America - Front
America - Back
By Evan Norris 22nd May 2019 | 1,349 views
RAGE 2 is perfect proof that not all games need to be open world. Featuring crisp shooting mechanics and strong moment-to-moment gameplay, it's a title ideal for narrow corridors and small sandboxes. Yet RAGE 2, like so many marquee "AAA" games, goes the open world route, layering over its kinetic close-quarters action a lot of slower-moving, less engaging features: a vast, mostly empty landscape; complex upgrade paths; and long-winded world-building. Ultimately it's a fast-moving corridor shooter trapped in a plodding open-air adventure.
Set 30 years after the original RAGE, RAGE 2 takes place in the same post-apocalyptic wasteland. There are some narrative threads between the two installments, but you can certainly appreciate the story here without doing any extracurricular research. Basically, an asteroid called Apophis collided with Earth, ending human civilization. From the ashes emerged several enclaves of primitive society and wide swaths of lawless terrain, ruled by mutants, bandits, or other tribes. The principal enemy, however, is The Authority, a totalitarian organization run by madman General Cross. When Authority troops storm Vineland, a beacon of human independence, and kill most of its inhabitants, a soldier names Walker stands up to kill Cross once and for all.
The story in RAGE 2 is one of the game's weaker pieces. Walker is a vanilla protagonist, General Cross is a stereotypically-evil villain, and the plot, minus a few surprising or fun diversions, doesn't deliver many memorable moments. None of the game's many loquacious NPCs are especially notable, either. The writers behind the game have made a valiant effort to recreate the atmosphere of a world gone mad—something akin to Mad Max or BioShock—but the end result feels like a faded photocopy.
When the game forgets about storytelling or world-building and focuses on action, it's incredible. The moment-to-moment gameplay in RAGE 2 is some of the best of the year—better, arguably, than 2016's DOOM, another creation of co-developer id Software. Shooting is snappy and impactful, player movement is smooth and unrestrained, and "nanotrite" powers serve as powerful punctuation against the myriad baddies of the wasteland. The whole thing is wrapped up with a combo meter that fills as you defeat enemies and multiplies based on chained kills, prompting players to play aggressively. When the combo meter fills, Walker can unleash Overdrive, where guns do more damage, enemies drop more loot, and Walker's health regenerates. Overall, there's a beautiful rhythm to the shoot-outs in RAGE 2.
Making combat possible are some fine weapons, including a "smart" rocket launcher, the iconic wingstick, and one of the most enjoyable shotguns in first-person shooting history. The RAGE 2 shotgun is a work of art, thanks to its dual firing modes. Shooting from the hip will spray a traditional blast of pellets, but by aiming down the sights, the pellets fuse into a single, solid slug that deals devastating damage to a single enemy.
While id's contribution to the game is fantastic, the open world—courtesy of co-developer Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max)—is less successful. The wasteland is a mostly-empty collection of roads, ravines, plains, and mountains, without much of anything to do in the space between settlements and bandit camps. There are several different biomes, which provide some much-needed ecological diversity, but each is structurally the same: a few dots of civilization, connected by winding roads. It's representational of the post-apocalyptic setting, sure, but it's not much fun to explore.
There are some good things, though, that bring a mostly inert game world to life. These include roaming convoys, which take advantage of some very fun vehicular combat (Avalanche's work in Mad Max pays dividends here), and special events like a Feltrite meteor crashing to Earth.
The larger problem is that RAGE 2 wants to be a fast and furious shooter, but all too often the demands of the open world slow things down. You'll need to drive miles to get to a point of interest, or listen to a history lesson before starting a mission, or spend ages deciphering the currencies and upgrade trees in the character menu. When you actually arrive at a claustrophobic mutant nest or a bustling bandit camp, the gunplay opportunities are great. Too often, though, the game throws up roadblocks (sometimes literally) to those opportunities. Some games benefit from huge environments, RPG elements, and deep mythologies; RAGE 2 is not one of those games.
Graphically, RAGE 2 more than carries its weight. Its draw distance, textures, lighting, and physics are solid, and its neon pink accents go a long way toward interrupting the normally dusty, brown landscape. The game also boasts a bunch of fun visual flairs, like glitch effects when nanotrite powers are activated or red skulls when an enemy is dispatched, and plenty of entertaining explosions. Sound effects, particularly for guns, are great, but voice acting is uneven.
RAGE 2 has all the ingredients to be a worthwhile, maybe even superior, successor to DOOM (2016). Regrettably, its best features—shooting mechanics, player movement, the aggressive flow of combat—are diminished by a lifeless open world, a forgettable story, and some superfluous systems. With a narrower scope and more linear action, it could probably contend for game-of-the-year. As is, it's a serviceable sandbox shooter with wasted potential.