Pretty In Pink
HIGH Satisfying gunplay, and a nearly limitless supply of it.
LOW Could use a bit more personality.
WTF An anticlimactic encounter against a boss teased in the opening level.
If at first you don’t succeed, hire someone who knows how to do it properly.
The original Rage was a passable first-person shooter trapped in a sandbox no bigger or livelier than the average Zelda overworld. It was a technical powerhouse and the mechanics were sound, but id Software’s push to make Rage more than just a shooter produced what felt like an RPG without the RPG.
After they took some time to hone their craft on the greatest FPS in existence, 2016’s Doom, id reached out to Avalanche for help on the eventual Rage sequel. They’re a studio that knows a thing or two about bringing anarchic, post-apocalyptic sandboxes to life, given their work on Mad Max. (Critical reactions were mixed, but GameCritics is a pro-Mad Max household.)
The collaboration paid off, and the difference between Rage and Rage 2 is night-and-day. Avalanche doesn’t subscribe to the belief that desert wastelands need to be drab and monochrome, and it shows – towns are awash with neon lights, fortresses are often painted bright pink, and the sunrises and sunsets bathe the landscape in deep magentas. Meanwhile, the team’s experience with large-scale destruction means that the framerate remains remarkably stable even as explosions dominate the screen — it’s rare to see a triple-A game that’s this well-optimized right from launch.
Predictably, Rage 2 doesn’t reinvent the open-world FPS wheel and the gunplay is (unsurprisingly) reminiscent of the recent Doom reboot. While it is a bit more conventional – reloading is back, and the protagonist actually moves at the approximate speed of a normal human – it’s still as tight and immediate as anyone could want from an id title.
Though the map is massive this time, players are largely partaking in the same handful of activities over and over – raiding strongholds, destroying sentry towers, etc. – albeit with some pretty solid variety in scenery. However, it’s worth noting that the actual campaign is quite short, meaning that players will need to mine these tasks to get their money’s worth out of the campaign. I wouldn’t say that Rage 2 is more repetitive than Horizon: Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, or whichever Assassin’s Creed release the community is fawning over at the moment, though.
Mechanically, Rage 2 plays like a dream, and I wanted to run around completing checklist busywork just to get more of that sweet, delicious action. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve logged onto Steam, been alerted to the release of new Doom DLC, and sighed in disappointment to learn that it was just some new maps for that multiplayer mode that no one liked. I wanted more single-player content, and now in Rage 2, I always have more. Like all successful open-world games, Rage 2 gives me a comfortable loop that I can return to, again and again, for reliable thrills.
Though the boomerang-like wingsticks return, Rage 2 wisely downplays stealth options this time, instead focusing on ways to make more noise. At the start of the campaign, players inherit a suit that gives them enhanced combat abilities, and while most perks are fairly generic – a shield, ground pound, super-powered melee attack, and so forth – they spice up the gunplay quite nicely. The Vortex ability, which creates a miniature singularity and sucks enemies and objects into a big clump, is a particular joy.
Also, those who played it may recall that the original Rage had the best shotgun in the history of videogames. Well, the series has not abdicated that throne.
Since this is an open-world affair, players will be spending most of their travel time behind the wheel, so naturally vehicular combat returns as well. This was something Avalanche did particularly well in Mad Max, and while Rage 2 doesn’t quite reach those heights – stiff handling makes the one mandatory race a chore – using my car’s gatling guns, rockets and ramming capabilities provides satisfactory thrills during long trips across the map. Sometimes I’d even chase after convoys headed away from my current objective, and getting distracted like that is the sign of a sandbox game doing something right.
Unfortunately, even the combined forces of id and Avalanche couldn’t provide Rage 2 with a sharp script or a relatable protagonist. Admittedly, the series’ mythology is so half-baked that its two major factions are literally just called “the Authority” and “the Resistance,” but Rage 2’s high-energy ad campaign hinted suggested a product with a lot more personality than it has.
On the other hand, I’m happy that these two devs have played to their strengths. Avalanche has built a gorgeous open world with as many framerate hitches as there are load times (i.e. basically none) and id has filled it with their usual incredible gunplay. It’s not quite a replacement for Doom Eternal, but it’s made the wait far easier.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Avalanche Studios and id Software and published by Bethesda Softworks. It is currently available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language and Suggestive Themes. The dialog is littered with F-bombs and sexual slang, and the action involves a lot of explosive, wet-sounding decapitations. Not for kids.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for all plot-related dialogue, though plenty of incidental chatter isn’t covered. Visual indicators do a solid job of communicating which direction enemy attacks are coming from. Despite the hectic nature of the combat, I played a few long stretches with no sound and was surprised how easily I was able to keep up.
Remappable Controls: This game offers fully remappable controls for mouse and keyboard only. Multiple presets are available for controllers, which swap the bumper functions and the commands for crouching and melee attacks.