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.
One interesting aspect of weapon management is that you have to explore the world and find your own guns. That being the case, there's no particular order when it comes to which weapons you have access to during the different parts of the game, so you should be able to manage with whatever you have access to and complete the main campaign without unlocking everything, although we'd recommend taking your time to find as many as you can first, since that's a lot more fun. Weapons are found in special containers that only you can access, and with each discovery, there's a short tutorial that shows you how to use it, with the same applying to the different abilities you can unlock. These abilities complement the gunplay and Walker can use them to help out during the game's many battles.
The aforementioned abilities including things like double jump, a temporary barrier to deflect incoming attacks, and a jump attack that sends enemies flying. The Wingstick (a deadly boomerang) is back and it's just as dangerous as it was in the previous game. All that, along with the well-designed guns, makes Rage 2 a fun sandbox to play around in, at least at the beginning. Weapons and abilities can be upgraded in some absurd directions, but alas there's not enough content in the game to back it up. The main story was over for us in roughly six hours, and while there are extra upgrades to unlock and new places to explore on the map, we didn't feel motivated to do any of that.
There is no doubt that Rage is a wonderfully rich game from a visual perspective. The colourful design, the lighting, and the detail found in the world come together brilliantly. The different regions on the map are distinct, and we really liked the mixture of desert landscapes, marshland, and stripped-down industrial environments. Some of the visual effects, such as the explosions, made us childishly happy at times, and overall the whole style is easy to like. That said, we did have some problems with the PC version of the game due to bugs and crashes. On some occasions, the audio completely disappeared during conversations, with characters mouthing their lines while no voice could be heard (the game has since been patched so some of these issues may have been fixed). While the dialogue didn't always work for us, the audio effects are good, and the guns sound like they pack a punch during combat; filling a mutant with lead from your shotgun is a very satisfying experience.
It's easy to get started in Rage 2 - the opening assignment and early exploration are really fun. Moving, aiming, jumping, shooting, and driving feels good thanks to tight controls and a fantastic assortment of weapons. However, the more you play, the more obvious it becomes that there isn't enough substance behind all this good stuff. The campaign is too short and didn't conclude to our satisfaction, and it is surprisingly easy to get tired of the side activities. Rage 2 is mostly just moving from battle to battle and trying to use the tools you're given in creative ways. That can be really fun, but in many ways, the experience feels stretched out and the content on offer doesn't match up with the quality of the minute-to-minute gameplay.
Rage 2 is the largest and most colourful present that sits underneath the tree on Christmas Eve, but inside the alluring wrapper, there's only a small box with a nice pair of socks in it. It's good, but maybe not what it looked like it would be. There's fun to be found, especially when it comes to the gameplay, and at times we really enjoyed clearing out enemy camps and experimenting with the game's arsenal of weapons, but it starts feeling repetitive rather quickly and the main story is over far too soon. It's a game that would benefit from being experienced in short doses, with as much creativity as you can muster.
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