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Rage 2

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: May 14, 2019


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PC Review - 'Rage 2'

by Cody Medellin on May 13, 2019 @ 5:00 a.m. PDT

Dive headfirst into a dystopian world devoid of society, law, and order. Rage 2 brings together a true open world FPS experience where you can go anywhere, shoot anything, and explode everything.

Buy Rage 2

The original Rage came out in 2011 to mixed reviews. The gunplay was classic id Software in that it was fast-paced and visceral, but it emphasized vehicle use, despite their somewhat unreliable nature. The game went for an open-world design but still packed in enough locations to fight. Missions were similar, and the story was simple. Although the game looked good, it was doused in the apocalyptic brown color of that particular game generation. It wasn't remembered as fondly as some of id's other landmark titles, like Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. When Rage 2 was announced last year, it was a legitimate surprise because many didn't anticipate a sequel. Another surprise was that Avalanche Software, famous for games like Just Cause and Mad Max, would handle the development instead of id themselves. Fans were hopeful that this meant the sequel would be as surprisingly good as the recent Wolfenstein titles, but the end result both helps and hinders this prospect.

For those who haven't played the first game or forgotten the narrative due to the time between games, Rage 2 does a nice job of summarizing the plot, including the meteor that devastated humanity and the people who fought against an authoritarian force that threatened to rule the Wastelands. Fast-forward years later, and the rebuilding process has continued to flourish despite gangs causing constant problems. Meanwhile, the army that was once thought vanquished has reemerged and restarted its war. You play as Walker, one of the survivors from a town that was nearly wiped out by an attack from The Authority and the last of a line of people who can wear a special suit. Before passing, your mother figure told you of a plan that could wipe out The Authority once and for all. With vengeance on your mind, your mission is to contact the people who can help you with this plan, which is codenamed Project Dagger.

The story is simple and effective, but there are two things to get out of the way. The first is that Rage 2 has a better ending when compared to the first game. There is a better sense of resolution this time around, and while the first game's ending may have been sudden and unfulfilling, what you get during the post-credits sequence in this title makes for a decent narrative. It isn't a masterpiece in storytelling or even an ending you'll talk about fondly, but it serves the game well.

The second thing to mention is that the marketing oversells the game's humor and punk attitude to the point that it becomes a disservice to the title. If you're expecting the anarchy of something like Sunset Overdrive, you're not going to get it in Rage 2. The wild punk styles of one of the gangs will remind you heavily of Mad Max, and everyone else's style can easily be swapped out for just about any other postapocalyptic game. If you're expecting the humor and characters of Borderlands, you'll miss that as well. Some enemies smack grenades at you with baseball bats, but only some of the data logs in the world will provide an inkling of humor. Meanwhile, none of the major characters break out of their molds, and aside from their physical appearance, you'll struggle to remember their personalities when you leave the game. The only other takeaway is that anything of any major importance is always painted in purple hues.

Rage 2 is an open-world game, and some of the expected rules and mechanics from the first game remain intact. The world is peppered with towns where the major characters give you quests to fulfill. The quests take you all over the world map and are actually quite lengthy, although they boil down to you retrieving a key component for Project Dagger. While the quests are presented in a linear fashion, you can decide the order in which you tackle them, since the three main quest givers are available from the beginning. For example, you can take on all of the missions related to powering up a tank first and save the retrieval of cloaking technology for last.

The game is also rife with profitable side-quests. Some people will ask that you clear out enemy bases as revenge for the tragedies they had to suffer. There are bounties you can take on for extra cash, with a few bounties requiring mutant extermination. Both "Mutant Bash TV" is back as well as organized races, so those who love fighting large mutant waves or racing with simple-but-quirky vehicle controls will be satisfied.

The open world is still meant for vehicular travel, whether it's via your dune buggy or any of the hijacked vehicles, like gyrocopters, monster trucks or motorcycles. Those wishing to travel the world by foot will find it to be a foolish endeavor, as the important spots are way too far apart. A few things were done to make the open world more appealing to travel through. The most notable thing is that there are plenty of different biomes to see. The dusty desert browns still make up a good chunk of the game, but there's more vegetation to show that life is moving forward past the meteor's landing. You'll travel through a vast swampland, city ruins that are being reclaimed by encroaching sands, and a jungle area complete with a large waterfall. The variety is always welcome, even if its only purpose is to keep the visuals interesting.

The open world always provides new encounters. Various gang outposts litter the world, which hide plenty of resources and riches. The same goes for mutant breeding grounds and lairs, and there are deeply buried arks that provide new weapons and abilities. Drive along the road, and you'll encounter different gang skirmishes that you can either break up or drive past. You'll also come across some roadblocks that need to be cleared out or convoys that pit you against highly armored vehicles for big, explosive fights. Authority sentry towers land from planes that zip around the sky, and cars challenge you to a race or prompt some brief car chase sequences. If you need supplies, you must honk at vendors as they drive by to get their attention. The criticism from the first game regarding having nothing to do has certainly been addressed, and in Rage 2, there's no shortage of incidental activities and things to discover.

At the same time, almost all of these things are important to do, since they feed into one of the game's different upgrade systems. Depending on the color of the given activity, completing each of them feeds into one of three different projects led by the three members responsible for Project Dagger. Leveling up any project grants you units that can be used in their upgrades, including things like increasing the throwables and ammo you can have, reducing ingredient consumption when crafting items, or increasing the range where you can sense special chests and data logs.

The ability to upgrade almost anything and everything (abilities, vehicles, weapons, etc.) is awesome and gives the game an RPG flavor, but few will appreciate the different currencies at play and inconsistent sharing between them. Vehicles only use gears as a means of upgrading, but everything else gets messy. For example, you can use the crystals you pick up from dead enemies and crates to unlock weapon upgrade tiers and suit abilities. However, once those tiers are unlocked, you need weapon mod chips to unlock extra abilities for each weapon tier and nanite chips to unlock new perks for suit abilities. Combined with the aforementioned faction units, and it can be a nuisance to keep track of what governs what.

Given all of these improvements, fans of the first game will be glad to know that the fighting is slightly different but still good. The gunplay remains just as crisp, and while enemies can be sponge-like this time around, they're just wearing armor that needs to be broken down. The guns you pick up are mostly conventional, but they contain some interesting secondary abilities. The shotgun may have a standard short-range spread, but aiming down your sights grants you a longer distance and more focused shot that'll knock back your enemy a few feet. Other guns are more exotic, like the rifle that shoots anti-gravity darts or the pistol that fires shots that can incinerate via remote detonation.

The suit perks you obtain from unlocking different Arks in the world make a much bigger difference in combat. Dashing is the first ability you get, but you also discover a dash that ends with a stronger melee hit. Double-jumping is another perk, but it becomes more dangerous when combined with the ground-slam ability. A push ability can knock around enemies to take off their armor or produce instant kills. Vortex grenades can group enemies together for a while, and defibrillators can provide a second chance if you run out of health.

You'll make extensive use of your suit powers and guns thanks to a craftier-than-usual AI. Very rarely will you see enemies completely open to soaking up shots; most will rush you in unorthodox ways or charge up for a powerful volley of shots. Some will force you to dodge, use some of your suit powers for crowd control, or stay mobile instead of being a human turret. Aside from their tactics, almost every attack hurts more than normal, when compared to almost all other arcade shooters. Even grazing shots take off quite a chunk of health, and it only takes about two shots to bring you to a critical health status. Your health refills after a while of being in cover but not completely, forcing you to either use healing sticks or rush enemies that you can take down easily and pick up their items that act as both upgrade currency and health.

There are two major annoyances that weaken the combat. The first is with melee, which isn't as devastating as it would be in other titles. That's actually good, since you don't want a shooter that requires you to get up close and personal all of the time. Unless you're butting up against a foe, your melee won't register, and you'll most likely be hit with an enemy melee attack that can knock out one-third of your health. It's also problematic when you're trying to break crates, as standing directly over them and initiating a melee attack isn't a guarantee that it'll break.

Another major annoyance has to do with the feedback system. For the most part, the game does a great job of letting you know that you killed someone; a bright pink skull appears over an enemy the moment they die, and a satisfying popping noise plays when you score a headshot. However, the game isn't consistent in letting you know that you've been hit. Sometimes this is because the indicator for where the hit came from is missing, or the sound of enemy projectile impact doesn't play. Other times, there isn't a warning when a specific attack is within range of your hitbox. In a game where enemies come from all directions and hit harder than usual, this is an unfair handicap.

PC players who were there for the launch of the first Rage will remember that the game was in rough shape, and the console versions were more appealing due to fewer technical issues. Unfortunately, history has repeated itself, as the PC version of Rage 2 also has quite a number of bugs to sort out. One of the more common issues is that some voiced lines fail to play in the middle of conversations. The lines range from filler to being very important, but if you're playing without subtitles, you'll get lost during these conversations. Sometimes, lines will play out of order or you can cut off a conversation by picking up an item. You can hit a dead enemy and get grunts as if they're still alive. Sound effects from menus also go missing from time to time, so there's no pop when you get a new perk or upgrade. There also seems to be no surround sound despite the option being present, so everything is presented in stereo.

It isn't just the sound that suffers, though. Graphically, there are some instances where you can't see vendors but can hear their voices and interact with their menus. Some vendors and important people have button prompts that take multiple presses to activate, making simple conversations and mission progression a chore. There are a few locations on the map where a sudden day/night change occurs when you enter and leave certain spots. Texture and object pop-up can happen a few times when driving through the world at high speeds, but that wasn't as bad as one instance where three fuel tank explosions caused extreme texture flicker and slowdown — and even an environmental blackout until the game was rebooted. The worst offender is that saving before the final boss fight causes the game to freeze and requires a reboot, but thankfully, there's no loss in progress. These bugs might be temporary if the patching frequency is present from the start, but the sense of déjà vu that PC players will experience at launch won't leave a good first impression.

Unlike the first game, there's no hint of multiplayer in Rage 2, at least as far as we can tell. The game has a Friends option that only reads people connected to Bethesda's service, and clicking on anyone on the list does nothing at the moment, leaving its purpose a mystery for now. What we do know is that there are plans to have post-launch support, which includes more cheat codes, new mutant appearances, and free new cosmetics and vehicles in addition to some new quests via DLC. You don't see that sort of thing happen on games that are primarily single-player, so even if some players won't find this to be useful, the gesture is appreciated nonetheless.

If you ignore the aforementioned bugs, you'll find the game's overall presentation to be pleasant. From the audio side, the voice acting is great, but there is a tendency for most lines to repeat. This is especially true when you discover bases, hideouts or outposts, so you'll quickly tire of hearing repeated nuggets of wisdom. The sound effects hit hard, and the music provides a good action sci-fi aesthetic that isn't as metal as Doom or foreboding as Wolfenstein but still pleasant overall. However, when you aren't in battle, things are quiet, which may be fine for towns but makes the drives a little boring. This is especially true when you go racing and discover that the formal races have a small licensed soundtrack, so you'll naturally want to hear that during your own travels around the Wasteland.

Graphically, Rage 2 features a mostly solid texture set, with only one or two places where you can see very low-resolution textures on display, such as on a particular billboard or poster. The lighting effects stand out brilliantly, with both ground and your own guns getting cast with the different neon colors, and the sometimes-purple sky is beautiful to behold. The character models are fine, but don't expect something to the quality of the recent Wolfenstein games, especially in the area of mouth animations. The repetitive body movements while they speak is distracting. At least the particle effects are robust, so the various explosions, light bloom, and smoke all look spectacular. As mentioned before, the presence of different biomes make the game feel like a giant leap over the first title, as having more than just brown goes a long way toward a more positive appearance.

Rage 2 is an engaging game that's hindered by a number of annoyances. The open world is chock full of things to do, but it caters more to those who want to travel via vehicle over those who want to wander around on foot. The shooting is good until you realize that your hit feedback is either muted or absent, and the melee strength and range feel pitiful. The multiple currencies needed for the various upgrades and perks are an annoyance, but they aren't as bad as the plethora of bugs that pop up to ruin good gaming moments. If the latter is fixed via patching, then the game will end up being a big improvement over the first title, but it's still not the masterpiece that most id games are known for being. For now, Rage 2 is worth checking out if it's on sale instead of at full price.

Score: 7.5/10

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