RAGE 2 Review
RAGE 2 is one of those sequels that I never saw coming but was glad to see unveiled. Its predecessor had some great ideas but stumbled in execution. With the lessons learned from that, though, as well as the revival of DOOM in 2016, id Software seemed on the right track. Helping them out for this go-around was another team in search of a win, Avalanche Software. However, much as in 2011, I can't help but feel like the promise of a better shooter went unfulfilled.
Picking up 30 years after the original, RAGE 2 thrusts players back into the remains of a ravaged human civilization. After an asteroid wiped out most of mankind, the remaining survivors have slowly been able to build new societies. With multiple clans trying to survive in this harsh world, though, conflict is a day-to-day challenge for everybody. And that's on top of the return of The Authority, the power-seeking army lead by the ruthless General Cross. While Cross may have been able to take out most of the settlement known as Vineland, one of the survivors of the attack, Walker, may just end up saving the world.
Storytelling has never really been Id's specialty, and the sequel follows that trend. It's an all-around weak effort that suffers from characters that are either too thin or too annoying. Walker is basically a blank slate of a character with only the goal of vengeance in mind. The most amount of development they get is when you can select what gender you want the Ranger to be. The other inhabitants of the Wasteland aren't much better, with your primary allies often being nothing more than exposition depositors.
Considering the wild world at hand, it's strange that RAGE 2 feels so lifeless at times. The advertising for the game promised an absurdist world that was going to deliver a thrilling and insane ride. Instead, Walker's adventure is an often bland journey that is severely lacking in either charm or personality. The script is mostly lifeless, with the bits of humor sprinkled in often prompting more groans than chuckles. Maybe that's the point, though? After hundreds of years of living in the wasteland, maybe society just forgot what humor was.
Where id and Avalanche clearly focused their attention for RAGE 2 was the combat engine. Building upon the gruesome and fast-paced gunplay of Doom, the combat here is an absolute blast. The action moves at a crisp, fast pace that will constantly have you moving around the environment. The guns feel excellent too, with the appropriate kick-back for the heavier weapons, and the tighter precision of the smaller firearms. It's remarkably easy to get into a groove during combat, which is key to triggering your Overdrive ability. That ability ramps up the damage you do, as well as your defensive capabilities. Considering the considerable combat advantage Walker should have over most foes, it's great that the title doesn't shy away from giving you that power fantasy.
In order to acquire all the tools at Walker's disposal, though, you'll need to seek out Arks. Planted across the world of the game, these monolithic structures house both new weapons and new powers for a Ranger to wield. You'll want to seek these out ASAP too, as not only do they make the combat easier, but they also make it more enjoyable. The wicked firepower you can wield is awesome enough, but the super-powers really take combat to the next level. Using Shatter to rip apart someone's armor, or Dash to parry a strike and hit back harder can make you feel like the superhero the wasteland needs. By giving you all these options, the title allows you to slaughter foes as you see fit. If you're a bruiser who doesn't need tricks, you can just hustle right in with a shotgun and go to town. And if you're a flashier sort of fighter, there are plenty of ways to utilize all the tricks up your sleeve.
Unfortunately, in order to get to the good parts of RAGE 2, you gotta trudge through the less interesting moments. Like its predecessor, the sequel suffers from an open world that rarely feels worth it to explore. As you might expect in a post-apocalyptic society, the environment is pretty dreary at times. Plenty of empty fields, roads and plains for you to wade through, but often little to actually do. There are times where you'll come across unique plots of land, but more than often not, you're stuck taking in the sights of a lifeless world.
You'll have to explore this dull world to fully unlock Walker's capabilities. In order to take full advantage of the title's kind of convoluted upgrade system, you'll need to clear side-missions. Most of these follow the usual pattern of strolling up to a base, wasting all the enemies inside and then searching for whatever scraps you can find. And while that does give you ample time to mess around with the combat engine, the lack of variety is noticeable. It feels like there could have been much more done with this world, and the fact that it frequently returns to the same basic challenge set-up is disappointing.
While you could theoretically walk from location to location, you'll probably want to use one of the many vehicles RAGE 2 lets you drive. Whether it's the land, sea or air, there's always a ride out there for you to use if you can find it. And a surprising amount of them too. With that said, while the plethora of options is nice, I rarely found driving to be actually enjoyable. The handling seems stiff and cumbersome, with sometimes unnoticeable objects popping up to spin you completely off-course. Driving and flying around also draws attention to just how unmemorable the world of the game is. I never felt compelled to stop and take in the sights. The best thing about the vehicles is when you square off against enemy convoys, which is a nice bit of Mad Max inspired mayhem. Other than that, though, the vehicles are nothing more than just time-savers to me.
Considering the sometimes rough track history of Avalanche Software, I was concerned about how RAGE 2 would perform on consoles. Thankfully, the open-world shooter holds up rather well, even on a base Xbox One. The load times are pretty short, and there’s little to no wait when you’re driving from location to location. The one odd part about the title’s performance, though, is the seriously sluggish menu. Already suffering from too many individual screens, there’s lag every time you want to look at a different piece of information. Upgrade schematic? Character biography? Project list? Lag, lag, lag.
It's a shame that the world doesn't have a ton of personality, as the graphics engine of the game is great. Just from a straight-up technical standpoint, the title looks fantastic. The flashes of color in the game's otherwise brown world really shine on-screen. They are a nice interruption to an otherwise dull landscape. Sound design is weaker, though. The voice acting ranges from either monotone dull to bleedingly obnoxious. NPCs tend to yammer on and on.
RAGE 2 feels like something that came out of the last generation of consoles. Which is not a great thing considering it's a sequel to a game from the previous generation. There are just hallmarks of days gone by that would have felt right at home nine years ago. A barely-there plot with obnoxious humor. An open-world that is as barren as it is big. Awkwardly shoehorned-in vehicle sections. These are all features that I felt like we moved on from, yet are alive and well in the world of this franchise. It's disappointing that a potential hit series got a second chance at success, only to somehow stumble into the same problems that plagued the original once again.