What is the secret behind a good sequel? While some of the best sequels focus on refining what was poorly implemented in the first installment, others just carry on the story and leave the core gameplay largely intact. Then there are sequels that have blown our minds 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 types of sequels together. That is, a good sequel emerges when developers focus on what their game actually needs.
This may seem like an oversimplification, but it is clear that the best follow-ups in our industry have worked simply because they found something in their I.P. that had room for evolution. In other words, a good sequel builds on I.P.’s residual potential rather than just rebooting, beautifying or changing for it’s own sake.
So this brings us to RAGE 2, a sequel. This game comes from a new collaboration between id Software and Avalanche Studios that has stayed within the first game’s premise, but the graphics, gunplay and scope of the overall experience 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. In its new form as an open world game, there is undeniably a solid experience here, but I would struggle to convince hardcore fans of the original that they absolutely must 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’ programming in action (even if the tech never really went past this one game).
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 that so many games take place in). 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 form. Unfortunately, a formidable faction seen in the first game – The Authority – has proclaimed themselves the leaders of this new Earth, and 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 in-joke).
The campaign is subsequently centred on Walker’s exploits as he/she starts a contingency plan against The Authority named ‘Operation Dagger’. While it sounds complicated, this scheme ultimately boils down to shooting, blowing up, eradicating and running over anything The Authority deem even mildly important. Easy-peasy.
What’s my age again?
Sounds kind of familiar, right? Well, Avalanche Studios are indeed the developers of the Just Cause series, and they have clearly fallen back on their tried and trusted template of toppling a South-American dictator here, albeit with a few post-apocalyptic modifications.
Yet, this is kind of the problem since RAGE 2 steps into the same trap that I see many open world games – like the Just Cause series – fall into. Namely, the rather generic story just ends up fading into the background.
Now many might say “Hold up, the Just Cause games are just about blowing stuff up, not a deep, moving story!” True, but remember that the post-apocalyptic and open world genres are hopelessly over-saturated markets right now. Good storytelling is perhaps the only way to set your game apart within this genre, which would have been the perfect opportunity for RAGE 2 to make me care about its plot and characters a bit more.
Sadly, the game once again makes players grind their way to a farcical and copy/paste main villain via a series of classic, open-world quest fodder. Let me be clear that these tasks are fun, but the fun only lasts for small doses at a time because you are bound feel the weight of repetition bearing down on your shoulders 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?
Even worse, but as a surprise to no one, is that missions are handed out by the done-to-death method of random 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. 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 Rage 2 is yet another example which shows that this must evolve.
Smash that asteroid
So you will probably forget the story, but does the core gameplay redeem RAGE 2? Well, RAGE 2 plays host to a derivative but still very 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’s iconic game, and revived it in a lush, open world this time.
Much like the Doomslayer, Walker is so much fun to control due to an emphasis on keeping the player in motion, and the guns likewise feel spectacularly lethal. From the thunderous shotgun to the head-popping sniper, shooting down the endless legions of mutants and post-apocalyptic punk rock delinquents always make you feel extremely powerful. Most fights also end with a show-down against several big bosses who can be deadly when faced head-on, but ultimately prove no match for Walker’s smooth, side-stepping acrobatics and dead-eye aim.
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 hastily dodge and leap out of your gunfire while their companions would try sneaking up from the side, forcing you to switch to close-range artillery.
As a side note, I played as the female version because why not, but the female’s actress does lead to some annoyances. I would actually recommend the male Walker because with nearly every injury, my character made a weird moaning sound which I can only describe as somewhere between an orgasm and pooping.
In any case, eliminating enemies gives you various kinds of currency 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 somehow your fault.
Unfortunately, this brings me to another issue I took with RAGE 2 because the developers have just gone way over the top with unlockable content. While I can appreciate the added variety that this bestows on the gameplay, the sheer number of perks that you can unlock for armour, guns, vehicles and movement abilities honestly feels a little overwhelming. It certainly doesn’t help that all these upgrades have all been arranged in a rather convoluted system of menus and sub-menus that made me exhausted from just looking at them.
In the first RAGE driving and racing the armour-clad dune buggies were fun little diversions, but they represented only one component of the overall gameplay. In RAGE 2, on the other hand, vehicles have a much more central presence in the overall experience. I actually had to start looking both ways before crossing the roads since I was fatally run over more than once by racing desert marauders.
Overall, I feel like the cars in the first game felt a little better and more responsive to control. When casually cruising through the countryside to my next objective, or even when doing a vehicular assault on bandit convoys, the squishy handling was somewhat forgivable.
During the races, however, it was rage-quit inducing. I found almost no enjoyment in RAGE 2’s racing at all since the cars refuse to turn, the handbrake is overly sensitive, 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. The first game was much more pleasant 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 much more expansive and more vertical than the claustrophobic canyons or corridors of the first one. There was the occasional texture 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 also 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 embedded within the ranger armour. These are movement-based attacks which allow for devastating melee damage on the punks and muties, and 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 native 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 finally 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 a little by using nostalgia. Overall RAGE 2 feels much close to DOOM than its namesake.
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