Rage 2’s Dramatic Shift in Tone Proves Promising

id Software and Bethesda Softworks no doubt raised a lot of eyebrows when they announced Rage 2. The first Rage came and went in 2011 without much fanfare. It garnered decent critical reception, but launching a new IP against the releases of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and Gears of War 3 didn’t do it any favors. That made it all the more surprising when a sequel was announced at E3 2018. With a new art style and tone, it was clear id wanted the game to stand apart from its predecessor. We recently went hands-on with the game to see what id has done with Rage 2.

Rage 2 takes place 30 years after the Authority was defeated and driven underground at the conclusion of Rage. You play as Walker, a member of the defense force whose home is destroyed following the resurgence of the Authority. Determined to avenge the death of his/her family, Walker seeks out the Dagger Initiative, which has plans to dismantle the Authority.

The demo dropped us about 25% into the game at the town of Wellspring. Walker had a meeting with Mayor Lucem Hagar, but all hell breaks out. A political rival has attacked her office, and after helping Lucem repel the intruders, you’re tasked with getting famous so you can get close to him. The task takes Walker out into the Wasteland to participate in two televised events: Mutant Bash TV and a death race.

Mutant Bash TV is a series of combat challenges that keep players on their toes. Here we got a good feel for the combat. Gunplay in Rage 2 feels great, which should come as no surprise considering the developer. If you’ve played Doom (2016), then you should feel right at home with Rage 2. The game is all about dodging and weaving as you run-and-gun. You will need to stop and reload, but the feeling of firing a weapon is satisfying.

Rage 2 gives players a series of unique guns to take into combat. They may seem normal on paper (Assault rifle, shotgun, pistol, etc.), but each has a unique fire mode when aiming down the sight. For the assault rifle, it’s a simple red dot sight. The shotgun unleashes a focus blast that knocks enemies back. The Sidewinder pistol is a burst-fire weapon when firing from the hip and a single powerful shot when aiming. The few guns we were able to try were fun and there are even more waiting out in the Wasteland.

Mutant Bash TV also provided the opportunity to check out the game’s new Active Abilities. Described by id as the cornerstone of combat, these abilities can be strung together with weaponry to create sick combos. You have a simple dash tied to the left shoulder button, but if you hold the button down, you’ll be able to use the abilities. You have a ground slam, a push, a barrier and a vortex grenade that sucks up nearby enemies. Simple combos include throwing a vortex grenade and then unleashing a ground pound to send all enemies flying. They’re fun to play around with and help give character to the world.

Overall, Rage 2 feels like it’s brimming with character, something the original game lacked. Walker has a voice, giving him personality. The Wasteland features distinct biomes that house visually-distinct environments and enemies. Even NPCs, such as the mistress of the Mutant Bash TV program oozes character. Rage 2 is a far more exciting game to interact with than its predecessor.

The only real problem with the gameplay is driving. The controls felt a bit floaty during the demo and it was easy to veer off course. The death race ended up being a real slog to get through, though the racing AI made it easy to win. Hopefully driving will be tightened up before the game’s full release.

After an intense confrontation with the political rival, and a boss fight with his mutant buddy, we got some time to explore the Wasteland. The map is rather large with lots to see and do, though it remains to be seen how much of this busy work is worthwhile. In the demo, we had the time to tackle some side activities to see how it plays into progression. From liberating outposts to destroying objectives to blowing stuff up, Rage 2’s side activities appear to have variety.

Player progression is tied to three main characters players encounter during the game’s story. There’s Mayor Lucem Hagar, resistance fighter Captain Marshal from Rage, and Doctor Kvasir who also returns from the previous game. Each character has their own project tree that players spend project points on, which are earned by completing story missions and side activities in the Wasteland. Each project tree specializes in something different. For example, one focuses on improving Active Abilities and another focuses on increasing Walker’s stats.

Our final mission within the demo focused on Rage 2’s most satisfying side activity, Arks. These buried capsules contain all kinds of technology, abilities and weapons. To get to it, Walker has to defeat factions warring over it. These are often massive battles that require finesse to get out alive. Two factions battle it out and you’re the third wheel to the party. After defeating both faction’s bosses, you’ll be able to enter that Ark and claim your prize. Finding Arks are pivotal if you want to collect the best weapons in the game, including the Rail and Gravity guns.

Rage 2 shows a lot of promise four months out from release. The gunplay is smooth and satisfying, and the world’s dramatic shift in tone from the original game is a smart move. The Wasteland was an interesting place to dart around in for a few hours, but it remains to be seen how compelling the world is after a handful of hours. Driving isn’t nearly as fun as gunplay, but that’ll hopefully be tightened up before launch. Overall, Rage 2 is shaping up to be a fun shooter with a lot of character.

Rage 2 is out May 14 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.