11th Jun2019

‘Rage 2’ Review (Xbox One)

by Matthew Smail


Whilst our Rage 2 review is late partly because we received a copy just after the game released, the more pressing matter for me has been to explore every inch of Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic world in the hopes that I would find something – anything – that would give me a different narrative slant than you’ll already have read about in other reviews. The problem is, no matter how hard you look, Rage 2 is so focused purely on the gunplay (which is exquisite) that everything else kind of melts away int irrelevance.

If I think back to the original Rage, I recall a relatively linear but somehow open feeling world that was dusty, mechanically interesting and filled with tough, frightening opponents that posed a stiff challenge. There was less of the luminous pink paint than the sequel features, and the shift to Rage 2‘s more open environments switches the combat from being built around cover, tactical advantage and firepower (as per the original) to more of an agility focus. That is to say that in Rage 2, you’ll need to hit hard and fast, then potentially exit a gunfight that is overwhelmingly stacked against you.

Before you learn most of your more powerful abilities, you’ll need to wade through some story guff. I use that term deliberately because even though I’ve finished it, I don’t know or care much about Rage 2‘s story. It begins with an attack on the home of our character – Walker – which leaves most of his friends and his unofficially adoptive mother – Lily Prowley – dead. During the battle, Walker grabs the body armour of a fallen ranger, granting him enhanced combat skills and reflexes, as well as the ability to augment himself in various ways.

With the hologram of Prowley guiding him to seek out three key characters from a now dormant resistance, Walker heads out into the wasteland. Meeting each of these characters (and many others) is what drives the story forwards, but it pretty much devolves into a series of go here, do that, kill this group of mutants and then bring something back kind of missions. There are literally hundreds of side missions to be found (either on purpose or by accident) but the majority of them are simply kill missions or basic treasure hunts.

It’s just as easy to find most of these missions by wandering out into Rage 2‘s large open world. Question marks and named locations litter the map, depending on what you’ve seen or heard on your travels. Approaching a question mark will turn it into a data point on your map, revealing the number of secret items or chests and the difficulty of the enemies you’ll face there. Rage 2 pulls no punches with some of these locations right from the outset, and you can find yourself involved in a fight with a six or seven out of ten rated group of enemies within the first five minutes of hitting the open road, should you wish.

On balance, this isn’t a brilliant idea because you’ll very likely be killed, quickly. Some of the enemies in Rage 2 are very tough, ranging from fast, agile ninja like bad guys that can cloak and will deal huge melee damage, to hulking mutants or mechs with massive amounts of firepower at their disposal. Unless you are exceptionally talented, your early weaponry and upgrades won’t be much of a match for these guys, so it’s worth completing at least some of the early story missions just to unlock the better gear that comes with them.

The three key characters that you meet this way will give access to special projects, which are essentially upgrades. Add these to the basic projects unlocked by Prowley and you’ll have a considerable number of ways in which to invest your nanotrite upgrades. You can focus on pure damage/defense in the traditional sense, or spread your points into abilities like carrying more ammo, aiming whilst sprinting, dealing critical damage when surprising an enemy and so on. Even though there are many options in the nanotrite project trees, there are several other ways you can upgrade Walker during the game.

By collecting a resource called Feltrite, you can also upgrade Walkers weapons or improve his actual move set. For the former, each upgrade will cost an amount of Feltrite plus a weapon modification kit, which can be bought, found or crafted. Each weapon has several tiers of upgrade, each of which comes with one or more options – for example, the basic assault rifle can be upgrade to either reload faster, or to have a bigger magazine. Like weapons, basic moves are not unlocked by spending points or making purchases, but by finding them in ARK’s that litter the landscape, and once Walker learns a move, it can then be upgraded (also with Feltrite).

The relevance of all of this upgrading won’t be lost as you get deeper and deeper into Rage 2‘s world – either through story or simple exploration. The isolated or individual enemies that Walker faces early in the game will seem relatively insignificant to some of the larger enemies that appear later, not to mention some of the very tough combinations of bad guys that you’ll face throughout the game. These enemies are split into three main factions, including numerous diverse sets of gang members and mutants, as well as the much more dangerous Authority (who are responsible for the games opening attack on Walkers home).

Now, just in case you were as bored wandering around Rage 2‘s world as I was come three or four hours in, it’s really the diversity of the enemies and the sheer joy that can be obtained from fighting them that should keep you going. Whilst the mutant and Authority enemies are fairly numerous and varied – certainly by the standard of most games – it is the gangs that really stood out for me. There are classic punk rockers (called Goons) who like to use baseball bats to whack grenades at the player, and there are River Hogs (rednecks who live in swamps) and then the likes of the Shrouded, who are technologically advanced and in many ways not much like a gang at all.

These gangs, plus the two or three that I haven’t named, each feature perhaps four or more individual kinds of enemy, as well as large or exceptional enemies who only appear a few times during the game. What this does for Rage 2 is something that other open world games (like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed) have always failed at, which is to make every encounter feel different. If you’re attacking a large, high level base in Rage 2, a big gun and a load of health revivers won’t be enough. You’ll need to use all your weapons and skills, not to mention the environment, to its full advantage.

When these battles start, Rage 2 is a genuine dance of bullets and chaos that will always leave you feeling dangerously vulnerable. Most enemies take a fair bit of damage, but far from being bullet sponges, they are capable of charging and flanking the player, as well as working together to best advantage based on the enemies in a particular fight. There are slight issues at bases in the fact that enemies won’t ever leave them, but Rage 2 incentives the player to get up close and personal by borrowing the gibbing mechanic from Doom that results in showers of Feltrite (rather than health) emerging from fallen enemies.

Rage 2 is a very solid shooting game that’s been unfortunately shoehorned into a fairly uninteresting open world. Sure, there is lots to kill and the various things you’ll find along the way lead to some very cool (and sometimes unexpected) battles, but I doubt you’ll ever hang around to hear a conversation through to its end. Whilst there isn’t a single memorable NPC that I can recall, there are perhaps ten times as many interesting bad guys and boss encounters here than there are in the average game, which certainly makes Rage 2 a worthwhile game to play through, but primarily it’s one for fans of quality shooters, rather than exploration games or even RPG’s.

***½  3.5/5

Rage 2 is out now on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.


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