Some video games want to tell fantastic narratives and challenge the very nature of video games as more than just a "game". Others are content with being all about freedom and pure fun. Having talked to the developers from id software at Bethesda Studios in London, it was made abundantly clear that Rage 2 belongs in the latter category. Conceived in collaboration with the Swedish talent at Avalanche Studios, id Software aims to improve every aspect of the original and simultaneously give the Rage franchise a second go and raise more awareness of a game that sort of just came and went the first time around. Yet, somehow the trailers and early gameplay shown at E3 had warmed our hearts to the idea of playing a sequel to a nine-year-old game that didn't leave much of a mark back in the day. Still, fans of the first Rage game will undoubtedly feel like they're playing an entirely different franchise.
All the brown, dull colours of the original have been replaced with lush environments and detailed vistas that are brimming with life. The apocalyptic feeling is still present, but everything is more pleasing to the eye and that makes the player want to go exploring. This radical shift in tone is largely due to what Tim Willits of id Software described as "a departure from id Software's experience with the original and Avalanche's work on their Mad Max game".
During our roughly two hours with the game, we mostly spent our time just taking in the world and going wherever we felt like going. Especially during exploration, one can feel the influence of Avalanche's Just Cause franchise. Everything from the graphics engine to piloting vehicles feels and controls similarly to how it felt in Just Cause. As fans of the senseless fun in that franchise, we felt right at home diving into Rage 2. Going from point A-to-B is likewise super effective and all NPC cars, motorbikes and other futuristic machines can be commandeered with a single button. The downside to this, however, is Avalanche's inability to create worlds without performance issues. The draw distance is - at this stage in development - not very good and everything can at times look grainy and unpolished. As fun as travelling around the enormous world can be, enjoyment is partially hindered by this recurring factor.
A problem, which often arrives when creating the sequel for an old game, is whether new players can play the game without knowing the original story. The developers clearly knew of this conundrum and have accordingly set the story decades later and with a new protagonist. Like many Avalanche games, the story isn't exactly centre stage. Nonetheless, it still offers more than your average Just Cause experience and one settlement in Rage 2 feels more alive than all the Just Cause games combined, really breathing life into the story's grim future.
In the demo we played, a couple of story missions were available and their number included defending the life of a small-town mayor and participating in grim games at an old Coliseum-inspired arena in the middle of nowhere. The dialogue isn't Shakespearian and the narrative will not be remembered as a great feat of storytelling, but we still enjoyed encounters with the bad humour and insane characters. This is due to Rage 2 embracing its own identity and the silliness of the world, rather than trying to rival the great narratives of games such as Red Dead Redemption II or The Last of Us. When speaking to the developers of the game, they confirmed this as being their intention.
"If people come away just having had a lot of fun with the game, then we have accomplished our goal," said Tim Willits of id Software. "We wanted to mix the best first-person shooter elements of our games with the open-world brilliance of Avalanche. The game never takes itself too seriously and the main character will often make sudden quirky remarks about the world."