Rage 2 Review: A Wasteland of Wasted Potential

If you threw DOOM, Far Cry, and Mad Max into a pot, then overseasoned with edginess, out would come Rage 2. There’s really nothing original about the Rage sequel, but unfortunately it also stumbles in its imitation. Rather than feeling like some kind of lovely mix of those inspirations, it instead often feels like nothing but a bundle of knock-offs.

Don’t get me wrong, Rage 2, at times, is a lot of unadulterated fun, in a mindless "let’s blow stuff up and mow through enemies like it’s an Olympic sport" kind of way. Rage 2’s chaotic, breakneck combat can be borderline hypnotic. It’s the foundation of the game, but it’s a foundation that is shoddily built upon with sub-par writing and dated open-world design. Again, at its best Rage 2 is an exhilarating, madcap power-fantasy, but a lot of that fun is not only drowned out by other parts of the game that feel uninspired, but an over-the-top style and tone that overstays its welcome.

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(Photo: Bethesda)

Rage 2’s story picks up a few decades after its predecessor. There’s familiar faces and some plot continuation, but you certainly don’t need to play the first title to jump in. In the game you play as Walker, an orphan and the last Ranger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland so hostile that if its moves or breathes it probably wants to kill you. There’s a lot of deranged enemies that need slaughtering, but the main antagonists are once again The Authority, technomaniacs that want to create a new world order that essentially consists of no one but themselves. Like any tyrannical group worth their salt, they are led by a bloodthirsty and ruthless tyrant named Martin Cross.

If you barrel your way through the main story, it'll probably take somewhere between 10 to 15 hours; don’t do this. While there’s some epic battles here and there, the main story is comparatively uninspired. If you dive into all the side content, you’re probably looking at more like 40 hours, and the side content is considerably more gratifying. There’s not only a number of eccentric characters to meet, but between a crazed gladiatorial arena and scorching vehicle races there’s an abundance of opportunity to be a post-apocalyptic “DOOM guy.” No matter what you’re doing in Rage 2, the end result is always the same though: lots and lots of carnage.

The game's pursuit to being as crackpot as possible also derails it quite a bit. The first game had some oddities, but Rage 2 tries so hard to be outlandish that it comes at the expense of being creative. It’s unwaveringly committed to its style, which isn’t the good kind of weird that catches you by surprise, but the lazy, shallow kind of weird that will make you cringe. And this is mostly thanks to second-rate writing and line delivery.

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(Photo: Bethesda)

While its writing and story won’t inspire you to continue playing, its gameplay will. Rage 2 is at its best when it’s hot and heavy, and that’s because it really feels like post-apocalyptic DOOM, but instead of killing demons you’re killing malformed mutant monstrosities or feral bandits that look like they robbed both a junkyard and Hot Topic. There’s a healthy variety of weapons and superhero-like Nanotrite powers that are a blast to use, especially as you mix and match them to various devastating effects. Whether it’s chaining enemies together as you slide and unleash a shotgun blast so powerful that it sends enemies cartwheeling in the air or dashing into an enemy with superhuman speed and a fist so strong it would make the Hulk jealous and insecure, Rage 2 lays the adrenaline on thick. It might be reductive to boil it down to post-apocalyptic DOOM, but it’s also the biggest compliment I can give the game. From a combat perspective, Rage 2 is truly one of the best open-world games this generation.

Whether hotfooting through the valley on a supercharged bike or blowing up everything in sight with a massive tank, the vehicles and vehicle combat feel very reminiscent of 2015’s Mad Max, which came from the same developer. Chasing down conveys and slowly picking them off one by one is a lot of fun, but I did notice that there’s a bit of speed missing. For whatever reason, the vehicles move just a bit slower than you’d like, which takes some of the excitement away from being behind the wheel of death on four wheels.

When Rage 2 isn’t boring you with its story or exhausting you with its attempt to be cool and zany, it’s a heck of a time. The open-world design might be dated, checkboxy, and unlively, but it’s a sandbox for chaos and power-tripping celebrations of wholesale slaughter that never lost my attention. There’s a lot of derivative and antiquated designs and systems in play, but none of it comprises the buzz of the game’s core gameplay mechanics.

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(Photo: Bethesda)

Rage 2’s inconsistency is most evident in its visual presentation. The way vehicles clash together, the sense of collision weapons emit, and the wasteland vistas are a delight to witness. It’s not easy to make an inspired, visually captivating wasteland, but Avalanche have. However, the game is far from a visual feast. For whatever reason, the game's wasteland is populated with late last-gen looking character models and animations, rather than current-gen. Meanwhile, there’s an overusage of neon colors, especially in certain enemy locations where it looks like grenades full of Fruity Pebbles went off everywhere.

Most of the visual problems stem from performance issues though. This game is not meant to be played at 30 FPS. Unfortunately, on the basic PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game is capped and locked there, and the result is an overwhelming amount of blurring. The blurriness is so bad I simply couldn’t play the game in anything but small bursts on the basic PS4. Luckily, on the PS4 Pro (and presumably the Xbox One X), the framerate is lifted to 60 FPS, though it appears to usually come in somewhere around the mid 50s. Resolution is still 1080p though, and there’s still pop-in issues and inconsistent texturing.

Thankfully, the performance issues largely end there. Occasionally a lighting issue rears it head, and there’s some audio bugs, but nothing drastic or that will notably mar the experience. As for the audio design and music, there’s no DOOM-level heart-pounding or bewitching murder music. There’s a bit of a gesture at that sort of thing, but it’s toned down or not as impactful. The game does, however, do an excellent job of blending ambient sounds with its over-the-top musical moments. Whether it was the blast of a shotgun in a heated battle or setting the tone, the audio and music can be anarchic and in your grill, but it also felt complementary and flavor enhancing. It’s easy to imagine this game having an immoderate amount of noise or music trying to give you a cheaply earned rush, but it doesn’t do that, which I appreciate.

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(Photo: Bethesda)

Rage 2 is obnoxious, in both good and bad ways. Ultimately though, its outstanding combat is undercut by a presentational tone that felt not only forced and suffocating, but fell completely flat because of writing that ranged from middling to downright cloddish. Rage 2 is an easy recommend to satiate your power fantasy, but if you’re looking for an interesting story or tip-top game design, you aren't going to find it in this wasteland.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Rage 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $39.99. A PS4 code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.