Avalanche, iD Software, and Bethesda have done something I never thought would happen: they’ve finished Rage.
2011’s id Tech 5-powered Rage, an open-ish world shooter that had lofty ambitions to change the way game visuals were made forever, was also hamstrung by being kicked out the door without an ending.
It set up a villainous pseudo-governmental agency known as the Authority, lead by General Cross. Rather than taking down this mercenary group, the player instead…runs down a hallway in an Authority base, shoots some things, and then watches the camera fly away into the air.
Then the credits happen.
When it came time for the inevitable post-launch expansion DLC, iD decided to finish up a cancelled side mission that slotted in right near the beginning of the game, rather than elaborate on the sudden ending.
Rage 2’s story is aware of this and more than makes amends. It re-establishes the state of the world and its antagonist in its first 60 seconds, sets up a whole new chapter that takes place 25 years later, then overwhelms you with explosive, exhilarating action for the next 10–15 hours. It’s a breathless and seamless open world game that’s paced like a fighter jet.
And at the end, it actually ends.
Once you choose the gender of Walker, Rage 2’s lead character, the action never lets up. The game’s design follows a similar template on the surface as other modern open world games, with a map full of icons that represent gameplay opportunities.
The places contained under those icons represent Rage 2’s best moments, and help it stick out from the pack. Every bandit camp, dungeon, and roadblock is a bespoke, uniquely-designed shooter level. Some of them are filled with the tight twisty corridors and big chunky doors that iD games are known for, and others take place in wide-open spaces where hordes of enemies can run at you from all directions.
Enemy AI was a big strength in the original Rage, and that returns here in full force. Enemies know how to navigate all types of locations, and each of the game’s varied factions has different behavior patterns. When you combine that with the palette of weapons and powers available, the result is some of the best combat design ever in a first person shooter.
You’ll dash. You’ll double jump. You’ll blast armor off enemies with Telekinetic energy. You’ll slam into the ground. You’ll use alternate firing modes. You’ll toss boomerang-like Wingsticks. You’ll pin enemies to walls, set them ablaze, blow things up, and fire one of the best video game shotguns of all time.
If you like getting creative with a combat system, Rage 2 is your new favorite playground.
In between the shooting, you’ll have to drive between places and explore towns.
The driving is the same fun driving that Avalanche first deployed in the Just Cause franchise. Every car feels very different, with its own handling characteristics and physical weight. The game incorporates the instant sideswipe mechanic first seen in Vin Diesel’s Wheelman, allowing you to shunt into other vehicles with the tap of a button. And of course there’s a variety of car-based weaponry to equip. On the road, you’ll encounter enemy vehicles and convoys, people that want to race you, and battles happening between the different factions you can interrupt or drive through.
The main car is fully upgradeable and voiced by TV’s Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. Speaking of upgrades, everything in this game has a skill tree. All of the weapons. All of the secondary items. Even the four main quest givers unlock access to additional skills. It’s a little bit much to keep track of at times, but it helps expand the immense freedom in the combat system.
Towns work just like they do in other big-budget modern games. They’re full of shops, communal spaces, characters to meet, and places to peek into. You’ll pick up information in towns that helps fill out the icons on your map, instead of the old dance of climbing a tower or other high object. Many side characters wear goggles or masks so that they don’t have to be animated as well as the main cast, but that’s the only knock I can make against these otherwise immaculate areas.
Rage 2’s world is truly seamless. If you manage to never die and never fast travel, the game only loads right when you first boot it. Every campaign mission and location is properly connected to the open world, and the graphical quality remains consistent throughout. This lends the game a great believability that’s sometimes lacking in other shooters and RPGs. I’m always a little bummed when an interior has to pause and load, and there’s none of that here.
(If you do need to fast travel or respawn, that’s pretty snappy even from a mechanical hard drive).
You might have noticed that, while I’ve been gushing about the creativity of the gameplay, I haven’t said much about the story other than “It’s the proper ending to Rage 1.” That’s because the story is fine. It’s acceptable. It’s quick and to the point. There’s a big cybernetic bad guy, there’s some prominent quest giver characters who have a plan to stop him, and you’re good at shooting. You successfully execute the plan. And then the story ends.
Fortunately, the story is well made with solid voice acting and some returning characters from the first game. The cutscenes happen seamlessly just like everything else, and while its structure is straightforward and simple, I think that’s fine for a game that’s mostly about creatively blasting stuff.
When I finished Rage 2, I was immediately ready to dive back in again and play as the male character, and kit myself out with different upgrades. I played the Xbox One version on an Xbox One S, meaning I was “stuck” at a mere 30 frames per second. The pro consoles run at 60 frames, but apart from that, you’re missing basically nothing playing on a base system.
If you’re a frame rate fiend, that might really bother you, but even at 30 FPS the game handles remarkably well. Controls are finely tuned, and outside of some laggy moments in the menu system, I didn’t notice a single frame drop across 15 hours of play, no matter how many things were exploding on-screen.
In addition to its many visual accomplishments, Rage 2 has a wonderful soundscape. You’ll quickly notice where enemies are located from sound cues alone, and each of the game’s weapons has a nice punchy report. I have to also mention the Tim Kitzrow NBA Jam announcer “cheat,” a bonus unlockable that you can either buy with in-game money or get right away if you buy the deluxe edition of the game. It’s hilarious and weird in keeping with the tone of the rest of the game, and they recorded enough lines that you won’t hear it repeat constantly.
As a longtime fan of NBA Jam, it feels like this mode was made just for me. It works just as well as its stupid trailer implied it would.
The only part of Rage 2 that I didn’t love was a short tank sequence near the end that slowed the gameplay way down and forced me to laboriously shoot guys as I crawled along in a big hallway. It reminded me of a PS2-era shooter, in a bad way. Every other second is breathtaking and fun. Even the boss fights against the big brute monster enemies were enjoyable, as I was able to strafe around them like a caffeinated fly.
It’s like they took the gameplay from Doom 2016 and gave it room to flow in a much larger space. If that’s exciting to you, buy this right now.
Rage 2 certainly won’t be heralded by the larger critical community as one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s too pulpy and “simplistic” for that. But as someone who legitimately loves the first game and appreciates action designs that give players flexibility, it’s going to be in my personal play rotation for years to come.
Rage 2 is one of the most satisfying action games ever crafted in my opinion, and if it clicks with you, you’ll ramble excitedly about it to your friends just like I have for the last week, and over these paragraphs. It’s like a BioShock game but much faster and more delightfully ridiculous. It’s laser-focused on delivering consistent fun combat, and does nearly everything right, building on absolutely every design decision from the first game rather than trying to cut down its ambition. It’s pulpy fun combined with the latest graphics technology and a story that serves up more weird enemies to fight every few seconds.
I love Rage 2 and I’m happy it’s a thing. It’s a clear passion project in an industry often dominated by boardroom design, and more than worth playing if you like fast action games.