Rage 2: hands on with the neon apocalypse

Genre: FPS
Format: PC / PS4 / XBO
Developer: Avalanche Studios / id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release date: 14 May 2019

For all its pink-punk hued dabbling with madness, its courting of Andrew WK, its very Internet sense of humour, I’m a mite underwhelmed by Rage 2. Playing a game, as we all know, is a vastly different experience to watching a few trailers, mouth agape, and listening to the promises of a couple of well respected studios working on it. I didn’t expect it to be as thrilling as we’ve all been told it will be, but it still comes as a surprise just how docile Rage 2 feels so far.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though: Avalanche, in partnership with id Software, has put together a game the looks wonderful and – at times – plays with the unrestrained fervour of Doom 2016’s finest baddie-blasting. Heading into any one of Rage 2’s combat situations presents the player with a dilemma: just how do you want to dispose of these naughty future-folks this time around? When it hits the high notes, it’s superb.

It’s not smart, but it is satisfying – banging and thwacking enemies around with your selection of firearms, but also mixing in a few different superpowers (they have a name, but they’re superpowers so let’s stick with that) allowing a force push, a shield, a jumping ground smash, that sort of thing. It is, from what I played, a system that will serve those of us who like to muck about with our shooters well, and a live demo from id’s Tim Willits proved there’s more than a few ways to tackle the same situation using Rage 2’s shooting-and-Jedi trick combinations.

Rage 2’s settlements have grown since last time around, and are showing true signs of humanity’s recovery.

So far, so Doom. What does Avalanche seem to have brought to the table? Well, the studio – which is in the lead development role, it should be pointed out, with id providing support – has added in a dash of its open world expertise, sprinkling it over Rage 2’s post apocalyptic wasteland and ending up with… a post apocalyptic wasteland with a bit more colour? I don’t know, what I saw really didn’t blow me away in any real sense – there is more colour than in the first game, though it’s not hard to use anything other than brown. But the general feeling of the world as you clumsily explore it came across still as sterile and – fittingly, though not in the good way – lifeless as in 2011’s original.

I’m open to being wrong here – dare I say, I’d like to be wrong here – but Rage 2 doesn’t feel like an open world game. It feels like a series of corridors and arenas ripe for some experimentation in your assaults, joined together by interminable driving that I only figured out you could skip (thanks, fast travel!) 90% of the way through my hands-on. It’s not that the driving is specifically bad, it’s functional and brings to mind the desert driving of Avalanche’s Mad Max, but it’s not free, or particularly open, or really much fun. At least not in this short play.

There’s a lot of pretty on show throughout Rage 2, at least, and the vibrant communities of this post-society society are present and accounted for. The player character, Walker, is monologued at by a bunch of quest-givers, and the inner machinations and endless politicking of this new world order plays out very much like our modern day version: money matters, you do not, shooting people gets attention. I’m not going to hold out much hope for a bewildering storyline to back all of this up, though, but the worldbuilding is definitely something to keep an eye on. As well as those deliciously vibrant hues…

I’m trying to find the positives here, I really am, but there’s a significant schism between how Rage 2 presents itself – manic, punk, unique – and how it played for me in this small slice of demo – Doom v1.5, bland, samey. You can never expect the spirit of punk to be prevalent in a multimillion pound production from one giant gaming publisher and two large game development studios. There’s little room for true spurts of uniqueness here.

Shields are useful to – naturally – shield you from attacks. Strategy!

No, projects of this size are always going to factor in some level of design by committee, and their marketing budget is often going to be smashed across the hull of the good ship Missthepoint. That’s not what’s disappointing me so far about Rage 2; see, even with the promotional bluster, my expectations were still quite realistic – but going (admittedly briefly) hands-on with the game has left me, honestly, a bit bored.

Your obligatory disclaimer goes here about this being a pre-beta version of the game, and how an hour or so playing a massive open world title isn’t representative of the whole package. But that doesn’t change the fact that this game felt, mere months before its release, like it would bring less of interest to the table than even the original Rage did. And that says a lot.

Characters range from ‘a bit nicer and in need of a wash’, to ‘terrible bastard and in need of a wash’.

It lives (again)

Rage 2’s journey to being something tangible has been full of ups and downs, with the current game not finding its feet until Avalanche Studios was asked to take the helm by id Software. A sequel purely by id was in the works, but – following John Carmack’s departure from the studio – Zenimax put a hold on the project around 2014 in order to focus the team on Doom.

Avalanche was approached some time later and asked to run with the project – a huge vote of confidence from both id and Bethesda. The Rage 2 we see now is one with a lot of the Swedish team’s fingerprints smeared across it, not least of which because it uses the studio’s proprietary Apex Engine. Rage 2 is dead; long live Rage 2.

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