It’s hard to believe it’s been eight years since the release of Rage, and it’s even harder to believe that we’d ever see a sequel, let alone one made by the Just Cause developers but here we are.
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review
Taking place years after the first game, Rage 2 has the actual audacity to assume you remember any of the “characters” from that game by name dropping most of them, bringing the villain back in a moment that’s very clearly aping the intro to Killzone 2, and then promptly trying to throw as much lore at you in twenty minutes before it sets you loose on the world. The baddies are back and they blew up your town leaving you as the last wasteland cop in the wasteland so you’ve gotta get revenge. That’s the plot distilled to a sentence and it doesn’t really expand beyond that.
After the intro you’re told to find three characters who will help you take down the big bad, but before they do that you’ll need to do a few things for them before they offer up their services. The missions these characters send you on can be pretty entertaining, like making a satellite crash from space, but they’re so short lived it’s frustrating. The game has a total of 7 story missions, two for each ally and the final one which is honestly kind of a joke. On top of this, each character has an XP bar you can level by performing specific activities in the world assigned to that character. Want to level up Dr. Kvasir’s bar to get to his next mission? Then go do some tech related activities like smashing drones or finding lost logs. And once you complete the two missions for each character, you then have to wait till all of them are leveled to their max before you can acquire the final mission. It’s not particularly difficult to level some of these people up, I was at level 6 for the good doctor before I ever even met him, but it adds a very clear layer of padding to the game.
Speaking of the activities spread throughout the world, there’s not much variety between them. All of them involve going to a location and shooting the place up, it’s just that one place might have mutants and the other might just have a stationary turret. The shooting gameplay itself is so good though that it just barely keeps the constant activity grind from getting repetitive, but just barely. The only highlight here are the vehicle encounters where you’ll battle against a convoy of enemies which are thrilling chases as you smash bikers off the road and dodge attacks from these massive Mad Max style vehicles. It’s just a shame that there are so few of these and once you’re done with them you’ll never see another convoy again.
You won’t see much out in the game world really because there’s nothing there. Occasionally a car or two will drive by in a rush but those are always allied vehicles, and it wasn’t until I was maybe six or seven hours in did I run into a gang of enemy bikers who I quickly took care of.
In a hilarious way to sort of “fill in” the world as you’re driving, you’ll constantly come across enemies on the side of the road either hanging around a busted car, or in a small skirmish with another faction. I suppose the idea is that you’re supposed to pull over and get in on the fight but there’s absolutely no reason to do so and you’re sometimes driving so fast the enemies will load into the game just as you’re passing them. The few towns you can go into are just as destitute, if not more so with a host of static NPCs that all have names that sound like they came out of a name generator. In another humorous twist, the game has these NPCs give you side-missions like one guy whose family was killed by a giant mutant, but these missions are actually just the same activity you can come across in the open world; it’s just that the activity is being given some extra flavor that only comes up when talking to this NPC and not in the mission itself. For example, with the giant mutant I mentioned when I went to said location and killed the monster not once did my character mention successfully getting revenge for the dead family. It wasn’t until I went back to that town and talked to all the copy pasted NPCs to find the one who “gave” me the mission in the first place did the flavor come back up and I get even a measly reward. The one purpose for a town is to visit the two times for the two missions from each ally and if you need to stock up on ammo. It’s super disappointing that a game whose marketing was filled with so much personality and character lacks all that in its game’s world.
Now while Rage 2 is pretty underwhelming when it comes to its open world, it more than makes up for it with its shooting, thanks in no small part to id Software I’m sure. Take the frenetic, tight controls of the DOOM, add superpowers and you’ve got Rage 2. You’ve honestly probably not played a better feeling shooter since 2016’s DOOM, but where DOOM complemented its shooting with smartly designed combat arenas, Rage 2 adds a multitude of abilities that help you string together over-the-top combos.
Scattered throughout the world are various “Arks” where you’ll find a new ability to acquire that can range from a black hole that sucks in enemies before exploding them outward, to an immensely satisfying slam attack. On top of this, each ability has an upgrade tree you can work your way through that add various modifiers to it. The slam, for example, not only gets a bump to the radius of the move’s shockwave, but you can also add in a vortex that pulls nearby enemies towards you. Chaining these moves together turns combat encounters into a dance of carnage as you zip around the battlefield as viscera and explosions fill your screen.
The only disappointing aspect of the combat is that the guns for the most part aren’t all very exciting to use. In my time with the game I mainly stuck with the assault rifle, shotgun, and rocket launcher because the rest of your arsenal is either too specific of a use case or just doesn’t do enough damage. It also doesn’t help that the game drowns you in so much ammo you’ll be hard pressed to ever need to swap from those three guns. It’s a bummer considering how much the abilities add to the combat, I wish the guns brought the same level of fun to the table.
What’s perhaps Rage 2’s biggest issue is its goal of gamifying everything to such an extreme degree. To upgrade your character you need to acquire certain items, but each aspect of your arsenal needs its own separate one. There’s a staggering nine different “upgrade tokens” needed, and the end result has the game feeling like an RPG grind as you ping pong between various activity types trying to collect a specific type of item. Arc chests contain some of these items, but what you get is totally random and not every activity has an arc chest. This means if you need a “nanotrite booster” to upgrade one of your abilities then you’ll have to go to every activity spot with an arc chest and hope you’re lucky. Want to upgrade your overdrive or damage? Well you’ll need life glands which are only found by killing giant mutants. Oh, but you also need an ark tech core and neuronic interface which are found in arc chests so now you have to hit up every location with that chest hoping you don’t get one of the half dozen other items you could pull from it. It’s just a massive annoyance that feels more like padding out an empty world with forced “exploration”.
The Final Word
Rage 2 offers another typical “open world shooter with activities” for those who need another fix since Far Cry 5 last. Avalanche still has a way to go in making a world feel lived in, but the shooting and driving on display here is easily some of the best in its genre.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 3.5 out of 5 – Fair