What is the secret behind a good sequel? Some of the best examples focus on refining what was poorly implemented in the first instalment, while others just carry on the story and leave the core gameplay largely intact. Then there are sequels that have achieved greatness by making everything bigger or more elaborate, and yet some of my other favourites are basically just a graphical upgrade.
While there seems to be no clear or definitive answer, a common thread does actually tie all these different approaches together. That is, a good sequel happens when developers can identify what their game actually needs.
This may seem like an oversimplification, but when you think about it, the best follow-ups in our industry work simply because they can find something new in the familiar. A good sequel lifts out an I.P.’s residual potential rather than radically rebooting, beautifying or changing.
So this brings us to RAGE 2, a sequel. This collaboration between id Software and Avalance Studios has stayed within the first game’s premise, but the graphics, gunplay and scope of the game have all been overclocked.
While I can sense there has been an attempt at continuity from the first game, I have to concede that RAGE 2 is mostly a sequel in name alone. As an open world game, there is undeniably a solid experience here, but I would struggle to convince fans of the original to go out of their way to play this.
Up your asteroid
The first RAGE game was a pretty big deal back in 2010 even if the story hardly brought anything new to the genre. RAGE was released during the ‘Crysis era’ when first-person shooters were at the forefront of graphical experimentation. Let’s face it, you just played Rage mostly to see John Carmack’s fancy new ‘Mega Texture’ tech in action.
The first RAGE plunged the player into a bleak world filled with mutants and garage bandits fighting for survival in the aftermath of a cataclysmic asteroid strike (rather than a nuclear winter you see often nowadays). RAGE 2 plays out within this same setting, but takes place 30 years later in a civilisation that has risen from the ashes, and is no longer trying to get by on scraps of resources.
Players will thus enter a world in which the Arks – subterranean pods preserving life on earth – have been reactivated and a new world is beginning to emerge. Unfortunately, a formidable faction seen in the first game – The Authority – has proclaimed themselves the leaders of this new Earth. Rather than earn their leadership, they have used a series of bloody wars to obliterate anyone standing between them and their authoritarian regime.
The only opposition that once proved a match for The Authority are a division of technologically-enhanced mercenaries called rangers. You play as either a male or female version of the last, surviving ranger named Walker (I can neither confirm nor deny if this is some kind of Chuck Norris reference).
The campaign is subsequently centred on Walker’s exploits as he/she starts a contingency plan against The Authority named ‘Operation Dagger’. You do this by shooting, blowing up, eradicating and driving over anything they deem even mildly important.
What’s my age again?
Sounds kind of familiar, right? Well, Avalanche Studios are the developers of the Just Cause series, and they have fallen back on their tried and trusted template of toppling a South-American dictator here.
Yet, this is kind of the problem since RAGE 2 steps into the same trap that I see many open world games fall into. Namely, the rather poorly-told story just ends up fading into the background.
Now many might say “Hold up, the Just Cause games are about blowing stuff up, not a deep, moving story!” True, but remember that the post-apocalyptic and open world genres are hopelessly oversaturated markets right now. Considering that the story is perhaps the only way to set your game apart within this genre, this would have been the perfect opportunity for RAGE 2 to make me care about its plot and characters a bit more.
Instead, you once again grind your way to a farcical and copy/paste main villain via a series of noticeably repetitive tasks. Let me be clear that these tasks are fun, but the fun only lasts for small doses at a time because the player is bound feel the weight of repetition bearing down on them sooner rather than later.
Every play through eventually began to feel like I was working my way down a checklist. Killed all those mutants? Check. Destroyed this big sentry turret? Check. Cleared the outpost of bandits? Check… why am I doing all this again?
As I expected, there are also too many NPC’s who will yak-yak-yak away telling me so-and-so has their such-and-such and the solution is to go to point X and kill every last Y. Thing is, I don’t care about such-and-such because I don’t know them, and what exactly makes your quest different from what I have been doing for the last 2 hours? It is an ailing design philosophy used in too many open world games, and it needs to evolve.
Smash that asteroid
So you will probably forget the story, but does the gameplay redeem RAGE 2? Well, sort of. RAGE 2 ends up feeling like a weird but cool hybrid of genres. It is like 2016’s DOOM hardware, but running on Far Cry’s software. Bethesda has recycled the explosive, momentum-based mechanics they had virtually perfected in 2016, and revived it in a lush, open world this time.
What do you actually do in RAGE 2? You shoot the hell out of things, so that you can collect things, so that you can upgrade things (which is interspersed with the occasional race through the wasteland). The player’s task is to master an arsenal of weapons and traversal abilities in order to turn themselves into a killing juggernaut.
RAGE 2 absolutely nails this part because the combat is highly adept at making the player feel lethal. It is every bit as gloriously violent as DOOM, except demons have been replaced with split-lipped mutants and punks. You know, like the kind who emerge when Rammstein is playing a concert in town. There are also show-downs with big bosses who were deadly head-on, but ultimately proved no match for Walker’s smooth, side-stepping acrobatics.
The first RAGE had some of the best enemy AI I had ever seen in a video game, and this has been faithfully replicated in its sequel. Enemies will likewise dodge and leap out of your gunfire while their companions would sneakily flank you from behind, forcing you to switch to close-range artillery.
As a side note, I played as the female version because reasons, but this frequently became annoying due to the actress’s voice acting. I would actually recommend the male Walker because with nearly every injury, my character made a moaning sound which I can only describe as somewhere between an orgasm and pooping.
In any case, eliminating enemies gives you various kinds of loot used for the aforementioned upgrading, but the player can also explore for additional goodies hidden in cooler boxes and crates. You will know it is loot because they are all painted shocking pink for some reason. Who the hell was making all this pink paint before the apocalypse!? Far Cry: New Dawn this is your fault.
This brings me to the second issue I took with RAGE 2 because the developers have just gone way over the top with locked content. It is all really just too much especially since I mostly forgot about the upgrades once I unlocked them, and let’s not forget that the first game had a much more subtle emphasis on this aspect of gameplay. Worse still, the upgrades have all been arranged in a rather convoluted system of menus and sub-menus that made me exhausted from just looking at them.
Since Half-life 2 introduced drivable vehicles into shooter games, cars were basically just an interesting way of getting over long distances. Again, RAGE was sensitive to this. You could do races which I actually enjoyed as a minor distraction, but the major purpose of the armour-clad dune buggies was simply to get you through dangerous terrain.
Vehicles serve a much more central role in RAGE 2 as there is a lot more driving and races. I actually had to look both ways before crossing the roads since I was run over more than once (lol). However, I still felt most cars to be a little sluggish and unpredictable in their handling.
When cruising through the wasteland to my next objective and taking on convoys with mounted guns, this is less noticeable. However, during the races, it is rage-quit inducing. I found almost no enjoyment in the racing at all since the cars refuse to turn, the handbrake is overly enthusiastic, I occasionally won only for a bug to tell me I placed second, and hitting certain plants made my buggy fly out of the track once. RAGE was much better in this area.
Boy you shur got a purdy mouth
Despite bandits having an unhealthy obsession with the colour pink, RAGE 2 is graphically quite varied. As mentioned, the Arks have been terraforming the Earth again, which means that forests and wetlands have begun to pop up in certain parts of the wasteland. This makes for a nice distinction between the missions when the same vegetation and rocks begin to get a little stale on the eyes.
This game is also more expansive and more vertical than the claustrophobic canyons or corridors of the first one. There was the occasional jarring pop-in while driving across the landscape at high speed, but the mountains did a reasonable job of hiding this in the distance. The slow but steady day-night cycle produced some gorgeous sunsets, and I never felt that the wide variety of textures in the landscapes ever repeated themselves. Avalanche is really good at this stuff.
During combat, the game is more than capable of handling a large variety of explosions and particle effects when the action intensifies. This is particularly noticeable when you use the nanotech abilities within the ranger armour. These are movement-based attacks which allow for devastating damage on the punks and muties, and they feel glorious within the physics system built into RAGE 2’s engine. I suppose I do not have to explain what everyone’s favourite, Shatter, does…
I get that everyone’s favourite target of internet hate is the Epic Store at the moment, but OH MY GOSH the Bethesda client is utter trash. It happened to be the platform on which my review copy arrived, and I instantly remembered why I have been avoiding their stupid software until now. I felt as if I fought with the Bethesda launcher to play this game.
Virtually every button on the client basically opens up a web page, you have to log in with your password every time, I could not find any option to save screen shots, installation of the game randomly restarted, there are only a handful of games, and my download speed was embarrassingly slow. My experience may represent no reflection on yours, but it is high time we start putting some pressure on Bethesda to get with the program. I urge everyone to purchase RAGE 2 on Steam instead.
That is the question
If you enjoyed the first game and you are looking to have a repeat performance of that experience, I am afraid that RAGE 2 will leave you wanting. I actually played RAGE in preparation for this review and I have decided these games are almost nothing alike. They share ideas but not experiences, which make me wonder if this game’s title was trying to bait fans by using nostalgia. This feels more like some sort of a standalone expansion to DOOM.
However, if you are okay with this, or your appetite for open world games is somehow not yet slaked, you are going to love this game. The action is tight and intense, the world is big and begging to be explored, and there are heaps of unlockables to refine your playing style. Matter of fact, only a cantankerous old fart who’s daily highlight is chasing children off his lawn would find nothing to like here.
Let me therefore emphasise, again, that the problem is how long this fun will last . After playing for about 5 hours, my map was chock full of question marks, Arks to explore, bandit camps, and so on. One part of me was saying “seriously, do I have to do all that? I just cleared out, like, a hundred of these!” The other part was hopping up onto a garage roof, charging up Shatter, and turning some blue-haired sucker into a cranberry smoothie. I like that part of me.
- Decent graphics
- Combat (DAMN!)
- Selection of guns
- Interesting environments
- Overemphasis on unlocking
- Lackluster story telling
- Too far from first game
- Boring NPC’s
- Bethesda launcher
Play time: About 20 hours total. Combination of both missions relating to main story line with a substantial amount of side questing.
Computer Specs: Windows 10 64-bit computer using Nvidia GTX 1070, i5 4690K CPU, 16GB RAM