“Who here played Rage?” Tim Willits asked before running through the preamble for our time with Rage 2. I sort of raised my hand and waved it around a bit. Why? Because if memory serves, I only got about four hours in before I wandered off to play other things. It’s not that I didn’t want to like Rage – I have a soft spot for major games announced at old Apple press conferences and the tech certainly looked impressive – it’s just that I wasn’t hugely engaged by it.
Rage 2 is Rage, but with a zanier story and characters, with faster paced combat, and with colours and environments that aren’t just different shades of brown.
The Authority is back in town, having been thought destroyed thirty years ago in the first game. With Arks now popping up and factions of the wasteland fighting to try and get access to the nanotrite goodies within, they’re a rather unwanted distraction, and yet they loom like a bear in the distance in the early slice of the game we got to play. Instead it’s their Donald Trump-shaped puppet of a reality TV tycoon that gets to take centre stage – apparently this is not meant as a political statement and was conceived prior to Trump’s run for president. Sure thing, Bethesda.
With the Mayor of Wellspring having been attacked by Klegg Clayton’s goons, you’re tasked with trying to get an audience with him to plant a bug, but that first requires that you win on the Mutant Bash TV, first on the race track and then fighting waves of mutants. Walker gets to play the straight man to the nonsense around him, with the salacious and wrinkled old TV host and her dancing gimps eliciting an appropriately bemused response from him. When so many games still give you a silent protagonist, it’s kind of refreshing to have a character that easily echoes your own thoughts.
The game really shines in combat. Put in the right hands, the array of weapons and nanotrite abilities can lead to a breathtaking amount of carnage. The way that abilities can be chained together, so that a dash adds the momentum of the sudden burst of speed into the Shatter attack that you follow it with, sending enemies flying through the sky. It’s impressive to watch someone that knows what they’re doing stringing all of this together, and I’m reminded of those people that can simply blaze a trail through the battles and arenas of Wolfenstein and Doom. There is absolutely that modern id Software and MachineGames style to the combat here.
The controls do take a little getting used to. All of your Nanotrite abilities are exposed through pressing a bumper button and then combining it with a face button or push on the analogue stick. Sometimes you want to hold the bumper, other times you want to push it in quickly, and it requires a degree of dexterity that initially had me having to think far too much about what I was doing. Regular running and gunning seemed to work pretty well too, especially with all of the weapons having a secondary fire.
There’s the Hyper-Cannon railgun, which has a basic fire and a charge shot, or the Firestorm Revolver, where you can shoot away at an enemy before detonating the bullets later. They work well in tandem with the gadgets like the returning homing Wingstick, a shield wall that you can throw down as a temporary barricade, or a vortex grenade that sucks everything nearby in and the spits it up to float in the air. Everything stacks, so that vortex grenade might be great when thrown into a mass of enemies, letting you pick them off while they’re helpless, but maybe you’d prefer to use it to launch yourself up into the air, so that your Ground Slam deals extra damage?
When there’s so many layers to the combat, simply getting around the world lacks the same kind of adrenaline pumping action. It’s not that it’s bad, and the handling and third person racing is engaging enough for the racing, but with this demo set in the dusty brown wasteland around Wellspring – and it is still predominantly a dusty brown, despite using the sky to cast numerous hues across it – it’s not hugely engaging. That’s not really that big a criticism, when other open world shooters also have largely perfunctory vehicles, but simply getting from A-B lets your heart rate settle and we didn’t get to tackle one of the open world scenarios built for vehicular combat.
Your standard vehicle is The Phoenix, equipped with miniguns and rockets that fire in an arc to the front, but you can hijack enemy vehicles as well, with the best that I found being a truck with a tank cannon on it that just spat out explosions. That is a fun vehicle, and I rather enjoyed driving for a few minutes to my next location while simply making screen-shaking explosions happen.
There’s plenty of side-content to find in the world, such as gang outposts, rival faction squabbling around some of their crashed vehicles, or the sudden appearance of Authority airships that drop huge automated cannons to hound you as you hurry past them and out of range. Most interesting are the battles that spring up whenever a new Ark appears, with the factions bringing their best and slugging it out. They do gradually whittle themselves down, if you want to sit off to a side and watch, and don’t simply spot you and put their differences aside to fight you. I wish more games behaved like that.
Still, I really want to see more of the world that Rage 2 promises us. What I played still feels like an environment that we’ve visited on a few too many occasions over the years, and that’s just looking at Bethesda’s catalogue of games. I want to see and play in the different biomes that bring different tones and colours to the game in a more meaningful and engaging way.
And so we come to one of the elephants in the room: Avalanche Studios and their Apex Engine do not have a particularly good track record on modern consoles thanks to the most recent entries in the Just Cause series. When we posed the question to Tim Willits – catch the full interview here – and he explained that the game would be 1080p30 on base consoles, while the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X would be pushing for 60fps instead of higher resolutions. There’s still a few months of optimisation left for the game, but Rage 2 simply tries to do an awful lot less than Just Cause 4 and should hold up much better because of it. Still, I was playing on PC.
Rage 2 is a curious game. I don’t think many would have earmarked the original for a sequel, but here we are and id and Avalanche are making good strides to make this the game that the original should have been. There’s still one foot in the past with the Wasteland that you start in, but around it they’ve thrown in some barmy new vehicles, more over the top characters, and combat that’s fast-paced and slick enough to live up to id software’s name.