Some video games want to tell fantastic narratives and challenge the very nature of video games as more than just a "game". Others are content with being all about freedom and pure fun. Having talked to the developers from id software at Bethesda Studios in London, it was made abundantly clear that Rage 2 belongs in the latter category. Conceived in collaboration with the Swedish talent at Avalanche Studios, id Software aims to improve every aspect of the original and simultaneously give the Rage franchise a second go and raise more awareness of a game that sort of just came and went the first time around. Yet, somehow the trailers and early gameplay shown at E3 had warmed our hearts to the idea of playing a sequel to a nine-year-old game that didn't leave much of a mark back in the day. Still, fans of the first Rage game will undoubtedly feel like they're playing an entirely different franchise.
All the brown, dull colours of the original have been replaced with lush environments and detailed vistas that are brimming with life. The apocalyptic feeling is still present, but everything is more pleasing to the eye and that makes the player want to go exploring. This radical shift in tone is largely due to what Tim Willits of id Software described as "a departure from id Software's experience with the original and Avalanche's work on their Mad Max game".
During our roughly two hours with the game, we mostly spent our time just taking in the world and going wherever we felt like going. Especially during exploration, one can feel the influence of Avalanche's Just Cause franchise. Everything from the graphics engine to piloting vehicles feels and controls similarly to how it felt in Just Cause. As fans of the senseless fun in that franchise, we felt right at home diving into Rage 2. Going from point A-to-B is likewise super effective and all NPC cars, motorbikes and other futuristic machines can be commandeered with a single button. The downside to this, however, is Avalanche's inability to create worlds without performance issues. The draw distance is - at this stage in development - not very good and everything can at times look grainy and unpolished. As fun as travelling around the enormous world can be, enjoyment is partially hindered by this recurring factor.
A problem, which often arrives when creating the sequel for an old game, is whether new players can play the game without knowing the original story. The developers clearly knew of this conundrum and have accordingly set the story decades later and with a new protagonist. Like many Avalanche games, the story isn't exactly centre stage. Nonetheless, it still offers more than your average Just Cause experience and one settlement in Rage 2 feels more alive than all the Just Cause games combined, really breathing life into the story's grim future.
In the demo we played, a couple of story missions were available and their number included defending the life of a small-town mayor and participating in grim games at an old Coliseum-inspired arena in the middle of nowhere. The dialogue isn't Shakespearian and the narrative will not be remembered as a great feat of storytelling, but we still enjoyed encounters with the bad humour and insane characters. This is due to Rage 2 embracing its own identity and the silliness of the world, rather than trying to rival the great narratives of games such as Red Dead Redemption II or The Last of Us. When speaking to the developers of the game, they confirmed this as being their intention.
"If people come away just having had a lot of fun with the game, then we have accomplished our goal," said Tim Willits of id Software. "We wanted to mix the best first-person shooter elements of our games with the open-world brilliance of Avalanche. The game never takes itself too seriously and the main character will often make sudden quirky remarks about the world."
If you have experienced the excellent Doom reboot from 2016, you will feel right at home in Rage 2. It is a very violent game lending plenty of room for experimentation with different abilities and weapons. If your weapon is powerful enough, it will blow limbs off of enemies in the goriest manner possible and melee attacks look utterly brutal up-close. There is a macabre beauty to the visceral combat of Rage 2 when one combines vehicular explosions with bazookas and cyborg abilities, all of which interplays perfectly.
In terms of abilities, the player can equip four active powers at once. They vary from interdimensional grenades to obliterating punches. If you have played shooters like Crysis or Destiny, equipping and using abilities in Rage 2 will feel familiar. Every weapon subsequently features two modes of shooting, modes which often act vastly different to one another. Experimenting with each weapon and adding the correct ability is central to the mechanics of the game. Compared to travelling the large vistas of the wasteland, the shooting mechanics were more polished and felt tightly attuned to the game. That said, fans of Doom shouldn't expect the same level of visual fidelity and attention to detail - unsurprising given that Rage 2 is a vastly bigger game.
Since it is a game developed at Avalanche under id's supervision, we had to ask about the size of the game world, with Tim answering, "It's not as big as the Just Cause games, but there is still plenty of stuff to explore and secrets to discover. An important thing for Bethesda fans is of course also the lore of the game, so if you are into that sort of thing, there will be plenty of stuff to read and such".
The last thing, we wanted to try during our two hours with the game, was to see how far we could get in the world. We started our rusty motorbike at an abandoned motorway in the centre of a desert and ended up at a ruined metropolis after 10-15 minutes. It was impressive how much detail and variation we encountered on our way to the ruins. The player gets a sense of the world being alive and having its own identity. Fans of Just Cause will furthermore be happy to hear Rage 2 also features an array of enemy strongholds ready for you to wreak havoc upon.
Rage 2 was a bit of a surprise when it leaked and shortly thereafter got announced last spring. No one saw it coming. It might be the sequel needed to prove the original and all those naysayers wrong. The world is interesting, the gunplay fun and the issues few and far between. It is clear that Avalanche and id Software have found a perfect bond with Rage 2 and it feels like they have equal say in the final content. In short, if they can continue improving the game until launch, we have no doubt it will be - as Tim Willits describes it - a lot of fun. We believe Rage deserves a second chance.
Loading next content