There is not a particular lot I remember about my experience playing RAGE. What I do remember is the impressive tech demos id Software held back in the day (the QuakeCon 2007 one comes to mind). It was a giant leap forward compared to their previous engine technology, as used in Doom 3. Expectations for a new IP were incredibly high after the studio delivered a more than stellar experience with the latter mentioned horror game. Development on “id Tech” was famously under the lead of John Carmack, who is considered as one of the pioneers in the industry when it comes to video game engine technologies.
RAGE’s engine, dubbed “id Tech 5” as it was the fifth iteration, was an impressive piece of technology. It supported all sorts of new technologies (like ‘MegaTextures’ and innovations in procedural animation) and would continue to power various games published by Bethesda up until 2017 (titles like Wolfenstein: The New Order and The Evil Within). RAGE was the first videogame developed with id Tech 5 and was released late 2011. It depicted a Mad Max-style world and supported a large explorable areas with drivable cars. The game received generally favorable reviews with many critics praising its impressive graphics and stellar gunplay. However, many criticized the game’s poor story and forgettable characters.
Id Software would move on and continue the development of “Doom” in full force after the completion of RAGE. Fans of id Software are probably aware the development of the next entry in the Doom franchise was a long and troubled one. Development of a sequel to RAGE was all but guaranteed.
In an controversial event in May last year, Wallmart Canada started to list sequels to games that were not yet announced. Including RAGE 2. Walmart’s rudimentary box art lead skeptics to believe it was simply a mistake. But with E3 around the corner, many gamers were hopeful. Bethesda reacted in the most legendary way possible and decided to poke some fun at the listing from the official RAGE twitter account, essentially confirming the sequel’s existence. The game was formally announced a few days later on May 14. Fast forward 365 days and the game was released to gamers worldwide.
RAGE 2 was developed by both id Software and Avalanche Studios. Id selected Avalanche as their partner after they were impressed with Avalanche’s Just Cause 3 and its physics-based gameplay. Early in its design, it was decided RAGE 2 would use Avalache’s own Apex engine instead of id Tech 6 and would feature a much broader and brighter color palette to set it apart from id’s other game titles. The core gameplay mechanics had to make the player feel incredibly powerful. The lore of the RAGE universe easily allowed this design decision to be integrated as in RAGE, people can be injected with so called ‘nanotrites’ – tiny, molecular robots that enable super-human abilities.
RAGE 2 is a direct sequel taking place thirty years after the events of the first game. Humanity has found a way to restore the wasteland. Various EcoPods (big satellites from the sky) were brought down and terraformed the wasteland into lush jungles, wetlands and tundra. While various gangs are at war over these new resources, the Authority has been quietly rebuilding itself below the surface and are about to return to take over control. As the player, it is your sole task to stop them any means necessary.
Bethesda was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the game a few days before general release. It took me quite a few days to try and encapsulate exactly how I felt about this game, which is the reason why this article is published later than I had originally planned. Here’s the thing. RAGE 2 is an beautiful, solid and fun first-person shooter. But unfortunately, it’s nothing special. It’s a very straightforward game that just works.
I’ve seen many other media comparing the game to its predecessor but I’m not sure that is a fair thing to do. There have been many innovations in technology and design in-between the release of RAGE and RAGE 2 that should also be taken into account. Especially if you come to think, many of those innovations came from id Software (Doom 2016) or other Bethesda affiliated studios (Machine Games’s Wolfenstein series). As RAGE 2 is running on Avalanche’s Apex engine, one could question if the developers succeeded in bringing all these innovations over. The answer is yes. RAGE 2’s gunplay is fantastic. It feels a lot like Doom with the right pinch of BioShock. There’s a lot of chaos and destruction and the AI is quite smart. Enemies will hide behind cover, rush directly towards you or try and flank you. There’s always reason to quickly switch between your guns and your powers. Each kill also awards a small amount of “Feltrite” which is a resource used to buy upgrades. And there are a LOT of upgrades. Some powers and weapons can only be acquired in one of the game’s many Arks (the pods used to preserve human lives after Earth got struck by a meteor) but most other abilities, feats or guns can all be upgraded/unlocked by using Feltrite. It’s quite a rewarding and makes even the most tedious of activities somewhat meaningful.
Wait. Did you just say tedious activities? Well yeah. The map in RAGE 2 is littered with activities that are all very similar, resulting in a repetitive experience. It’s also stuff we’ve seen in other games. Clear a bandit camp, destroy a sentry gun, assassinate a target, destroy a convoy. Each activity adds reputation to one of the three supporting characters you need to persuade to join you in the fight against the authority. Apparently, these are returning characters from the first RAGE, but I couldn’t remember any of them. All in all, nothing really out of the ordinary.
What IS extraordinary is the arsenal of gun you can wield. Sure you have your standard pistol, assault rifle and shotgun. But there is also a revolver that shoots darts that can explode on your command, a “Grav-Dart Launcher” that allows enemies to be launched into a certain spot of choice and an absurd railgun-type of weapon called the Hyper-Cannon. Most weapons also have an alternative firing mode that adds to the havoc you can wreck. It’s obvious from the start all equipment in the game has been designed with wreaking havoc in mind. Admittedly, I quickly found a combination of weapons and tools I preferred and I never really bothered with the available others. Perhaps setting the difficulty higher could have fixed this? You can set the difficulty level to your will which enables you to become either an invincible super soldier or a capable warrior that needs to watch his back. I was playing as the former and it. Felt. Good. It made for a relaxing, solid experience.
RAGE 2 is also open world. The first RAGE was plagued by long loading times when entering the world, the combat arenas or any of the settlements. No more. It all loads seamlessly now and manages to keep you in the flow of the game. I often caught myself playing on fore a few minutes more than planned, just because the game has excellent pacing and flow. Traversing in the open world reminded me a lot of Mad Max, a game also developed by Avalanche. It works as a means of transportation and every now and then there’s some vehicular combat. Unfortunately, there’s not much else to be discovered in the open world. It’s barren and empty. If I had a fast-travel point available near, I often opted to use that instead so I could spent more time in doing what was fun: fighting goons!
So what about the graphics and atmosphere? Well, these are both OK. The open world looks vibrant and varied, the particle effects and explosions are great and the graphics are solid. Personally I think a lot of character models would have benefited from a bit more detail or polygons but I can understand with the amount of characters on screen in an open world, some compromises had to be made. I also would have loved a more memorable soundtrack. For example, there’s a fan created video out there that includes the Mad Max: Fury Road soundtrack and it just fits perfectly. It’s a shame some potential was missed there.
So let’s wrap this up. RAGE 2 is a solid shooter. It has incredibly fun gameplay and makes for a very decent first person shooter. It is, however, nothing you haven’t seen before and thus doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad game. There is a lot of fun to be had. But as soon as the credits crawled across my screen (after about 10 hours in, which is a debatable length but one you can extend by completing all those tedious tasks if you’re a completionist) I was done with it. I might return to it every now and then to get a quick fix of some mindless gunplay. Avalanche is planning to continue the campaign in some post-launch DLC later this year but that will require you to cough up a few extra bucks. Much like its predecessor, it seems the same question remains here: Is the brilliant gunplay enough to save this game? For fans of mindless FPS games that are looking to wreck havoc the answer would a firm “Yes”. However, if you expected a bit more of your shooter games (like a layered narrative), there’s no shame in skipping this one or to pick it up with some discount later.