If Rage 2 does one thing, it showcases Bethesda’s obvious penchant for trolling its fans. “Here’s a sequel to one of id Software’s most forgettable games. LOL!” they might say. “You didn’t really want that new Elder Scrolls game this year did you?” they could add. Way back in 2011, Rage boasted a mostly brown faux open-world, gruff allies and enemies, and you tootled about in clunky vehicles from one location to another. As with all id games though it boasted some seriously engaging gunplay that allowed you to turn mutants into soggy red bits, and who doesn’t like doing that?
Following the events of the first game which saw life being restored to the Earth, bad guys The Authority are not happy that the world wasn’t remade in their image and they’re intent on setting that right. Led by the now mostly cybernetic General Cross – he’s a damaged clone to boot – their mutated mutant creatures provide some grotesque cannon fodder to unleash yourself upon alongside the Mohican sporting bandits and the regular muties.
Playing the first game is by no means essential since the opening cinematic covers all of the major points, but returning players may get a kick out of seeing how some of the key locations have changed or meeting up with a few recognisable faces or their family members along the way. It’s a story that covers the futuristic wasteland basics, but you probably won’t be tearing up or falling in love with any of it unless you’re a little bit odd.
Though all of the marketing in the run-up to Rage 2 seemed to indicate that it was going to a laugh a minute riot, the reality is that it’s still a relatively gruff post-apocalyptic tale populated with a bunch of gross, dirty, sweary, angry folk who mostly just want to survive and probably have a drink along the way. There’s very little of the quipping that the Borderlands games fire out at you, so it feels a little like it’s been mis-sold. Fortunately Rage 2 has plenty of other elements that’ll have you smiling maniacally at any number of points.
The Arks are how humanity survived the meteor that decimated the Earth, and they’re just as valuable to you now as they were back then. Hidden within you’ll find Ark weapons and Nanotrite abilities that’ll turn you into an even more effective killing machine, while there’s smaller Ark chests out and about in the world as well which are no less important. You might start off as a fairly ordinary super soldier, but you’ll soon be dashing, double-jumping and ground slamming like you’re a superhero.
There are some more unique abilities, like the kinetic Shatter that lets you strip the armour from enemies with a blast from your hand and the return of the self-reviving Defibrillator mini-game from the first game, but largely there’s nothing that you haven’t seen in Destiny or Borderlands over the past few years.
Rage 2 feels utterly fantastic though. With that id Software heritage that shouldn’t be all that surprising, even if the main developers were Avalanche Studios. The shotguns feel as brilliant and fun as you’d expect, but even the regular pistol feels like you’re trying to manhandle an angry donkey every time you fire it. The weaponry you collect gives you progressively more outrageous ways to turn your enemies into red mush, and it’s clear that id’s influence is strongest here. That said, I found it hard to give up on the amazingly brutal shotgun, especially once I’d levelled it up to make it even more vicious.
You can tailor each weapon to your playstyle, with unlocks that grant specific boons as you go, so if you’ve got something you love you can make it even better. Forget the story, it’s the guns you’ll be falling in love with. If you cause enough mayhem with them you can enter into Overdrive mode, with a psychadelic mist descending that lets you rip a swathe of violence through anything silly enough to stand in your way.
The world of Rage 2 looks great, from the dusty plains through to the burgeoning forests and wetlands, interspersed as they are with makeshift stockades and ruined buildings. Performance on PS4 Pro is at times less than stellar though, with regular pop-in and a few moments of slowdown that might annoy some, despite having little impact at all on the gameplay.
Whatever they might look like, the world and the missions of Rage 2 are basically one giant upgrade tree, with every action and area geared towards beefing you up for the game’s grand finale. It doesn’t feel forced, the characters and the storytelling flow nicely into it, but if you’re aware of such things it might pull you out of the experience a little bit. Four of the central characters provide bespoke upgrade trees via Projects and as you take back control or perform actions within their particular areas you’ll gain a boost with them.
A big part of Rage 2’s open world exploration is done with two hands on a steering wheel. There’s plenty of vehicles that you can drive, but Phoenix is your female Knight Rider-esque companion out in the wasteland. She’ll have a little natter to you, as well as allow you to decimate the various types of scum with gatling guns, rocket launchers or her front bumper. Even cooler is the fact that you can recharge her health with the energy from your Ranger suit, so you should be able to keep her rolling for a very long time if you’re not too gung-ho. If you do have a mishap you can drive anything that still has wheels though, and you can subsequently fill your garage with an array of ugly Mad Max’ed-up vehicles that’ll at least keep things a little fresher.
The exploration is just a bit underwhelming though. There’s a huge open world, and it looks suitably apocalyptic, but the majority of vehicles aren’t overly exciting for getting around in. Even the baseline Phoenix might as well be the Mako from Mass Effect Andromeda, so it often feels like the driving is just a means of getting from A to B. This is where Rage 2 feels closest to its predecessor, and that’s despite the original Rage’s glorified corridors that funnelled you everywhere. There’s an open world here, but I didn’t feel much like really exploring it. New locations will pop up as you drive to each objective anyway, so it becomes much easier to follow the purple arrows from one to another rather than think for yourself, especially when the mileage markers are pretty useless to navigate by.
It’s a shame since Avalanche are arguably the best team out there for making getting around an open world outrageous fun, but where Just Cause gave you every possible means to do so, Rage 2’s world feels staid and workmanlike. It’s not bad by any means, but I was expecting more, especially when the game has been sold on its wild and chaotic vibe.
There are moments on foot where it doesn’t quite hang together either. You’ll engage in some of the most rip-roaring gun battles of the last few years as you clear out a bandit settlement, before then lolloping round it like a happy but confused dog that knows there’s a treat somewhere. Battles are punctuated by fifteen minutes of trying to find a chest that might have something good in it, but for whatever reason the areas just don’t flow for looting. Maybe the team just got too good at hiding things? After covering the same ground for the umpteenth time, I mostly decided to get back in my car and head off to do something more exciting. You can find upgrades that help you locate these things later in the game, but by the time you get to them they’re only good for mopping up the remains.