When the first Rage was released almost eight years ago, there were some mixed opinions. Although critics generally liked it, a lot of people thought that it was somewhat underdeveloped, despite being stuffed full of fun gunplay and a cool (albeit brown) game world. When the sequel was announced, it felt like a good match to have Avalanche Studios on development duties after its work on Mad Max. Has that switch and the passing of eight years made much of a difference for Rage 2? Well, not really, although it does have a much louder colour palette.
30 years after the events of the first game, we're put in the shoes of Walker, a so-called Ranger who's tasked with taking down The Authority. This villainous outfit is helmed by the robotic-looking General Cross and does everything in its power to take control of what remains of the world. After choosing the gender of our Walker, we were thrown straight into the game world and tasked with making alliances, collecting weapons, and shooting mutants. Add to that some vehicular battles and you really have a perfect mix of Doom, Just Cause, and Mad Max, something that on paper sounds like the ultimate action game. The layout, story, and the game world of Rage 2 are nothing new, but it's quick to get into and - with id Software playing co-op with Avalanche Studios - it should make for the perfect combination.
The story in Rage 2 works mostly as justification for messing around and spitting lead at everyone and everything that moves. Antagonist General Cross is, however, a boring villain and even though we constantly meet characters who initially seem to be a bit more interesting, nothing memorable develops from that early promise. The different towns that you can visit also feature characters you can talk to, but nobody really has anything interesting to say, so after a couple of hours we stopped bothering. It's obvious that these characters should be interesting but that never really comes across. It's a pity, but at the same time, we appreciate that storytelling is probably not the most important thing in a game like this. What's strange about it, however, is how the campaign is structured, and the fact that it's over almost before it has really begun.
There are three main characters that you have to work with - Marshall, Loosum, and Kvasir - and it's through this trio that the story unfolds. The campaign contains just a handful of main missions and in between those there are a bunch of side activities you can do to level up these characters/factions. And that's about it, all the way through until the end. This structure feels like it has been put in place to elongate the campaign, and while that in itself might not be unusual, it's all too obvious here. That said, the main missions are fun (for the most part), as are the majority of the side missions, but when considered as a whole the experience feels strangely put together and too succinct.
In addition to the short campaign, the game world is crammed with various activities to busy yourself with, such as clearing out enemy camps, finding missing rangers, fighting mini-bosses, and taking part in car races. Even though the combat is fun, it's hard to stay motivated to complete all the side missions once the credits have rolled on the main story. It also feels like the vehicular side of the game is under-utilised, and while it's fun to take on enemy convoys and fit new weapons to your ride Mad Max-style, as soon as we unlocked the gyrocopter we avoided wheel-based transport completely as it was much easier to move around that way.
One part of the game that works incredibly well is the weapons, which are brilliantly designed. In contrast to the story, it's clear that a lot of time and effort has been poured into their exuberant design. There's also a well-developed upgrade system where we can customise how the creatively designed weapons should work. There's plenty to experiment with, and you can expect to see the usual suspects - pistols, automatic rifles, rockets - although there are some more unusual variants to be discovered too. One of our favourites is a revolver that fires small bombs that stick to enemies which can be detonated with a snap of your fingers, setting fire to the poor soul on the other side of our crosshairs. Almost all weapons do at least two different things, and the best thing about Rage 2 is experimenting with your arsenal and finding new ways to take on the various enemies you encounter.