Fast paced FPS action, set in an open world.
- Developer: id Software / Avalanche Studios
- Publisher: Bethesda
- Genre: Open World FPS
- Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation, PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
I was a fan of Rage when it first released on the Xbox 360. The story may not have been memorable, and the disappointment at discovering the second disk contained a scant few hours of content was real, but the gameplay while in the mission areas was electrifying. Drawing from id Software’s notable pedigree in first person shooters the combat was smooth, violent and oh so satisfying. The big question is, has bringing in Avalanche Studios (Just Cause 4, Mad Max) helped to bring life to what was a largely empty open world between the missions?
We begin our journey into the wasteland by selecting our character. Nothing exciting here, you just choose the male or female character, with no customisation, although seeing as this game is played in first person for the most part, it’s largely irrelevant and the main difference will be your character’s voice.
You play as Walker, who after acquiring a dead soldiers uniform finds himself promoted into the ranks of the Rangers – an elite band of warriors. When Walker’s adopted ‘mother’ is brutally murdered by the leader of the Authority (the game’s antagonist General Cross), he sets out on a quest for justice. You are tasked with making allies with three of the wasteland leaders, performing quests and completing side missions to advance the story until you are ready to take down Cross and destroy The Authority. The story, while largely forgettable, is unobtrusive and serves as a perfunctory motivation that leads you into the most fun part of the game, shooting stuff.
The first thing that came to mind when starting this game was how much it reminded me of Doom (2016). Straight away it becomes clear that the best way to make progress is to run and gun your way through the enemies, a tactic made all the more necessary in that enemies drop feltrite crystals when killed, which will replenish a small amount of health (similar to glory kills in Doom) but you have to get them fast, as they disappear after a short time. It’s a simple system but it keeps the action moving and makes for a welcome break from the cover based gameplay that many recent games have adopted.
The game is set in the not too distant future, and the planet is a barren wasteland following a strike from an asteroid a century ago. The towns are sparse and a fair distance apart, so you will be reliant on one of numerous vehicles available to you if you want to make any meaningful progress across the world. Fortunately the vehicles are plentiful and several are fitted with weapons, making light work of travelling around the reasonable sized map, it’s just a shame more effort wasn’t put into the handling. Bumping over obstacles can all too easily flip or spin your vehicle, causing frustration when you are just trying to get to your next objective.
Your starter vehicle is the Phoenix and it can be upgraded with feltrite and auto parts. It comes with machine guns and can have 20mm cannons, a homing launcher (good for taking out other vehicles) and a mortar added, making it a powerful weapon in its own right. Vehicles don’t have an auto repair, but can easily be fixed by standing and looking at the front and holding LB. Pretty much any vehicle you find can be driven and, after returning them to one of the hub sites, can be called out to you while you are wandering around. One of the most useful vehicles is the gyrocopter, which can make travelling the often long distances between objectives a breeze compared to finding a way up and over some difficult to navigate terrain.
The main goal of the story is to assist the three faction leaders by completing a few story missions and completing side activities (of which different types provide levelling for the different allies), before taking the fight to General Cross and stopping the Authority from ravaging the planet.
Story missions, while great fun, are simplistic (little more than glorified fetch quests) and not very numerous but there’s a decent amount of side content to get through, with bandit dens to raid, race events to complete, sentry towers to destroy and Crusher Nests to clear out (home to some big nasty SOB’s). While this adds a decent amount of extra content, it can become repetitive, especially once you come across your fourth or fifth almost identical fuel station for example. I found the majority of the content I experienced to be fun although I would have preferred they put a bit more effort in coming up with unique missions rather than relying on these activities to pad the content.
There are 6 main regions, each providing a different terrain to keep things interesting, ranging from the arid desert of Dune Sea, to the swamps of Sekreto Wetlands and the jungles of The Wilds. Finding activities in these areas can be done by simple exploration, or you can receive information from NPC’s in the hub worlds that will mark some of these on your map (undiscovered activities are marked with a ‘?’). Unfortunately there isn’t much to inspire you to explore, as much of the map is sparse and many places are simply uninteresting to look at.
Locations you discover are added to your map, and to clear the locations you need to complete the main objectives listed and also collect any storage containers. These storage containers can be hard to find but are worth it for the cash and crystals they contain. You can unlock a perk to help locate them although a better visual clue to their locations would have helped as it took me longer than I would have liked to find some.
Controls are set up in a way that’s instantly accessible to anyone familiar with FPS games, with movement being swift and responsive. Navigating the environments is fluid and fun and although there are still occasional obstacles you can’t pass that it feels like you should be able to. Running, jumping and climbing feels natural and makes manoeuvring round the areas a breeze, especially once you unlock and upgrade grav-jump (double jump) and the dash nanotrite. Autoaim is quite strong which is helpful given the pace of combat but it doesn’t feel intrusive.
Weapons pack a serious punch – even your starting pistol feels like it can do some real damage. Unlike many games these weapons have to be discovered, with the Arks being the only place to find them. Of the 9 weapons available to you, the shotgun was my favourite, given the frantic nature of the gunplay and tight confines many battles take place in. If you have to absolutely, positively, kill every mother f***er in the room… accept no substitutes.
All of the weapons can be upgraded with weapon cores, which you can find in Ark Chests and purchase from vendors. Upgrades include things like rate of fire improvements, magazine capacity upgrades and armour breaker rounds. In addition to your main weapons, you also have your wingstick (a boomerang like thrown weapon, which can return to you but in my experience was very hit and miss, possibly related to my propensity to hit and miss in equal quantities), hand grenades and later in the game a turret drone – all of which can be upgraded.
Chaining kills in quick succession and utilising abilities builds up your overdrive combo meter, which when activated turns you into a one man mutant smashing machine, recovering some health and transforming your equipped weapon into a death dealing instrument of destruction. Building combos quickly so you can activate Overdrive frequently is crucial on the harder difficulties. It can take a little time to adapt to the combat style, especially if you have played a lot of cover shooters recently, but once you get the hang of things you will feel like a wasteland God.
As you progress you will unlock new abilities, called Nanotrites, which you can find in the numerous Arks dotted around the map. Abilities include a dash move that can be used to dodge enemy attacks and cross larger gaps, and Slam, that propels you into the air to come crashing down, dealing massive damage to anyone caught underneath. Powerful and entertaining, these abilities have a short recharge timer so they don’t make combat too easy but they are a welcome addition alongside your regular weapons and make encounters memorable
Enemy types are varied and numerous, with various mutants and human foes to overcome ranging from regular sized humans all the way up to towering behemoths. Although the method of killing them essentially boils down to running around maniacally and blasting everything that moves with extreme prejudice, it’s brutal, satisfying and a hell of a lot of fun.
While the game does a good job of depicting a moody, sombre, ruined and gritty post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore, it’s interspersed with a lot of colour and shining neon. While some of the areas may be a little dull the mission locations are well realised and make for a good backdrop to the killing. Lighting and shadows are used to good effect and the day / night cycle can provide some beautiful landscapes at times.
There is a large dose of bright pink, that serves not only to set Rage 2 apart from other more serious wasteland offerings but also as a tool for depicting items of interest like collectibles and ammo pickups, and also as a means of guiding progression (similar to The Division and its use of yellow), with ladders, climbable scenery and switches daubed in gaudy pink.
On the Xbox One X it is smooth, bright, colourful (despite the amount of brown/beige) and even in the most hectic scenes stays true to its 60fps target. I would have liked the option to play in 4k, as some objects look a little muddied and blurry in 1080p but there’s no doubt that running at a higher frame rate is advantageous given the speed and intensity of the gameplay. Despite the lack of higher resolution the level of detail is still ok, but although character models are good, the post-apocalyptic setting shouldn’t be an excuse to not really put in anything interesting to look at. There is evidence of some assets being reused and I encountered a couple of instances of scenery pop-in while playing but only when travelling at high speed in my vehicle through densely populated areas. Menus are slow to respond which is frustrating, and should have been polished a bit better.
In combat, the audio is raucous. Heavy synths pound alongside the thunder of your weapons as you plow your way through enemies, and it’s a visceral accompaniment to the adrenaline soaked action which I found very reminiscent of Doom. NPC characters are generally well voice-acted and are well suited to their in-game avatars, even if they are bland and clichéd. Outside of combat, ambient sound is subtle but well balanced, with engine noise, footsteps and incidental effects all present, even if they aren’t particularly impressive.
Rage 2 has kept the fast paced and exciting combat of its forebear, while managing to provide a lot more content to get through. It’s just a shame that a lot of it is so repetitive. The intense, fast paced gunplay may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s very well crafted and provides all the tools for lots of destructive enjoyment. An enjoyable romp but one that feels like it has missed the opportunity to reach its full potential and if it wasn’t for the exceptional shooting mechanics it would be hard to recommend this game.