I would say it’s been a long wait for Rage 2, but that presumes anyone was waiting for it. The original Rage was the weakest of developer id Software’s first-person shooters, the others being Quake and, of course, Doom.
Rage’s hybrid of action-packed gunfights and open-world driving took five years to create and felt out-of-date when it launched. Nine years on, Rage 2 is eerily similar. The world is bigger and the action better, but id’s post-apocalypse is still playing catch-up with superior games.
This time around, development has been handed to Avalanche Studios – known for the Just Cause series and the underrated Mad Max game released in 2015. Id take a supervisory role for the game’s shooting, and the shooting is the best thing about Rage 2.
The action is as thrilling and creative as it is stupendously violent. Whether you’re fighting in a dilapidated fuel station or mutant-infested sewer, the weapon selection is easily on a par with Doom. Highlights include the grav-dart launcher, which lets you tag an enemy with a gravity-defying projectile then point the gun at a new location to fling your opponent towards it with extreme force. Similarly entertaining is the firestorm revolver, which shoots incendiary bullets that ignite with a Thanos-like snap of the player-character’s fingers.
This eclectic arsenal is complemented by a range of superhero-like abilities that let you sweep enemies up in a spinning vortex, or slam yourself into the ground, shattering anything that’s nearby. Cause sufficient chaos and you can regenerate your health and radically boost the power of your weapons. As if that wasn’t enough, every weapon and ability can be upgraded and tweaked to function slightly differently, letting you tailor your combat style in countless ways.
If Rage 2 had built these systems into a more traditional shooter structure, with intricate levels designed to maintain a snappy pace, then it may have been one of the year’s highlights. Instead, it presents a vast, uninspired apocalyptic wasteland crammed with repetitive activities. You’ll need to destroy mutant dens, clear roadblocks, and eliminate bandit camps prowled by gangs such as the Goon Squad, who resemble armed Prodigy fans.
Although entertaining for the first few hours, these activities wear thin after the 10th or 11th iteration. The strangely inert environment design is miles away from, say, the eerie and haunting atmosphere of the similarly apocalyptic Metro: Exodus. The wasteland doesn’t lack detail – particularly in its handful of towns, which blend rusting corrugated iron with blazing neon signage – but, aside from buying equipment and checking in on the story, there’s little reason to explore these places.
The plot is anaemic and derivative. There are only about eight main missions, while the script scans as if it is adapted verbatim from some hastily scribbled world-building notes. The hero faction are the Rangers, while the primary antagonists call themselves The Authority. As if that wasn’t sufficiently on-the-nose, they’re led by a man named General Cross. It’s one step away from having bosses called Corporal Punishment and Major Tantrum.
Surprisingly, vehicle combat is by far the weakest aspect of the game. Despite featuring some delightfully powerful cars and tanks (including your own APC-like Phoenix, which can be upgraded with an ejector seat), vehicles are boringly functional transportation aids, barely ever used in combat. This lack of mayhem on the roads contributes to a sterile-feeling world, and is especially bizarre given Avalanche’s own Mad Max game featured far superior vehicular action.
The roads offer a smooth ride, but at the time of playing, the game’s code isn’t short of rough patches, ranging from lines of dialogue not playing to quests failing to activate. I also couldn’t upgrade any weapon beyond its second level, despite having the requisite points to do so. The bugs aren’t quite as monstrous as those that prowled the jungles of Anthem on release day and a swift patch has been promised to address them, but they’d certainly give a wasteland warrior pause for thought.
Rage 2 suffers the same fate as many other open-world games. It tries to lure the player in with the size of its world, then needs to conjure an abundance of content to fill it. But, when you mix up every colour, you always end up with brown, and the impact of Rage 2’s scintillating shooter action is dulled as a result.
• Rage 2 is out now; £44.99 at Amazon.#gaming