In Rage 2, you punch storage containers to open them. There's no light ding or musical chime as your character happily unearths another find. No, you crush the neon pink lid underneath your power armored fist, scoop up the contents, and move on. Rage 2 is that kind of game.
Here, you suck enemies into a black hole, clip them with your future boomerang as the float in the air, and then you hit them with a rocket launcher before they get up. Or you float high in the air, and slam into the ground like Thor himself, crushing the bodies of your enemies. In Rage 2, you move fast and kill faster, giving you the strength to kill more.
Rage 2 is the unlikely sequel to Rage, a shooter that id Software released back in 2011. I wasn't a huge fan of the original game, which sometimes felt more like a tech showcase; the shooting was good and id Tech 5 looked fantastic, but it lacked a sense of style to bring it all together. Rage 2 feels like a correction of that problem, putting its outlandish vibe before anything else. It also seems like Avalanche Studios and id Software have collaborated to craft a game that brings together their best facets. Surprisingly, it mostly worked.
Some years after the events of the first game, Rage 2 picks up a new adventure. You're Walker, a soldier who finds him or herself getting a battlefield promotion to become the last Ranger-atrained fighter clad in Nanotrite power armor which grants exceptional abilities. All other Rangers are dead now, including your adoptive mother. The Authority, an evil organization of cyborg mutants led by General Cross, did most of that killing, so it's time to put some bullets in bad guys.
There is a story, and there are characters, but they're really not the point. Of the three major characters that help you, each only has two primary missions a piece before you get what you want from them. There's a level gate in place, where you have to reach a specific project level with them to proceed to the second mission, but on two of the characters, I had nearly crossed that threshold before meeting them. I hit the point of getting the main campaign's final mission at around 12 hours, and I polished it off at around 15 hours. (That's my recorded footage, and there's probably more hours of me futzing around.) If you're playing Rage 2 for the plot, you're probably doing it wrong. Instead, Rage 2 is all about the combat and exploration.
Kill Kill Faster Faster
Rage 2 moves fast. Very fast. I'd say on foot, you're about as fast as the Doom Slayer in 2016's Doom reboot. Everything is designed to make you move, or make your enemies dead. As you run around and murder everything in sight, corpses will drop Feltrite shards. Feltrite is a currency used to improve your abilities and weapons, but in the heat of battle it also heals you. Outside of a limited bit of your health meter that slowly refills out-of-combat, and some regen abilities, health does not refill in Rage 2. You need to either top up with a health infuser, or kill enemies for that sweet Feltrite rejuvenation.
Here's where the id Software game design comes in. As you kill enemies in succession, your Overdrive multiplier goes up. The higher your multiplier, the more Feltrite enemies drop and the faster you fill your Overdrive meter. At the meter's maximum, you can enter an Overdrive state, which amps your damage, switches your current weapon over to its Overdrive mode, and can regen your health later on. Kill fast and you get more health and kill juice, which you can chug to kill harder and heal more. That's the core loop of Rage 2. Yes, you can hide behind cover for a breather. Yes, there is a sniper rifle of sorts. But everything is built to funnel you towards hopping around the battlefield like a murderous jackrabbit on 5-Hour Energy.
As you play, you'll slowly gain more tools with which to control said battlefield in Rage 2. There are several Nanotrite abilities you have access to, split across controlling space and dealing damage. These moves include a double jump, short-range dodge, or sprint boost, or more direct damage like your Shatter Force push or the ground-pounding Slam. Even within a single ability, there's a lot of flexibility. The Vortex creates a throw black hole that sucks enemies in before exploding. If you jump on it, it actually boosts you high in the air as well, and you can improve it to make enemies hover in anti-gravity for a few seconds after the explosion. That's a crowd control and movement tool in one ability, giving you a ton of options in combat.
There's also the suite of weapons available to you. There's a total of eight weapons in Rage 2, which sounds small, but the developers packed them full. Each weapon has a primary and secondary fire, and these different modes are sometimes built on one another.
Take the Combat Shotgun, which works like a standard light-spread melee-range boomstick players have become used to. If you hold down secondary fire, and then hit the primary, the shot comes out as a single massive slug, which hits at long range and usually knocks back enemies. The Grav-Dart Launcher's primary shoots several tagging bullets, while the secondary paints a location where the bullets will snap back to. The more bullets in a single target, the stronger the pull. It's an absolute blast, because you can fling enemies off ledges or towards explosives if used correctly.
On foot combat just feels great in Rage 2, to the point that I'd get out of my car just to take part in some skirmishes I found alongside the road. Once I was out of the opening mission, I was simply enjoying the act of moving and shooting. Encounters with the various enemy factions-the mindless Mutant hordes, the punk bandits that grace most of Rage 2's promotional activities, the high-tech Shrouded, and the techno-organic Authority-all offer different focal points in terms of dealing with them, without slowing down the action. The only things that trip it up are the larger bosses, which tend to boil down to "shoot the weak spot, dodge, dodge, dodge, shoot the weak spot, repeat."
I was surprised at how much I was enjoying the combat, given that I wasn't working with a full complement of abilities. By time I received the final mission in the campaign, I only had four of eight total weapons, and I was missing three of 11 abilities. This is because the other side of Rage 2 is exploration.
Walk the Wasteland
Driving is the main way to get around Rage 2's Wasteland. You can hoof it between spots, but even with your speed, it takes some time. Your main vehicle is the Phoenix, which is part-Humvee, part-tank. The Phoenix is the sole vehicle that you can upgrade and repair. You can find other vehicles and add them to your garage by bringing them to a friendly town, but they lack customization options and upgrades: they're always exactly what you picked up the first time.
This is clearly an Avalanche Studios game, as the Wasteland is improved over the first Rage. It actually feels somewhat like an evolution of Mad Max, another open-world collaboration from Avalanche. I felt Mad Max lacked visual and biome diversity, even if driving around was fun. Rage 2 adds a few more locales to the rocky deserts of Rage and Mad Max. Across the six regions, there's a swamp, a full jungle with waterfalls, one nice area with salt flats, and even a city lost to the dunes. It's not to the level of Ghost Recon: Wildlands or even Avalanche's own Just Cause 4, but it's enough variety for Rage 2's runtime.
The world is full of various activities that feed into the three major supporting characters. Combat-focused actions like clearing Bandit Dens or Mutant Nests improve your standing with John Marshall, who will offer you similarly combat-focused bonuses. Taking down convoys, clearing enemy roadblocks, and attacking enemy fuel stations nets you bonuses to crafting and wingblade throwing. Finally, finding Arks and Ranger Echoes will impress Dr. Kavsir, who will help you find more stuff in the future.
Rage 2's map isn't just full of question marks and locations though. You actually have to get out there and drive around it to find activities. Unknown locations only appear as question marks on your map if you drive somewhat near them, or find intel on them from townspeople or Data Pads. If you don't go looking, there's so much you'll probably miss. I had to go hunting to find the hiding places for the Hyper Cannon and Rocket Launcher; I probably could've taken on the final mission without them, but I really wanted to see what they could do. If you're out of activities, it's likely that you just need to go driving to a blank expanse on your map. I was pleasantly surprised (and a tiny bit frustrated too) that Rage 2 actually made me go hunt down the additional weapons and abilities.
Driving around in the Phoenix is... okay. It feels like a slightly faster version of Mass Effect's Mako overall; it handles better on the controller than the keyboard, but it could've been a snappier ride. Many of the other vehicles are faster or handle better, but they're non-upgradable and customizable, so I tend to not use them. The exception was the Icarus hover bike, which has no weapons and is kind of twitchy to drive, but flying is by far the fastest way to explore a region.
What did impress me is some of the locations in the open-world. Towns like Wellspring and Gunbarrel feel like real settlements carved out of the Wasteland. Their bright neon signs and odd collection of survivors feel distinct from each other, while also capturing the "future Western frontier" vibe Rage 2 is going for. There are also some very interesting combat locations, like Strongbox or Doomsayer Peak, which works equally as well as bandit encampments and cover-laden killboxes. Not every spot is amazing, as some are just a Data Pad with some Bethesda-style story of the dead and some loot, but the standouts are worth making note of.
Performing on a Stage
Visually, Avalanche Studios' Apex engine is a workhorse and Rage 2 looks great, at least on PC. On my personal desktop, it ran mostly at 60 fps. This was due to the Resolution Scaling option, similar to other titles on consoles, where the game will autoscale its resolution to preserve frame rate. With this feature on, you can actually control the target frame rate and set the lower end of the resolution scaling. It's nice to see it on PCs.
In terms of problems with Rage 2, there were only a few. I ran into an odd issue where the game would occasionally hitch for a second, dipping down to 20-30 frames per second before returning to normal. I also ran into an audio bug, where certain NPC dialog simply wouldn't play. And in certain spots, I noticed the day/night light model would act erratically, I could get it to shift a little by just moving back and forth across a location. Nothing earth-shattering though.
Rage 2 is the kind of game where I finished it wondering if Avalanche and id Software could've stretched a little further. I wish there was customization for the other vehicles, more weapons skins, further regions. But I also wrote earlier this year about short blockbusters being a good thing. At around 12-15 hours for the campaign and another handful for clearing the rest of the map, Rage 2 fits right in. I enjoyed my time with it and was left wanting more. It's not the most innovative open-world title, with brand-new systems, or hundreds of hours of content, but Rage 2 is damned fun. And sometimes, that's more than enough. (Plus hey, there is actually more on the horizon, with expansion DLC planned in August and later this Fall.)
In Rage 2, you move fast and kill faster. It's the synthesis between id Software's 2016 reboot of Doom and Avalanche Studios' Mad Max, bringing together some of the best ideas from both. Moment-to-moment play on foot is fantastic with each weapon and ability just opening up your options for destruction. Driving could be improved and it's a little on the shorter side, but Rage 2 is a damned good time.