Come for the combat, stay for… the combat.
Rage 2 is a title that I was largely invested into when it was first showed off at the Bethesda E3 2018 Press Conference. I was a fan of the original and when it was announced that the team behind the Mad Max game was at the helm, I was even more intrigued; it seemed like a match made in wasteland heaven. While the adrenaline pumping combat is certainly a selling point to this colorful and energized sequel, it is one of the only aspects of the game that impresses on any significant level. For as much fun as you can have in Rage 2, it still sadly comes off as a vast disappointment.
Depending on what you want from Rage 2, will determine what side of the camp you’ll occupy when it comes to the discussion of “is it good?” While I can answer that with a “yes”, it is an answer that comes with several caveats and some hesitation. I don’t discount the opinions of those who have found massive enjoyment in the title, I just disagree that the game is “great” from a total package point of view. Is the combat stellar? Yes, but as I’ve mentioned just previously, it is pretty much all that this sequel really has going for it.
You play as Walker, an orphaned soldier that gets caught up in the action when the evil Authority launches a full-scale assault on a Ranger base. The casualties are high and once the battle is done and dusted, you are then tasked with taking out their leader, General Cross. The overall campaign sits around the 8-hour mark but there is strangely very little story here despite the big setup and being introduced to its cast of characters. In fact, when one of my allies told me that I was preparing for the final battle, I assumed that the plan was about to go to sideways and I’d retreat back and lick my wounds, propelling the story forward and setting up a massive finale. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case. While it’s unclear exactly how many people are going to play Rage 2 for its story, those that are looking for a gripping narrative are not going to find one here. What story that is here is largely forgettable, featuring a cast of characters you’ll barely remember once the credits have rolled, not to mention one of the worst endings I’ve seen in years.
Rage 2, much like any open world wasteland, is built around small moments spread out across numerous settlements, bandit camps, and bite-size areas that are there to push you into combat. Whether that is side-checking another car as you boost down the road, or decimating bandits and mutants galore as you wield a vast array of weapons and special powers, you have a wide array of throwing down no matter the occasion. While that may sound fun, and it is usually is, it is the pacing between those moments where Rage 2 fails miserably. Much of the ad campaigns based around the game show an action packed spectacle, but fails to show the downtime that makes up much of the experience.
The overall gameplay loop present here is going to be repeated during each and every encounter. You will stumble across a base, whether it is something marked on your map as a quest, a bounty, or a location you’ve discovered all on your own, you will then proceed to kill everyone and everything in the camp and loot it for supplies. This is how you will take on every single location in the game. Once you’ve cleared a camp, you’ll then proceed to collect items and resources so you can move to the next location fully stocked and ready to go. This is where the pacing of flying around the camp blasting everything into bits comes to a screaming halt. Each encampment contains specialty chests, resources crates, ammo pickups, and data pads that help flesh out aspects of the story and lore.
Specialty chests contain cash and feltrite crystals needed to upgrade your character and purchase items from vendors. There are also chests that contain special upgrade tokens and I’ll discuss all the upgrade features later on. Each of these chest types is important and are fairly vital in enhancing your character and making them almost unstoppable. It’s just the scavenger hunt aspect of these chests that really slows down the moment to moment gameplay. While you can eventually gain access to a tracking beacon to locate these chests, it is still wildly vague to their whereabouts as you move halfway across the camp and don’t see the tracker offer up any change in distance. Had the tracker had an arrow, instead of a “warmer” and “colder” approach, then maybe this would have made it less tedious. Either way, tracking down these pink-lid chests is simply not fun in any regard.
Other items to track down in camps are resources like ammo and crystals. These are usually found in crates or specific ammo pickups you’ll find all over the camp. While you can shoot the crates to unlock their goodies, the melee aspect of destroying crates can be very hit and miss, even if you are directly above the crate itself. I checked online and even gaming critic Jim Sterling illustrates this problem in his Jimpressions video. This is further puzzling as your melee has quite the reach when using it against bandits and mutants, but somehow has next to no reach when used against a harmless crate. While I have small annoyances with the item shenanigans I’ve just mentioned, it’s the inability to auto-pickup ammo containers that makes no sense in a game that is built around speed and velocity as you urgently attempt to kill enemies and consume shield crystals to keep your health at maximum. The fact you have to stop and manually pick up ammo containers destroys much of the pacing the combat is built around. While smashing crates that contain ammo does automatically pick them up, it’s bizarre that specific ammo containers do not. Again, this is something I truly find baffling in a game that is sold on hyper fast killing.
As much of the gameplay loop is built around clearing enemy camps and robbing the place blind, it’s unfortunate that nearly every base is identical not just in function, but in looks. It is very rare for areas to feel distinct or handcrafted and often feel plopped down with no rhyme or reason. Now, to be fair, there is a small handful of locations that do have unique aspects to them, but these are very rare to stumble across. During the 15+ hours I sunk into the title, very few times did I ever feel like I walked into a handcrafted set piece. Even the enemies feel copy and pasted and apart from General Cross, and one other character, there just isn’t any engaging personalities to the opposing forces. Unlike a game like Borderlands, where there are numerous bad guys with engaging character moments, Rage 2 doesn’t really contain much in the way of bosses, apart from larger mutants that are surprisingly easy to defeat with little to no effort. You can encounter other larger mutants as well, should you discover them, but Rage 2 doesn’t have enemies that truly stand out. There are no special bandit camp bosses or mutant leaders that you’ll engage with, or anything resembling that. It really feels like a wasted opportunity to not add a touch of character or personality to a game that feels fun and energetic at its core.
This boredom in design translates to the town hubs as well as while you’ll have a few shops to peruse, they lack anyone really worth talking to. You’ll walk up to people with mostly silly names and hear their story that usually has you embark on a quest to “kill everything in the camp” or a bounty, which is still a “kill everything in the camp” loop, but no one here is interesting, even the NPC allies you’ll encounter. While some characters return from the first game, they don’t feel memorable or worthwhile, except for the most part, that of Antonin Kvasir, who does have a fair bit of fun dialogue, and a much bigger role to play here than the others. While I did enjoy the few moments I had with him, there just isn’t too much here to really make proper use of him or any of the other central characters. The story is so painfully thin that it’s rare you’ll interest with anyone more than 3 or 4 times.
Your own character, Walker, is largely disappointing as well, and never feels realized in ways they should be. You can choose to be either male or female, and considering the credits artwork is designed around the character being male, as well as the E3 reveal video stating Walker as a man, I wonder if the inclusion of a female playable character was included far later into development. While Walker has some personal connections with a few characters, I just didn’t feel like they were truly connected to anything that occurred around them. With Wolfenstein, you felt the struggle that BJ Blazkowicz was going through, and even in 2016’s Doom, you knew everything you needed to know from his actions. Here, Walker feels like a missed opportunity to be something special as well and join the ranks of truly memorable Bethesda heroes.
As I’ve mentioned, combat is where Rage 2 truly feels special and it is certainly the selling point most people are going to want to experience. Walker has a wide range of lethal options to choose from in the forms of traditional weapons, but also in their over the top superpowers. Weapons and powers are found all across the map and feature a tutorial to understand each and every addition. While some of these tutorials can feel patronizing, they let you get accustomed to a new weapon or power in a controlled environment. One of the weapons that you’ll want to unlock right from the start is the shotgun. This weapon is so effective that it can hard to even feel the need to use anything else. There are traditional rifles and rocket launchers that can be largely effective, or a magnum that has manual detonation rounds, or a grav dart launcher that can make for some entertaining kills, but I found myself really just alternating between two or three guns during my entire time with the game. While the wingstick was a fairly notable entry in the first game, I didn’t feel that Avalanche really put much care into the weapon this time around as it felt underpowered and just sort of “there”.
As you defeat the waves of enemies each camp will throw at you, you’ll be able to use your Overdrive ability, a rage-fueled burst of adrenaline that makes you an unstoppable killing machine. Your shots hit harder and you’ll be able to soak more damage while you have this mode triggered. Alongside your weaponry, you also have special superpowers like causing a shockwave to the ground that launches enemies into the air, or just simply ground them into paste. You can force push nearby enemies, double jump, toss out a bulletproof barrier, launch enemies into the air, and a few more tricks. The powers are largely effective and really add a chaotic charm alongside the gunplay, making every aspect of combat rewarding in nearly every way. Had the world been built a little more around the combat and been better focused in regards to the moments between combat, then Rage 2 could have been far more engaging more of the time.
Each weapon and power you can discover is spread out all across the map and in doing so, can make some of these additions feel largely wasted if you encounter them in the late game. I had already worked through 90% of the campaign before I even added the grav launcher to my arsenal or the portable barrier that can offer you a spot of cover in a pinch. Before I started the final mission, I made sure to track down each and every gun and power before my time with the game had come to an end. Some of these abilities can be largely useless when compared to others, and much like the guns, I usually opted to perform just a portion of what the game wanted from me, most of the time.
Much like in the first Rage, as well as Avalanche’s own Mad Max title, vehicle combat was rightfully entertaining and felt almost as satisfying as its gun-based combat. Here, in Rage 2, vehicle combat just doesn’t feel as good as it could, largely in part to painful vehicle handling. While there are a few cars that feel fast enough to use and offer up satisfying handling, they lack any weapons to gun down any opposing vehicles on the road. The cars that do have guns and the ability to blow things up, just lack any sort of solid controls that make the combat fun. I do enjoy the side-checking combat that is similar to 2009’s Vin Diesel fronted Wheelman game, but I just couldn’t get into Rage 2’s car combat at all. You do get an AI installed vehicle from the start, that you can upgrade, but it just isn’t enjoyable to drive. There are races to take part in, including one that is central to the story, but it’s the handling and turning of most vehicles that just doesn’t feel intuitive or engaging. The vehicle combat in Mad Max, was one of my favorite aspects of the game and felt enjoyable, here, I rarely engaged with any enemy forces at all and often chose to fly around in the Icarus, a flying vehicle that can cover great distances in a heartbeat, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t show up on the radar after you leave it to storm a base, unlike your main vehicle which will always show up on the radar.
Apart from combat, one of Rage 2’s better qualities is in its upgrade system. Weapons, abilities, and personal stats can be upgraded with the feltrite you pick up all around you, as well as upgrade tokens based around what you’re upgrading. Each weapon can see upgrades that increase fire rate, damage to armor, increased range, as well as a mastery skill exclusive to that weapon. There are also projects that are based around the allies you’ll make during the story that add effects like enhancing the overdrive system, sprinting faster, carrying more ammo, or earning more cash as you open containers. Each ally has their own category filled with various skills to unlock that will make you considerably more lethal the more you upgrade. The abilities you unlock, which are called Nanotrites, can also be upgraded to make them more effective. This includes improving your double jump, having more health when using the defibrillator, increasing the amount of bullets you can soak up, and more. While I feel the upgrade system is a nice touch and does add to the overall game, the menu system is incredibly slow when tabbing between each option.
Visually, Rage 2 is a mixed bag. Environments look decent, but the title fails to impress on the level of a AAA title. Any and all character models look largely dated, and apart from splashes of neon paint here and there, the game can often look quite bland. Playing on the Xbox One X, Rage 2 is locked at 60 fps but does so with the resolution being set to 1080p, with no 4K option available. Being this late into the generation and Rage 2 not offering many complex environments, this is a shame. Now, don’t get me wrong, Rage 2 does aesthetically look good, it just doesn’t scream high fidelity visuals. From an audio standpoint, the game can be very quiet during the moments between combat, especially given that Andrew WK was used to promote the chaotic energy we expected out of the title. When you are driving from destination to destination, all you hear is the sound of the engine, had Bethesda included a radio station to offer us up music, or even Andrew WK as a DJ within the game, it could have made the long drives more satisfying instead of the void of a static engine sound.
I’ve talked with friends and have also read several reviews regarding Rage 2 and it certainly feels like the game is divisive among its player base. While I do have several issues with much of its overall design, Rage 2 can still be fun to play. I still believe that much of its advertising and build-up was based around a game that felt more energetic and full of life than what we ended up with. Towns are largely boring, environments feel procedurally generated, and the vehicle handling just doesn’t feel satisfying, apart from one or two vehicles that unfortunately lack any weapons to make them viable for combat. Rage 2 has a good foundation for combat but sadly disappoints in nearly every other category. I really wanted to love Rage 2, but the title makes too many odd choices and doesn’t quite feel like much of it fits together. For a game that is advertised with a balls-to-the-wall personality, it lacks anything of the sort.
Rage 2 was purchased by the reviewer and played on an Xbox One X.
All screenshots were taken on an Xbox One X.