Post-apocalypse is potentially an incredibly rich setting. The world could end in so many delightfully varied ways that to keep returning to the same blasted desert wasteland seems like a missed opportunity. That said, we’ve had countless excellent games and other media that have taken this setting as a jumping-off point. Fallout, Mad Max, Wasteland…there are plenty of ways to experience the sandy hellscape of a world destroyed by humanity’s hubris.
Back in 2011, Bethesda and id Software added RAGE to this ever-expanding list. RAGE took games like Fallout and Borderlands as its starting point and combined their backwater settings with id Software’s mastery of the first-person shooter genre. While the original RAGE wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, it was a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to its cathartic gunplay and incredibly well-realised animations. Fast-forward to 2019 and a sequel, RAGE 2, darkens the doors of our little post-apocalyptic wasteland community.
RAGE 2 takes place thirty years after the conclusion of the first game. Protagonist Walker is a ranger (send Chuck Norris jokes on a postcard, please) who’s attacked and robbed by the sinister Authority. Walker sets out to seek revenge on the Authority and take down their regime. Along the way, Walker will encounter a number of colourful wasteland characters, many of whom will have interesting, unique jobs to give him in exchange for rewards.
At least, that’s the theory. RAGE 2 so wants to have a world as compelling and interesting as that of a Fallout game, but it falls flat. The characters here just aren’t particularly compelling, and a sense of place is never really built by the game. Visually, it’s gorgeous, as one would expect from the id Tech engine. The action is smooth and crisp, and animations are absolutely top-notch. Unfortunately, the narrative and characters just don’t pop like they should.
That’s a criticism one can extend to the open world itself, too. RAGE 2 places more of an emphasis on the sandbox nature of its world than the first game did. There are distinct and diverse biomes to explore now, including swampy marshlands and cities overrun by vegetation. The game’s world contains numerous sidequests and diversions for Walker to complete, each of which is either expanded from the original game or entirely new. It’s unquestionably a more beautiful and interesting world than the first RAGE had.
Sadly, it’s let down by none of the activities feeling particularly interesting. RAGE 2 falls straight into the typical pitfalls of an over-budgeted sandbox game, with plenty of diversions and distractions that don’t feel weighted and quickly become repetitive. It’s unfortunate that RAGE 2’s closest comparison point to Mad Max is in the latter’s insistence on samey side-missions. That is, of course, when you can find them. Activities in RAGE 2 feel few and far between, and what’s between is just endless expanses of vast, samey desert.
There is, however, one string to RAGE 2’s violent post-apocalyptic bow, and that’s the combat. Those who like more tactical or thoughtful shooters should stay far away from RAGE 2, as this is an adrenaline-soaked murder spree right down to the final minute. The devs here are the creators of DOOM and Quake, so one should expect the typical id Software brand of high-octane shooting to be present. What’s surprising is just how great the combat in RAGE 2 actually feels.
Partly, this is down to the sheer visceral kick of the guns. The shotgun in particular feels and sounds like divine thunder from on high, and the feedback you’ll get from it goes beyond mere controller vibrations. Each gun in RAGE 2 feels like it was created by a different development team, each of whom was focused only on crafting that gun. Bandit dens are a joy to clear out thanks to this frenetic combat, which also implements projectiles and extra elements like wingsticks with aplomb.
There’s also a new ability system courtesy of Nanotrite. These are the game’s equivalent of superpowers and can be unlocked by finding Ark Pods around the game world (one of the few examples of ways in which RAGE 2 motivates players to explore). Some of them – a dash, a knockback, the ability to see enemies through walls – are fairly pedestrian. Others, like the Slam power, make RAGE 2 come to life and show us the game it was always meant to be. The higher you jump from with Slam, the more powerful your attack will be, leading to ridiculous Thor-style sequences in which you bring your hammer of retribution down on the heads of unsuspecting bandits from the skies.
RAGE 2 doesn’t have a whole lot to offer on the open-world front, and one wonders why it wasn’t just a linear level-based shooter like its stablemates DOOM and Wolfenstein. A more focused and narrow approach would have benefited the excellent shooting on display here massively. As it stands, RAGE 2 is more than worth experiencing for the combat alone. It’s just not much fun to explore its world, which is sad considering how much effort has gone into vehicular combat this time around. Come for the combat, stay for the campaign, leave before the fatigue sets in.