The Good: Electric, neon infused environment. Explosive FPS. Solid voice work.
The Bad: I’m at a loss to point to some specific moment as memorable.
The Ugly: Enemy AI is far from the sharpest knife in the drawer.
I seem to recall when talking to my friends about Rage, the 2011 post-apocalyptic FPS/driving/RPG from Id, that I seemed to be the only one who liked it. They complained about the overall lack of plot. They complained about the redundancy of the missions. They complained about how the whole thing seemed like a demo for something larger and greater that never came along. And I admit they were right about all of that, but somehow the visceral quality of the driving combat and the setting and the FPS elements all worked for me (even as I admitted that if felt too short). I’ll add that as a guy who is really into the vehicle combat game space, I find that it’s woefully underserved IMO. So, it’s been eight years, and here we have Rage 2, bigger, more plotier, with more quests. But in those eight years we’ve also come to expect a lot more of our open world games, and much of the world of Rage 2, despite the interesting neon grittiness of the wasteland, ends up being unmemorable. Couple this with some seriously not-best-in-class enemy AI, and the result is a combination of slow bits and middling bits with darned few high points mixed in.
The world of Rage 2 (and Rage 1) is post-apocalyptic, in this instance due to a meteor strike. What’s left in the aftermath is a Mad Max diorama inhabited by gangs, bandits, and mutants, and a totalitarian group known as the Authority. All of this was back in the first Rage, but somewhere between the thin plot and the intervening years I’ve forgotten essentially everything but the meteor. Rage 2 picks up some years later, where in the aftermath of a battle with the Authority, which I remember more or less nothing about, the Authority has risen again. You play as a ranger (sort of a wasteland knight) who must run around doing missions for people to build up a weapon known as the Dagger to defeat the Authority. To give credit where credit is due, the game does a nice job of letting you get right down to the open worldness, allowing you to either get on the plot train or just start driving around and seeing what you find. The wasteland is chock full of small towns and bandit hideouts, roadblocks, and arks (pre-apocalyptic buildings holding advanced technology), which you can choose to explore in any open-world order you wish. Things like bandit hideouts have a difficulty rating from one to ten skulls, and this is where I ran into my first problem.
Early on my character is relatively low level, meaning I haven’t augmented my weapons or my car or myself (you have a bunch of nanite-infused powers you can use in combat – more on all that in a moment), so by nature I avoid high level bandit strongholds figuring they’ll be too difficult. But after mowing through a slew of one and two skull places, I come across a seven, so I figure what the hell. I attack at range – my machinegun remains pretty accurate at range – and pick off dozens of bandits who, armed with scatterguns, are very ineffective at range. That gets kind of boring, so I circle the encampment and find a hole in the wall. On the other side of that wall are another dozen or so bandits, and at short range they’re brutal, so back out through the hole, and they helpfully come out one or two at a time to die. Then I enter the town and find the boss bandit, who in this case are two guys walking around lobbing grenades while hiding behind giant, bulletproof shields. You would think this would be a big challenge, but they simple don’t maneuver well through the camp – they get caught on catwalks and wall openings and general debris – and I pick them off with ease. This is only an example, but more often than not battles are easier than they should be simply because the enemy AI isn’t equipped to handle the environment. In fact, only in wide open combat spaces does the enemy really seem capable of putting up a fight. One could argue that by playing on normal difficulty, that I could select a higher difficulty level, but I’m not looking for an enemy with more hit points and weapons that do more damage – I’m looking for a smarter enemy, and it looks like I’m not going to find it here.
As I’ve mentioned, the game throws in a lot of upgradable, RPG elements. You can find chips and crystals in the arks and scattered around the wasteland that can be used to purchase upgrades. These can be weapon upgrades (more power, bigger clips, faster reloads, lower recoil, and that kind of thing), vehicle upgrades (new styles, more armor, better weapons, shields and such), or upgrades for you and your nanite capabilities (jumps, dash, melee strikes). Some of these upgrades are locked until you complete certain missions, but most only require you to expend the technology points when you have them. You can also craft certain ammunition and explosive ordinance from scrap you find lying around in the wasteland. All of this stuff gives you a fair amount of room to customize the character to your play style, but often to me it felt like it made what seems like an easy game even easier.
There are some neat, quirky characters around (pretty much all awful people, but that doesn’t make them uninteresting), very good voice work, and the wasteland has seemingly endless bandit hideouts, caves, ruins, and other things to explore. Vehicle combat is explode-y. FPS combat is flashy, and very gory. My first impression overall was if Borderlands and Doom had a baby. However, as you roam more, kill more things, you quickly come to realize that there are no standout moments. I played almost all of last weekend, and just stopped playing an hour ago, and I have no specific memory of any of it. Some driving, some shooting. I can hardly recall the boss battles except the ones that stood out as awful. Come to think of it, beyond general feelings that I liked it, I have no memories of Rage 1 either. And that’s Rage 2 in a nutshell: good enough, not great, entirely forgettable.
Reviewed By: Phil Soletsky
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
This review is based on a digital copy of Rage 2 for the PC provided by Bethesda Softworks.