One of the biggest surprises leading up to E3 was the leakage, then official announcement of Rage 2 (or Ranarchyge 2, if we are to believe the logo). The id Software original didn’t exactly light up the charts for the long term, languishing in the shadow of the Borderlands series. It was a bold attempt for id, though, featuring wide open areas to explore, crafting and enemies that were smarter than the typical cannon fodder that populates some of the developer’s best games. That’s why it was sad that the final product was so middling, relying on a grimdark take on the wastelands that seemed to have next to none of the self awareness that permeated the classic id titles. Now, with Avalanche taking the reigns with a new art style and attitude, players could finally get the game they wanted with the sequel. In practice, however, some concerns arise.
Visually, the best way to describe the title is to say “imagine what a true current gen take on Borderlands will look like.” Featuring strong colors and bold lines, the graphical style is striking and appealing. They’re not going the cel shading route, but this is a look that is future proof as it foregoes attempts at being hyper realistic. The style also allows the framerate to remain solid despite the ample environmental detail littering the world. All of this doesn’t really come across in the screenshots, but it feels that way in practice. There are all sorts of little, unique touches the give the environments life. This is a world that feels like it has been through an apocalypse and humanity has come along and tried to piece an existence back together.
There is also the addition of some fun powers to use against the squishy enemies. A shotgun style frontal blast pops the baddies like they are balloons overfilled with blood and various viscera, while a ground pound type blast sends all of the close foes flying in a manner that will take a long time to get old. An overdrive allows for a quicker rate of fire and a feeling of superior power. Avalanche really nailed this part of the gameplay and they should be commended for that.
It should be noted, though, that the positives have been frontloaded in this particular piece. The comparisons to the Borderlands series is incredibly apt, as Rage 2 apes some of the more obnoxious aspects of that series. The humor in Borderlands always managed to divide people with some loving it and others dismissing it as trying way too hard. Folks in the latter group haven’t seen “trying to hard” yet. The jocularity present in Rage 2 comes across as the world’s lamest dad attempting to imitate the Borderlands style of humor. There are so many “jokes” following the “statement of fact, no wait, hyperbole” in the overlong and obnoxious tutorial alone that I sprained a socket rolling my eyes. Attempts at being a fun kind of edgy comes across as simultaneously callow and cynical, like it was designed by the in house marketing staff instead of a team working with a talented writer to execute on a vision. Borderlands, for all of the reasonable criticisms that can be leveled at the tone and humor, at least feels like its doing what it does because everyone making the game loves it that way.
Firing the weapons also felt extremely weak during the preview time given. Enemies don’t seem to even flinch when taking a well aimed bullet to the face, and the assault rifle lacked any sort of facsimile of punch until the overdrive was triggered. This might be why the aforementioned powers stood out the way they did. Now, this issue is present in the Borderlands series, too, but there it was an intentional design feature, as it drives the player to look for the next rare gun that gives the player a giant boost in power. Even the wingstick, one of the coolest weapons in the original Rage, doesn’t have that same level of oomph that one would expect. (As a side note: Bethesda, you missed a golden opportunity on swag. Three words: Wingstick fidget spinner. It would have fit the tone better than the keychains. This isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.)
It should be admitted that these impressions are based on an abbreviated amount of time with a showfloor demo of the game. Still, if this is the best foot they have to put forward, be wary of Rage 2. This is not the salvation of the first title that the trailers make it out to be in its current state. Instead, it feels like it was designed by a committee that had enough intelligence to hire on some good artists and programmers. Bethesda does have other, more interesting looking shooters in the works. For now, pay attention to those and give Rage 2 some space to get its act together. Hopefully the title will come together and I’ll be able eat these words with a side of crow. That would please me.