Rage 2 combines id Software's brilliant shooting mechanics with Avalanche Studio's open world prowess to create a thrilling and chaotic shooter sandbox
Rage 2 is the sequel nobody knew they needed.
The original Rage was renowned developer id Software's ambitious first foray into open world game design. For those who don't know, id Software are the legendary developers behind beloved first-person shooters like Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake.
While Rage garnered massive amounts of hype leading up to its release as the next big shooter franchise from id, it ultimately failed to live up to its own lofty expectations. Released back in 2011 on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, the critical and commercial response to the new IP was lukewarm; the vehicular aspect of the title wasn't nearly as strong as many had hoped, the bleak setting and unique art style didn't resonate with many players, and the lack of variety and depth didn't inspire much love from the casual crowd. The shooting mechanics were (as always) top-notch however, and I was personally quite fond of the game myself, though I did understand the criticism and agreed with much of it myself.
As such, Rage became a bit of a cult-classic in the gaming community - while casual gamers moved on to other titles, FPS fans enjoyed the solid but flawed title regardless.
After Doom was successfully rebooted with its incredible 2016 iteration, id was back on top of the shooter sphere. While work on a sequel began (Doom Eternal is slated for a 2020 release) id turned their attention back to their newest IP.
Rather than making another run at an open world setting alone, id Software decided to seek guidance from an expert in the field: Avalanche Studios.
Creators of the popular Just Cause open world action/adventure franchise as well as the disgustingly underappreciated 2015 Mad Max game, Avalanche partnered with id Software to provide the open world expertise the Doom developers lacked.
The relationship was a match made in heaven - id would provide the incredible shooting and combat mechanics from the latest Doom title, while Avalanche would craft an exciting playground for players to blow shit up in. Not only that, but the whackiness of Rage would be dialed up to 11; a much needed splash of colour and charisma would be infused in id's world, pairing Rage's odd post-apocalyptic wasteland with the insanity and vehicular mayhem present in Mad Max.
One of the first things immediately apparent about Rage 2 is that is looks absolutely gorgeous. Though surprisingly capped at 1080p even on the One X and PS4 Pro, the graphics are breathtaking in motion. Gunplay and animations are remarkably smooth and fluid, and even as all-out chaos breaks out around you the game's frame rate remains locked in at a silky smooth 60 fps (or 30 for the base console versions).
Unlike many other modern games, texture pop-in is almost completely absent in Rage 2, and there are no loading screens after your initial (and surprisingly quick) boot up. You can travel from one end of the sprawling open world to another without waiting a single second for anything to load, and the only other time you see a loading screen is very briefly after you die or when you fast travel to another location.
Although it feels extremely polished and is 99% of the time, there are a few bugs here and there. Clipping (dead enemies or body parts getting stuck through other objects) occasionally occurs, and a few times the game crashed and forced me back to the Xbox dashboard, though no progress was lost (this happened a total of three times in my playthrough). Luckily these issues were rare and didn't detract from the overall experience.
If you loved the shooting mechanics of 2016's Doom, then Rage 2 will be your new favourite shooter. id Software have truly outdone themselves with the combat in their latest release; Rage 2 is one of (if not the) best-feeling shooters ever made.
The refined and incredibly polished gunplay is like Doom on steroids, with crazier weaponry and a variety of special abilities that add layers to the frenzied action. Although like Doom there aren't a ton of different guns available, each is extremely well-made and fun to use, from the classic id shotgun to an all-purpose assault rifle to a multi-function rocket launcher.
Some of the more unique weaponry on offer include the Firestorm Revolver which lodges incendiary slugs into its target which are then ignited with a snap of your fingers, and the Grav-Dart Launcher which embeds darts in enemies which you can then send in any direction to send them flying or rip them apart.
The afforementioned abilities come in various flavours as well, including more classic shooter fare like double jumping, dashing quickly in any direction, or self-reviving, while more combat-oriented abilities include Slam which is a ground pound that sends a shockwave around you to crush nearby enemies, Vortex which creates a mini-black hole-esque singularity that pulls in nearby foes and objects, Barrier which creates a see-through shield to prevent incoming damage in one direction, and a violent force push-esque Shatter ability.
One of the few abilities you'll have access to right from the beginning is Overdrive, a limited-time power that boosts your health and damage output and even makes slain enemies drop improved loot while activated. You'll refill your Overdrive meter naturally by killing enemies, while varying up your attacks by switching guns and using abilities will fill the meter faster. It's a fun mechanic and unlike most games with similar special abilities Rage 2 is quite liberal with how often you get to use it.
Rather than simply doling out weapons and abilities as you play through the story, instead Rage 2 incentivizes exploration by hiding them in Arks, plot-related caches which each house a gun or special ability. While some are unmissable as you progress through the campaign, many are off the main quest line's path and will take some exploring to find - they're also unlockable in whatever order you wish, so you can unlock some of the most devastating weapons and abilities early on if you're lucky (or follow a guide). Each locked weapon/ability in the menu even tells you the general area in which its Ark is located, so if you really want a specific weapon you can set out to find it whenever you'd like, or you can simply stumble upon them as you go if you'd prefer.
The other core gameplay aspect of course takes place on four wheels. A vast improvement over the original game's floaty driving, Avalanche's brilliant vehicular combat from Mad Max is transferred into the world of Rage to great effect.
Although you can drive a variety of vehicles in Rage, the Phoenix is your personal ride and can be upgraded to feature powerful weaponry including machine guns and rockets as well as extra armour plating and shielding. Vehicle combat is fast and frenetic and handles very well; sadly though vehicle combat feels far from the focus of Rage 2. Of course you'll use vehicles extensively to travel throughout the world, but there are very few missions involving the vastly improved car combat - convoys and a few dull (they disable weaponry - where's the fun in that?) races are essentially the only vehicle-focused tasks available.
Convoys in particular are a blast through - lifting the concept straight out of the Mad Max game, convoys of bandits regularly roam the roads in Rage 2, with each sporting a powerful lead vehicle as well as ample reinforcements. After taking down their escorts, the Annihilator (lead vehicle) of the pack offers what's essentially a boss fight on wheels. You'll have to systematically take out the Annihilator's defenses while dodging its powerful attacks to eventually cripple it, where you can then claim your bountiful loot as reward.
Unfortunately it looks like id may have taken criticism of the first Rage's vehicle focus to heart, as there's a painful lack of other things to do in your rides despite the vastly improved vehicular combat. Proper (ie. with weapons enabled) races and even a demolition derby-style mode would be more than welcome here.
The decently large game world of Rage 2 is otherwise packed with stuff to do. Almost the entire map is open for you to explore right after the tutorial missions, giving you a ton of freedom to progress as you see fit. There are lots of different activies, each giving you different rewards and loot for completing them - there many instances of each type of activity however, so if you want to get 100% completion some of the side activities can get repetitive.
As a chaotic and fast-paced shooter, the story mostly takes a back seat in Rage 2. The barebones story isn't going to win any awards on its own, but it does its job of providing context and excuses for going around and blowing shit up. Throughout the story, activities and missions you complete will grant you experience in one of three character's branches - each of the game's three main quest givers has their own project for you to complete, with missions and activities associated with their project earning you points that you can spend on unique perks.
The upgrade system here is surprisingly deep, offering meaningful improvements to your weapons and abilities as well as offering variations to choose from to tailor your loadout to your preference.
The many different types of materials needed for different upgrades can seem overwhelming at first: cash for ammo and upgrade schematics for throwable weaponry, feltrite for unlocking weapon and ability tiers, nanotech for unlocking specific ability upgrades, weapon cores for weapon upgrades, auto parts for vehicle upgrades, Ark Tech cores/mutant hearts for health and Overdrive upgrades, crafting materials for crafting throwable weapons, project points for unlockable perks, and more. It's a lot to take in but quickly becomes a natural and rewarding system as you play, with clearly marked rewards for playing different mission types as well as easily tracking progress for each of the three mission branches.
Though the upgrades are varied and offer plenty of personality, it's odd that there's very little customization for the look of your weapons or vehicles. There are extremely few skins available and the few that exist require a lot of effort to unlock, so you won't even get to use them for the majority of the game. Considering the character and personality of the title, it seems like a major missed opportunity to not be able to make your character at least a little more unique.
The vehicular customization in particular is my biggest gripe with the game. The Phoenix was ripe with potential to become your own "Magnum Opus" just like in Avalanche's Mad Max title. In that much more vehicle-focused game, players would create their own fully customized ride, choosing from a plethora of body types, paint jobs, weapons, upgrades, and accessories that could all be collected during your travels.
In Rage 2, while the on-foot gear has extensive upgrade systems and options, the only customizable vehicle (besides equipping skins, if you have any, to other vehicles) is the Phoenix, and unlike the game's weaponry, it doesn't offer any variations to choose from. Basically, once you have enough auto parts you can upgrade a certain part of the vehicle, but there is no choice of different mounted guns, armour, or anything of the sort. The look of the vehicle is also set in stone, with the only variation coming from the few vehicle skins in the game.
Because of how powerful the Phoenix becomes later in the game, there's also very little reason to ever drive anything else. Avalanche and id really should have either committed to delivering a fully customizable and personalized Phoenix, or offered customization options on other vehicles to at least make driving other vehicles worthwhile.
Rage 2 is one of the greatest-feeling shooters ever made. The combat loop is simply sublime and even though some of the game's activities can get repetitive, the gunplay is so good you likely won't care. Though it missed out on some of its immense potential, its nonetheless one of the best shooters around and is well worth the time of any FPS fan.
+Easily one of the best-feeling shooters ever made; the gunplay and combat is simply fantastic
+Great vehicular combat and convoys are brilliant fun
+Absolutely gorgeous game world and a treat to watch in action, especially as chaos unfolds all around you yet the game runs steady at 60 fps
+Surprisingly deep upgrade system and some truly fantastic weaponry and abilities
+Packed full of content and places to explore
-Lack of vehicular activities and very basic vehicle upgrades
-Weak story could have used some better writing
-Needs more customization
The Final Score: 9.5 / 10