Rage 2 Review: A Splattering of Neon in a Bland World
Rage 2 wants to be many things. A living, vibrant open world. A parody of the many FPS cliches we've all come to take for granted. A narrative experience that hooks the player and never lets go. Perhaps most of all, it wants to be 2016's DOOM reboot with all those other things as a part of the package.
Unfortunately, it fails on every count. Its open world is desolate, uninteresting, and bland. In its attempts to be a parody, it goes too far and only ends up parodying itself. The story is underwhelming.
And it will never be DOOM.
In short, while the game isn't horrible, it isn't good either, and it reaches much higher than it's capable of jumping. Let's look at why.
Rage 2 is a Shooter
A competent one. Sometimes even a great one. Or I should say, the shooting is extremely fun. Like DOOM, the rush of mowing down hordes of enemies using your ever-expanding arsenal of weapons and abilities never gets old.
First of all, guns are incredibly satisfying to use. The shotgun has plenty of the meaty crunch you want from a boomstick, and the alternate fire mode turns it into a short-range sniper rifle. I'll admit, I was surprised by how much fun I had picking apart trash mobs with a railgun-fired slug.
The bigger, badder weapons like launchers and rockets create the kinds of explosions they should, too, and the splat of bone and flesh as bodies fly apart is precisely as it needs to be.
Avalanche Studios also added additional movement options even DOOM doesn't have, including a side dash and a lunge. The overall flow of combat is plenty satisfying without these abilities, but as with the shotgun, I can't say double jumping over a rock, dashing toward an enemy before knocking them flat against a wall isn't some of the most fun I've had with a shooter in a while.
While I'd like to say that there's a ton more to dig into when it comes to the chaos of combat in Rage 2, it just isn't true. While in DOOM and other twitch shooter campaigns the AI forces you to think and rethink your strategy — even if you're going through the same encounter multiple times — in Rage 2, the enemies aren't designed with intelligence in mind.
First of all, they don't move much, content as they are to stand and lob endless grenades your way. Many of your foes are slow even when they do move, and though they're laser-accurate with their shots, lining up a kill shot is almost trivial 99% of the time.
Even in a game like The Division 2, where the shooting is functional at best, you have to stay on your toes, and no two fights are ever the same. You can expect your enemies to flank you, use the environment in different ways, and generally be a nuisance whenever possible.
However, in Rage 2, even bosses don't do much more than stare and beg to be killed. To compensate, even on lower difficulties, it feels like enemy weaponry does an enormous amount of damage. Though you're encouraged to take the fight to your foes, there's little incentive to do so.
And enemy variety needs work, too. Though there are different-looking mobs scattered across the game, they all boil down to just a few basic types. Even when you're fighting a new faction, because enemies are so generic, you might as well be shooting the same things endlessly.
And all that's a shame because some of the arenas where you fight are interesting and create opportunities for emergent gameplay. If the enemy AI made better use of the space or force the player to adapt from moment to moment, there'd be something more here to enjoy.
As it stands, all Rage 2 offers is id Software's patented, quality shooting and traversal mechanics with nothing to test them against.
Sadly, it only goes downhill from here.
Rage 2 Has a Story
One could be forgiven for thinking Rage 2's story would be worth the time investment the game demands, but it sadly is not. This game's story is predictable, averagely written, and tremendously overwrought.
I mentioned above that Rage 2 wants to parody many of the tropes that define a AAA shooter in today's market. From the main character as the chosen instigator of all plot to the rampant machismo and badassery, it's all here, dialed up to 11.
The trouble is, the developers saw 11 and didn't think it was enough, breaking off the dial and considering that fact a job well done.
In Rage 2, you are Walker (no first name given), a regular soldier in training to be more. After deciding on the gender for your character, you are thrust into an attack by The Authority, a race of superhumans and mutant beasts hellbent on wiping regular humans from the planet and starting over.
Over the next few minutes, you gain the Ranger suit — which, coincidentally, also makes you superhuman — and proceed to flow through a series of action movie cliches. Once the introductory sequence is over, you're tasked by your best friend and adoptive sister to use your badass-ness to rid the Wasteland of The Authority once and for all.
At this point, as with all open-world titles, you are free to pursue the main story at your leisure, though not without the occasional radio call reminding you that you should totally be over there doing the story thing we talked about.
And while the story is undoubtedly weird, like so many shooters — most of them really — your job is to go to a place, shoot the people, watch a cutscene or listen to someone talk — usually both.
The difference here is in the writing. Where in a more competently crafted game the player would find somewhere to identify with the characters they interact with, in Rage 2, the important people are cardboard cutouts from the stock character book.
The old soldier is precisely that, as is the mad scientist and the slimy tycoon, and even the Evil Overlord is exactly what it says on the box. Everyone's defining feature in Rage 2 is that they aren't people: they are plot devices. They are a means by which the plot moves forward.
And I could forgive even that if the game wasn't trying so freaking hard. I don't come into a game like Rage 2 expecting the next Shadow of the Colossus or Bioshock. I want an amusing, well-constructed but fairly standard story that still manages a twist or two to keep me hooked.
Ultimately, the best counterpoint I can think of to Rage 2 is Spec Ops: The Line. I entered both games completely blind, but with the expectations I laid out above. Both of them began how I expected: predictable, slightly humorous, straightforward.
Then one of them went off the rails, forcing me to rethink everything I thought I knew about military shooters, and in some ways game narrative as a whole. The fact the story was an incredibly well-realized Heart of Darkness retelling helped as well.
The other one rarely deviated from what I thought it would be, and at times made mistakes I thought were too obvious to ever make again. For instance, calling your game world "neon-soaked" and then make it mostly empty, brown nothing is a good way to make me rather cross.
Rage 2 Has a World
On that note, I was hoping a series with nine years between entries — and from the creators of Just Cause — would have more to offer in its now completely open-world. I'm sad to say, as with most things Rage 2, it doesn't.
The game's map is frighteningly small, especially for a title with fast-moving vehicles. The various locations littered across the world are equally underwhelming. I found bandit camps, roadblocks, and dilapidated cities so generic and lifeless that I wasn't sure what purpose they served, and the occasional lonely boss mob just waiting to die.
If Rage 2's world is meant to be depressing and decrepit, it succeeds on both counts, but for all the wrong reasons. It is depressing in its emptiness, and it is decrepit in the sheer lack of love given to almost any of its details.
And even if the main cities are meant to be the last bastions of humanity in a world that's all but left us behind, I would be lying if I said they shouldn't be metropolises reaching for the heavens — because there is no threat to them.
The "goon squad," the game's name for the clown-faced bandits littering the map, are almost nowhere to be found outside of their camps and roadblocks. Occasionally, they'll drive by in a small group or pop up randomly on the side of the road, but they fail to be more than a blip on the radar.
We're meant to believe this group is the cause of many of the world's problems, with The Authority just being one more weight on the pile. But even that group, more powerful and equipped as they are, never shows up to cause more than a single battle far outside the city walls.
Perhaps most disappointing of all are the Arks. Rage 2's lore, which it goes to great lengths to explain in text windows and exposition, states that the Arks are meant to breathe life back into the world, and each of them is filled with the technology of humanity before the fall. Vast troves of advanced weaponry and sciences lost to time and the environment. These are the tools of gods, and only you, the Chosen Hero, can access their full might.
The Arks are single-use character upgrades and nothing more. You walk in, go through a tutorial, walk out with a new ability or gun. That's it. It's a single room with a sole purpose.
It's the biggest wasted opportunity I think Rage 2 has to offer. Make these places mini-dungeons filled with the ruins of old. Make us work for our new kit, let us use it in some crazy new way, even if it's only the one time. Show us that what we're picking up is amazing and will change how we play the game. Tell us the story of the world through gameplay and environmental storytelling.
Nope. Just a simple ability or gun, nothing more.
- id Software gunplay that's fast, frenetic, and incredibly fun
- Solid optimization and performance
- Listenable soundtrack
- Predictable, poorly written story
- Flat characters and an empty open-world
- Wasted opportunities around every corner
Rage 2 feels like a game out of time. If it had come out in 2006, I think it would feel like a more complete game, something worth digging into and mastering, if only for the gunplay. If it had come out then, without so many of the lessons learned from other titles — successful and not — I could see people enjoying it for what it is.
As it stands, Rage 2 is below average at best, even with the tight, enjoyable gunplay. There is simply too much getting in the way to make this package any more than something you pick up on a deep discount because you have nothing else to play.
[Note: A copy of Rage 2 was provided by Bethesda for the purpose of this review.]