It’s a known fact that ‘first person shooter’ is the best genre of videogame. Everybody would secretly like to do a murder but you can’t because you’d get in trouble, yet there are plenty of nice folks like the guys at Bethesda who will dedicate their lives to bringing you games simulating what doing a murder would be like. That’s why there’s so many of this type of game. It’s a crowded marketplace, where a known name will give you a distinct advantage in getting some recognition over whatever number Call of Duty we’re on now.
This may explain the revival of Rage in the year of our lord 2019, seeing as the original was not received poorly, but equally not deemed a classic worth revisiting. Fairly faithful to the serious tone of the time, it used a done-to-death post-apocalypse premise to shoot some mutants, all the while surrounded by plenty of grey and brown.
Since then, developers Id have had the surprise success of 2016’s Doom relaunch, an experience that instantly made every serious, grim-faced FPS out there look frumpy and po-faced with its complete disdain for plot and characters and swooning love for just running around killing everything with an unnecessary amount of gore. It was so OTT with the red stuff it became hilarious, like an Evil Dead movie.
Rage is now resurfacing in this post-Doom world, and the similarities are notable. It should be covered first off that, much like Doom, the shooting in Rage 2 is wonderful. Whatever dark magic Id use to get that gun feel is in full effect here; very few games manage to make you feel like you’re actually wielding a steel death-wand like Id games do, and Rage 2 is a joy for that. Rather than falling into the vogue looter-shooter genre, you’ll pickup and use a handful of weapons throughout the game and upgrade them. This means getting very familiar with some industry standards like the assault rifle and shotgun, something I personally have missed over being bombarded with having to juggle thousands of weapons with various minute stat adjustments. There’s also some more left-field contributions; enter the Firestorm Revolver, which fires bullets that lodge themselves in objects and detonate on your command. Ammo is oddly sparse in the early going for a game so focussed on blasting everything, but this improves as you upgrade your gear.
In fact, the combat and movement is a bit of a boast in general for Rage 2. Incorporating the usual mainstays of the modern FPS like the sprinty-knee slide, the addition of superpowers actually changes things up nicely rather than feeling bolted on. Picking these up as you progress, you’re treated to a double jump, a force push and what appears to be Mario’s butt-bash for hunting out the arks that litter the environment. One nice little addition is the almost rhythm-game esque defibrillator perk, a mini-game that enables you to revive yourself with minimal health after a death.
There’s also an upgrade tree that will be as familiar to gamers as their own genitals at this point, with skill points going towards new abilities based on luck, tech, power and weaponry split broadly across four skill trees. In the first instance of Rage 2 not seeming to have that much thought put into it, the crafting here is actually fairly useless. I found I was able to simply purchase anything I needed without ever going near the crafting menu, rendering it fairly pointless but perhaps included just because all games have to have that these days.
Indeed, if Rage 2 was satisfied being a stop-gap for Doom and nothing else it’d be much better off for it. Unfortunately, it keeps bothering itself with things like ‘characters’ and ‘story’ that only seem to distract from the best bit. Rather than simply reducing itself to bare-bones fun, what you have here is an open world set-up that has a basic plot and fellow apocalypse-inhabitants that are interesting enough at times, but at other times veer into Borderlands territory of simply being whacky and hoping that’s enough. The humour is a little hit and miss, at times raising a chuckle but sometimes falling flat, or worse becoming repetitive. I think the talking car is supposed to be amusing, but its stock phrases come across like a Claptrap wannabe. Similarly, the roving trader and your player character have a repeating conversation based around his whacky insistence on speaking in old english that’s sort of funny to begin with, then wearing after the second time. A simple, Resident Evil 4 style “WHAT YA BUYING?” will do, Bethesda.
Of course, if you have an open world you need a fun way to get around it. Despite being relatively small compared to many recent similar experiences, you’ll want a vehicle to navigate all the beige in Rage. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been worked through that well. Vehicle handling is unresponsive and dull. If you put a waypoint on your map you’ll get chevrons on the road pointing out which route to take as you drive. Annoyingly, the faint neon-pink colour of these guides aren’t clear from a distance, leading to frequently missing turnings and over-steering due to the sketchy handling. Also moving the camera while driving is like wrestling a kraken, as while you’re in motion the damn thing constantly pings back to hovering behind the vehicle whenever you try and shift it to look around you.
Rage 2 is perhaps a bit too videogame-y for its own good, and there’s signs in the plot and layout of missions that belies the lack of thought. I was perplexed after putting down one big-bad when, on the way out, I found lots of references in the environment to how scary the big-bad is/was. On another occasion, I spent time fighting through sewers to hit a switch at the end of sewers, defeat a big monster only for there to be an elevator in the same room as the switch that took me straight back to the office of the guy that sent me down there in the first place. Why couldn’t I have just got that lift down there to begin with!?
The similarities don’t stop with Doom and Borderlands. Fellow apocalypse experience Far Cry: New Dawn gets a few nods, particularly with the arena-style missions and racing sections thrown in to break up the usual gameplay loop. Usually you’ll find yourself picking up a mission, driving to the mission, killing everyone and returning to whoever sent you on the mission. It’s all very standard, and a touch repetitive at times.
Based on the marketing for Rage 2, I thought I was going to be playing as one of the cool neon punks that adorn all the promotional art. Somewhat disappointingly, I found myself playing a fairly generic military-resistance type. It seems like every character in the game is pretty ker-azy and out there except you. This is perhaps symptomatic of the games style as a whole, believing itself to be truly edgy when in fact it all feels a little dated and standard if you’ve ever seen Mad Max. Happily, the performance doesn’t feel dated; it whips along at a decent pace, and the movement feels smooth and graceful, although the in-game menu is creakingly slow to respond to button inputs. I found a repeating bug in one boss battle that saw me stuck in a wall more than once, and also had the joy of being kicked back to the Playstation homescreen at one point. In fact my standard-issue PS4 didn’t seem thrilled about the whole thing at all, with the entirety of my play time on Rage 2 being accompanied by a whirring-fan symphony from my poor, struggling console.