanche Studios’ hit 2015 title, Mad Max, then the recent release of Rage 2 will inevitably have caught your eye. An amalgamation of ideas from some of Bethesda’s top development teams; Rage 2 combines the creative minds and vast experience of iD Software (DOOM) and Avalanche Studios to offer an extreme, explosive and expansive open-world shooter which swaps sanity for style. Truly, on paper, Rage 2 sounds like an epic of this generation.
Rage 2 is set in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world which draws inspiration from some of the biggest and best human disaster stories from popular culture. The vast majority of humankind has been obliterated by an asteroid. In a very Mad Max-inspired style, all that remains is a desolate wasteland, largely devoid of rules and order, with only a few organised hubs of population dispersed across its reaches. Those humans who do still follow the rank and file order of an organised military believed that they had fought their fight against their gravest enemy, the mechanically-enhanced albeit horrifically-evolved Authority, long ago. That is, until now…
You start the game, following a brief re-cap on the world’s tragic history, in the midst of battle with the aforementioned Authority. Your persona for this adventure is Walker; a born and bred soldier who, unknowingly, is about to become the Wasteland’s last great hope against this adversary; a Nanotrite-enhanced super soldier known as a Ranger. Before the action begins, you are given a fleeting moment to choose the gender of your protagonist. This is as far as character customisation goes in the game, however, with the developers opting for throwing you into the mix of things quickly over the micromanagement of a character who you will play as in first-person for the majority of the game to come.
The opening gambit-come-tutorial of Rage 2 quickly teaches you a few things about the game. First, you find that somebody on the development team really likes horizontal sensitivity. Naturally, however, that is an easy fix in the options menu if you find it to be a bit (or a lot) too much. Then you are swiftly reminded of iD Software’s influence when you are handed the maiden weapons in your ever-growing arsenal. The weaponry in Rage 2 is beefy, dynamic and feels like it packs a punch. If you enjoyed shooting in DOOM, you will find that it comes naturally in Rage 2. The enemies are perhaps equally a spongey as some of DOOM’s nasties, too, so the transition will feel natural to fans of Bethesda’s brightest and best shooter. Combat feels consistently action packed but rarely overwhelming. You are frequently met with challenging battles and opponents but will always feel like there is something you can do to win the fight.
Where guns and explosives are simply not enough in Rage 2, your Nanotrite powers are what gives you the edge over your enemies. Taking visible inspiration from Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Dishonored game series, Nanotrite powers allow you to use a range of physics-defying, devastation-dealing abilities to gain the upper hand in the Wasteland. These range from “Shatter”; effectively a force push move, to the self-explanatory “Grav-Jump” or “Barrier”. These Nanotrite powers are acquired gradually over time from pods around the world and can be levelled up to buff their utility. Whilst Nanotrite powers are handy in a pinch, however, “hooky religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side”. More often than not, I would shoot first and remember that I had special powers later, making Nanotrite powers less of a super weapon and more of an occasional get-out-of-jail-free card. For a key game feature, this is a bit of a shame. The game’s other combat-boosting power, Overdrive, is perhaps the better of its two “special moves”, offering unique boosts to whichever weapon you are wielding to help you rip you enemies apart. Overdrive is charged in combat, too, suiting the methods and madness of the game perfectly.
The world, inhabitants and means of traversal in Rage 2 largely make the game what it is. The Wasteland, devastating as its history is, is a thing of beauty to behold and traverse. Ignoring the fact that the landscape is inspired by Avalanche’s Mad Max game to the point of a potential copy and paste job, Rage 2’s is one of the most awesome game worlds to exist in. The vast, harsh desert is home to scattered, rag-tag settlements, built from the remains of human society’s past. From minute to minute, you never know if you will encounter a gruesome mutant or a gang of pumped-up lunatics next. The variety and unpredictability of foes in Rage 2 keep your own adrenaline pumping and consistently keep you guessing as you attempt to survive a truly wild and unpredictable world.
Getting around this desolate and dangerous landscape is the greatest joy which Rage 2 has to offer. Free-roaming the Wasteland in Avalanche’s outstandingly designed vehicular array is an absolute pleasure; even if the world is always out to stop you. The game hand picks the best of the mechanics from Mad Max’s automobiles and weaponises them to the extreme, allowing you to race, smash and blast your way through the challengers who seek to break you. The only disappointment in this area, though, is that the customisation which Mad Max gave you when it came to hand-crafting your magnum opus is absent in Rage 2. It was one of the best features of that game, but here it did not make the cut. That being said, Rage 2 trumps its inspiration’s variety by a long shot. Any vehicle you find in Rage 2 is free for you to commandeer at your will; giving you a plethora of options when it comes to getting around the open world; either by land or by air.
There are a lot of features in Rage 2 which feel great, but two key factors which, sadly, bring the game down. The first is the story and its main characters. Personality is not a word which can be used to describe Rage 2’s key players; especially early on. Imagine a stereotypical 80’s action movie character, and that pretty much sets the scene for Rage 2’s key line-up. Walker, in particular, is constantly looking for a fight and largely ignores any true emotional stakes or reactions which could really form her into a well-rounded character. Many of the people you meet on your travels come across equally devoid of real emotion and often seem blissfully unaware of the world around them, outside of the specific quest that they are designed to provide you. The game’s villains, too, are typical villains rather than having any unique, emotionally-charged motives or desires. Emotion, in short, is missing for most of the game…
The second problem with Rage 2 is, despite its many inspirations and veteran developers, the game never feels as good as those that have come before it. The DOOM-like weaponry is familiar, but not nearly as exciting as DOOM’s own arsenal. The cool factor is not nearly on the same level here; as is also true for the Nanotrite powers when compared to Skyrim or Dishonored. Similarly, the vehicular elements of the game are just like Mad Max’s; incredible, but simply not as exciting or awe-inspiring as what we saw the first time around. From the moment Andrew W.K. arrived on that E3 stage to now, Rage 2 has generally felt less special than what gamers have come to expect from a modern Bethesda. What you get is good, but what we wanted was outstanding…