As a young whippersnapper, my parents and I would go on caravan holidays around various seaside resorts in the UK. Before Brits discovered package holidays on the Costa Del Sol this was the done thing for working class folks. One particular year we ended up at a sedate camp with little to do, the food wasn't all that great and the weather was forecasting rain for the entire week. However, there was one saving grace: the on-site games room had the Simpsons Arcade machine. Through the following week, I spent many a rainy day mastering the numerous stages until I could ace the game in one credit, usually with a small gathering of viewers (we didn't have Twitch back then). While this holiday was, on paper, a bit naff it always stands out in my memory as one of the best.
The point I am making is that not every game can have all the things and if one aspect is outstanding the other wrinkles can be ignored. I received my review code for Rage 2 on launch day and so I have been aware of what other critics have been saying about Rage 2. I’ll be honest, I think many have been a little bit harsh on the game, seemingly because it isn’t the kind of experience they wanted it to be. Maybe there is still some bad blood between gamers and Bethesda due to the less than stellar Fallout 76? My take on this is, review the game that is in front of you and leave your politics at the door. Is the game I am playing right now any good? Well, let’s take a look at Rage 2.
The original Rage didn’t set the world on fire but came out to a fairly decent critical reception way back in 2011, its main strengths being excellent combat and some very impressive visuals (once they loaded in). You stepped into the shoes of former marine Nicholas Raine who had been waiting in stasis for many decades after a catastrophic asteroid collision near wiped out life on earth. Rage 2 takes place thirty years after these events where you now play as a Ranger called Walker. The game opens in the middle of an attack on the base of operations, your guardian is killed and the games main adversaries are revealed. With the Rangers all but wiped out, you must don some newly vacated armour and take the fight back to the cyber-enhanced army of the Authority.
Rage 2 does share many similarities from the original game, in that driving and shooting are your bread and butter. While the world is obviously the same setting as the original game, the visuals have now lost their mainly brown pallet for a far more colourful affair. Pink is everywhere and is also used to draw the players attention to objects of interest. Cities and towns are also clad in a variety of neon signs and garish graffiti. The environments you find yourself in are genuinely spectacular, with canyons and mountains towering on all sides making you feel very small. There has also been some well thought out placement of the various settlements, each one feels like it was built and not just dropped by an asset sprinkler. I will say there is a noticeable gap between the quality of the main NPC's and the random folk you see around the towns.
Once you have met the games three main characters, your efforts in the field all filter back to progress with one of these individuals. As your level increases with them, new items and opportunities unlock. In fact, much of the game works around the idea progressing, either through experience or gathering currency to purchase new upgrades. It seems like everything can be improved, from the weapons you find at hidden Arks, Nanotrite powers and even the consumables like Wing Sticks or Grenades. Each of the three characters also has a set of project perks which will improve many useful facets of your capabilities. The pacing of the game feels really good and you never feel like you are short of something to do.
Rage Against the Machine
Given that this game was, in part, developed by the legendary id Software, the shooting in Rage 2 was always going to be of the highest calibre. I do think the gunplay in this game could even rival the near perfection that DOOM 2016 managed to achieve. You have numerous weapons at your disposal, all have value in on the battlefield and all come with an alternative fire mode. Each weapon feels perfectly balanced, especially the obligatory shotgun which is devastating at point blank range. All of the game's weapons and powers are unlocked by finding lost ‘Arks’, which only open for Rangers.
Having all these spectacular ways to deal death wouldn't be any use if the enemies in Rage 2 were lacking and thankfully they are anything but. They can move around their environment with startling efficiency, whether that be up ladders or leaping down from elevated positions. Mutants can also scramble across walls and ceilings, like less graceful but equally pissed off Xenomorphs. I have also noticed some really clever things going on in these fights, like enemies catching grenades and tossing them back. I’ve even seen gun-wielding foes firing their weapons after being knocked on their arse, which has caught me off guard a few times. When you fire a gun in Rage 2 you can feel the kickback, smell the burnt flesh and hear the explosion of carnage as your foes are liquified. The kinetic impact on enemies is also marvellous, with bodies being blasted right across rooms or off high walkways. Even when in mid-animation or leaping through the air at you, gunfire will interrupt this and sent them reeling. The environment can also be weaponised and setting off explosive barrels as a group of goons are running past just puts a smile on your face.
In addition, the arsenal of boomsticks you keep in your pocket, Walker also has a full suite of Nanotrite powered abilities at her (or his) disposal thanks to the suit you wear enhancing the Nanotrites in your blood. These can be something as subtle as a double jump (which is more useful than you’d think), a dash to avoid incoming attacks or what I can only describe a force push. My favourite ability by far is the ground slam, which literally smashes everything into the air and allows you to do other horrible things to those unfortunate goons suspended around you. Overall the movement feels really tight, especially when you get additional improvements to your jump and I love the way you can climb pretty much anything like in the Dishonored games.
In 2015 Avalanche Studios released an open world action game based on Mad Max, which certainly took more than a few aesthetic cues from Fury Road. While the on foot exploration and combat did leave a lot to be desired, the vehicles in this game were sublime. The car in which you cruise around the wasteland is embedded into every aspect of the game, it was your shield and also a sword to strike at your enemies. When I learned that Avalanche Studios were working on Rage 2 my hope was that the car combat would be less like the floaty toy cars from Just Cause and far more the blazing death machines from Mad Max.
It wasn't just the exhilarating feeling of driving that made Mad Max so special but also the way the car was grounded into the world with so many clever mechanisms. Pulling bits off rival cars with the harpoon, smashing through towers and ramming scouts into oblivion as you burned after convoys. The car was a character and is one of the main reasons why I rate the game so highly. In Rage 2 you have a ‘Jack of all trades’ armoured car called the Phoenix, which is fully upgradeable and will be the vehicle you spend most of the time in. You can take other cars back to settlements which then unlock for you to use, but the truth is most of these are useless. Any that offer offensive capabilities are so breakable they don’t last two seconds in a fight. The bigger vehicles have more of a punch but are so slow it’s painful getting anywhere, so you just end up sticking with the Phoenix. One interesting design choice in Mad Max was to have your companion, Chum-Bucket, help you with the operation of the car. So when you were hanging out of the back with a sniper rifle he would let you manoeuvre the car or would bring it to you like an apocalyptic valet. While there is some kind of AI in your main car it seems her only function is to annoy the ever living fuck out of you. I cannot fathom why all the cool things you could do with your car in Mad Max haven't been implemented into this game and then iterated on.
Driving around in Rage 2 isn’t the experience I would have liked and the handling on motorcycles is possibly the worst I’ve ever seen. Yet with a bit of practice, the Phoenix can get around with relative ease and will smash through most street furniture like a hot knife through butter. I also appreciate that most rocks will also disintegrate when you plough through them, almost like the planet has brittle bone syndrome. I can sense the DNA from Mad Max bubbling under the surface and would be interested to know how much code was carried over. I would go as far as to say I like driving the Phoenix between locations, just avoid everything else except the highly useful Icarus hoverbike. I think the main problem with driving in Rage 2 is that it feels like a mostly wasted opportunity with only a handful of things to happen across while in your ride. There are random groups fighting and occasionally other vehicles driving around but it all feels detached. The only events that give a glimmer of what made Mad Max so exceptional are destroying convoys, which have numerous vehicles protecting them before you obliterate the main rig. I love taking these down and wish Avalanche had added more driving sequences in like this. Also when coming across the scattering of hostile cars out there they don’t seem to have the ability to break from their set loop, so will fire a few pot shots before hurtling off over the horizon.
So the shooting is as good as it gets and the driving is mediocre, but how does this all fit together? As you start to turn question marks into markers you will see that there is actually a fantastic range of activities to get stuck into. Blockades to clear, bandit camps to snuff out, mutant hordes to vanquish and so on. Obviously, all of these locations revolve around combat but given it is the games greatest strength; this is a very good thing. Many reviewers have criticised the campaign length but I expect these people just hammered the main missions and ignored everything else. If you want my advice you should treat the game like a buffet of carnage, trying a little bit of everything instead of sitting in the corner eating all the guacamole. I can see the developers have tried to add other distractions around the game world, like balloons to shoot down, spy bots to blow up and asteroids to mine. None of these are particularly inspiring but it does help break up the gameplay loop a little.
Most locations have their own little find-athon to take part in, with storage boxes, datapads and Ark boxes to pillage. Most of the time these are fairly easy to locate, especially once you get the detector installed. Occasionally there will be one that you just cannot find for love nor money and this can drive those with OCD (like me) mad. There are also some instances where you end up in a completely pitch black room and finding anything in these situations is a nightmare. I’d say if you're going to put players in dark rooms, give them a flashlight or night-vision. While I do love the Farcry games, Ubisoft does seem to be terrified of players getting bored, hence, even in the middle of the woods you will attract people eager to end your breathing habit. In Rage 2 you can get away from the chaos and just enjoy the quiet: the sense of loneliness when exploring the ruins of the old world is palpable. There is plenty of killing to be had at any one of the thousand locations on the map, so I personally prefer that the game doesn’t harass you with fake action.
Is it PC?
As I have mentioned, this game treats us to gorgeous visuals and performs extremely well, even on an older machine. On a 980GTX I have been able to run the game at a decent framerate at 1080p with most settings on high or maximum. The game map does have some very distinct biomes for you to visit, from deep red canyons, dusty open desert, dense rain forest and waterlogged swamps. All of these areas have remnants of the world before the asteroid came crashing down, from dilapidated office blocks, ruined freeways and crashed satellites. The day and night cycle in Rage 2 is also very well implemented and passes at well-chosen pace for once. Watching the red sun emerge from the horizon and warm the apocalyptic landscape is a beautiful sight to behold. However, I would have loved to see more weather effects, like sandstorms or tornados.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows here because Rage 2 does have some technical issues. Aside from the mediocre writing most of the voice actors do put in a good performance, so it is unfortunate that I have had quite a few voice lines not even play. These have occasionally been within key campaign dialogue which of course can leave you wondering what is going on. I have also had some background noise from gunfights get stuck in a loop and continue to play until the game was restarted. The actual quality of sound effects is of a very high benchmark, from the roar of car engines to the many sounds that come at you in intense gunfights. Music is also well implemented and jives well with the many fights you will encounter.
One of the biggest issues I have with Rage 2 is the menu system, it is poorly designed and mostly awful to use. For one thing, when moving between different tabs there seems to be a stutter and while not a deal breaker, this does make navigating the many menu pages less pleasant. The way the various menus and sub-menus are structured is very unintuitive and finding anything is a chore. When I first started playing it was only by accident that I noticed an additional page for upgrading skills, which for me is poor design. These are very minor issues and in contrast, the game map does a great job of displaying the world with the ability to drop waypoints. Overall the PC version of Rage 2 is very good, all the keys can be remapped and I have had no issues playing on mouse and keyboard.
Rage 2 was never going to be a deep RPG or have advanced character development: anyone expecting that hasn’t been paying attention. This game is a balls to the wall, adrenaline-fuelled shooter that knows exactly what it is. The story, while short, is a decent enough vehicle to justify your murderous romp across the wasteland and my only disappointment with the cliched antagonist is the final fight sequence. I'm disappointed that Avalanche didn’t make more of the driving, with better driving AI and more thoughtful implementation of the car's abilities into the wider world. However, aside from the bike controls, it isn’t all that bad either.
The question, 'should I play Rage 2' is an easy one to answer. If you love shooters like the aforementioned DOOM then you will absolutely adore this game. The gunplay really is the best on the market right now and for this reason, I see a lot of replay value in this title. At the time of writing, I have exhausted the available content but I am tempted to start a fresh game and do it all again: with that in mind, I hope we see a game plus mode at some point in the future. There is a roadmap for DLC which includes community events, new stories and even vehicles. It is clear the developers still have big plans for the Rage universe and I hope we see some of the weaker areas improved.
I would like to say a huge thank you to Bethesda UK for sending us a review copy of the game. I hope you enjoyed reading my review of Rage 2 on PC. All our content is announced on Twitter @riggedforepic so give us a follow and sharing reviews does really help.