It’s often said that a strong 30-second core gameplay loop can be enough to help a game ascend to greatness, no matter how flawed it is otherwise. RAGE 2 both proves and disproves that argument. At the core of this game lies some of the best, most adrenaline-fuelled first person shooter combat you will ever experience, and that core is so ridiculously strong, I found myself willing to accept and deal with the game’s numerous issues just so I could push forward and get another dose of that combat. But at the same time, whenever I had the room and time to look at everything in RAGE 2 that surrounds that combat, I found that there isn’t much else to like, let alone enjoy.
To RAGE 2’s credit, it makes no attempts to pretend it’s anything more than a mindless shooter- and mindless by no means has any negative connotations here, especially in light of how fun it is in this particular case. From the narrative setup to the way the story plays out to the characters you meet and everything else, RAGE 2 treats everything other than its gunplay with a blatantly dismissive attitude. Compared to all the shooting, none of that stuff is important. That’s an impression I got throughout my time with the game, and I got that impression on a constant basis because RAGE 2 went out of its way to keep selling me on that one philosophy- it’s all about the carnage. Nothing else matters.
In terms of combat, RAGE 2 feels very much like an id Software game. That trademark frantic and fast-paced style of gunplay is on full display here, and makes every pull of the trigger a blissful and powerful moment. Bullets land with impact, weapons recoil with amazing feedback, enemies react to hits with exaggerated movements, and the explosions – of which there’s no shortage in this game – are glorious to behold. And I’d be remiss not to mention the shotgun- like any id Software title, the shotgun in RAGE 2 is an absolute monster, and kicks like a mule on steroids.
"At the core of this game lies some of the best, most adrenaline-fuelled first person shooter combat you will ever experience, and that core is so ridiculously strong, I found myself willing to accept and deal with the game’s numerous issues just so I could push forward and get another dose of that combat. But at the same time, whenever I had the room and time to look at everything in RAGE 2 that surrounds that combat, I found that there isn’t much else to like, let alone enjoy."
Activating the Overdrive ability turns you into an absolute behemoth. While in Overdrive, you constantly regain health, and your weapons pack even more of a punch. Lining up multiple enemies in your shotgun’s crosshairs while in Overdrive and watching them all explode in a glorious explosion of bits and blood at the pull of the trigger feels incredible. During combat, RAGE 2 constantly lives up to its promise of making you feel like a Wasteland Superhero.
It’s not all about the guns, either. RAGE 2’s combat relies on its abilities as much as it does on its weapons. You start out with Dash, which does exactly what its name suggests, letting you zip from side to side to dodge incoming projectiles and melee attacks and making you a difficult target to aim at. Across the entire map, though, you can chance upon Arks that house more abilities for you to learn (or weapons to add to your arsenal). These abilities can range from the ordinary, like being able to double jump or putting up an energy shield to block incoming fire, to the more over-the-top, like sending your enemies flying with a powerful kinetic blast, or slamming down into the ground from heights to send out a shockwaves that literally make your enemies explode.
Abilities usually don’t have very long cooldown times, and mixing and matching these with your arsenal of weapons makes every combat encounter a frenetic blaze of chaotic action, where you’re chaining superpowered moves and overpowered weapons as if you’re death incarnate. Weapons also have alternate fire modes that offer different applications, such as aiming down the sights of the shotgun to make it more effective for long range attacks, or locking on to your targets with the rocket launcher, and this only serves to give you even more options to wreak havoc- not that there was any shortage of those as it is.
"During combat, RAGE 2 constantly lives up to its promise of making you feel like a Wasteland Superhero. "
Everything in your arsenal of weapons and abilities is also upgradeable. Using what is frankly a ridiculous number of in-game currencies, you can power up your offensive and defensive capabilities in varied ways. Upgrades allow you to increase the effectiveness of your abilities, such as being able to hover for longer periods while in the middle of a double jump, or increasing the damage you deal with your Slam ability, or upping the range and strength of your Vortex. You can also decrease the damage you take from each bullet, or reduce the cooldown time for abilities, or increase your weapon’s reload speed. RAGE 2 is a power fantasy through and through as it is, but being able to invest in your already impressive arsenal and power up your already overpowered toys makes it even more so.
The combat is also made stronger by the fact that RAGE 2 runs at a crisp frame rate that doesn’t drop below acceptable levels all too often- though there are other technical hiccups to speak of. Character models can look like they’re made out of melted plastic if you view them up close, while weirdly enough, the game also suffers from a number of audio bugs, such as voice lines being muted and characters moving their lips to no dialogue, or sound effects for gunfire or vehicles being stuck in a loop and obnoxiously blaring on in the background for ridiculously large stretches of time (once, in the opening hours of my playthrough, the game kept playing the sound of gunfire on loop for upwards of twenty minutes, long after I had moved away from the fight that had triggered it, eventually forcing me to restart the game altogether to make it stop).
While the combat here is strong enough to make the significant gulf in quality between it and everything else in the game a lot easier to digest, it also acts as a bit of a double-edged sword- given that gulf in quality, wouldn’t it have been better to just cut out the fluff and give us a game that’s all about the good stuff? More specifically, it’s the open world that feels like it drags the experience down. RAGE 2’s world is large, and it’s certainly an improvement over the first game’s map, in that it’s varied, vivid, and completely seamless. But more often than not, it still feels like it’s getting in the way.
"While the combat here is strong enough to make the significant gulf in quality between it and everything else in the game a lot easier to digest, it also acts as a bit of a double-edged sword- given that gulf in quality, wouldn’t it have been better to just cut out the fluff and give us a game that’s all about the good stuff?"
That’s because it feels lifeless. Not because there isn’t much to do- there’s plenty of side activities to tackle if you do want to engage with the open world. But those side activities are, for the most part, far too repetitive, and the game hardly ever motivates you to do anything other than what the critical path requires you to do. Other than going out into the world and looking for Arks to beef up my arsenal of weapons and abilities, I hardly ever felt the need (or the desire) to engage with any of the other side activities.
Even outside of the optional content, the world still feels barren and static. You only need to compare it to other open world shooters to see that something is missing here. Far Cry relies on its systemic nature, which makes for a sandbox that you can mess about in endlessly. Fallout provides tons of quests and side quests to take on, which are propped up by solid characters and choice-based storytelling. Borderlands’ world is overflowing with personality, bizarre characters, and the promise of loot, all of which encourages you to go out and explore.
RAGE 2 has none of that, and its open world feels like little more than set dressing. Driving can be fun, but there isn’t much to do other than getting from point A to B. You can fight enemy convoys, or participate in races, but much like most of its other side activities, RAGE 2 gives you little incentive to do any of that. It doesn’t help that the physics while driving are also a bit inconsistent. Barrelling down a dusty road in a tank with your boost crescendoing gives you a great sense of speed, but the simplest impact with a jutting rock or a tree can bring you to an immediate dead stop, or send you hurtling into the air.
"RAGE 2’s world feels lifeless. Not because there isn’t much to do- there’s plenty of side activities to tackle if you do want to engage with the open world. But those side activities are, for the most part, far too repetitive, and the game hardly ever motivates you to do anything other than what the critical path requires you to do."
Lacklustre optional offerings, however, would have been easily forgivable if RAGE 2 provided a meaty campaign- which it doesn’t. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the entire experience is how quickly you can finish its main story. The main questline can easily be completed in a dozen hours – even fewer, if you blaze through it – which is especially disappointing for an open world shooter, and makes those open world aspects seem all the more meaningless. It also doesn’t help that the story itself is largely forgettable and disappointing, with bland characters and a cartoonishly one-note villain. It could at least have made up for it by having strong world building, but that’s not an area RAGE 2 pays much attention to either. The incredibly short runtime simply doesn’t give it room to breathe or express itself in any meaningful way.
RAGE 2 plays so incredibly well in the most fundamental of ways that I wish I could have been much more emphatic in my recommendation, but there’s just too much holding it back for me to declare it as being anywhere close to the resounding success it could and should have been. It’s central loop of frenetic and empowering combat is exactly what you’d expect from a game attached to id Software, but everything else surrounding that loop falls flat. It’s short runtime does it no favours, while the lacklustre side content also makes sure that once you’re done with the campaign, you won’t have much reason to go back to the game. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had here, but if you do decide to dive in, be prepared to contend with plenty of mediocrity as well.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The gunplay is fantastic; Loads of varied and ridiculous abilities to use; Mixing and matching weapons and abilities feels incredible; Upgrading your character feels rewarding; Best-in-class combat.
Lifeless and static world; Side content is repetitive and uninteresting; Disappointingly short campaign; Bland narrative and characters; Some frustrating audio glitches.