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Rage 2 Review: Post-Apocalyptic Boogaloo

The original Rage was probably the closest and best example of a game that inspired almost no reaction at all. It wasn’t bad enough to hate or laugh at, it wasn’t good enough to form any kind of real fanbase, and it wasn’t unique enough to stand out or be noticed. It was literally a game that was just... kind of there. You grabbed it, you shot some mutants, you threw the Krull-like glaive/boomerang equivalent, and thought, “Huh, that’s neat,” and then you put it down, and played something else. The most accurate way to describe it would be to shrug your shoulders and say, “It’s alright.”

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And much like its predecessor, Rage 2 is just alright.

Rage 2 is an open world, post-apocalyptic, first-person shooter. It takes place in a world where a giant asteroid has crashed into the Earth, effectively wiping out most of the human population. What’s left of humanity were cryogenically frozen in things called Arks, and they re-emerged into a world full of mutants, bandits, and other weird nasties. Also, there are things called Nanotrites that get injected into your bloodstream and give people superpowers, because hey, why not?

Your character is either a male or a female named Walker, who lives in a heavily fortified military compound called, Vineland. This place is supposed to be impenetrable, with tons of security, and well-trained soldiers equipped with top of the line weapons and hardware. So naturally, it gets blown to pieces in the first five minutes of the game. From there, your adopted mother gets killed by the big bad guy, General Cross, you get access to what’s essentially a super suit, and your revenge mission begins.

If the story sounds uninspired, that’s because it most certainly is. Rage 2 does try to have some personality, but it doesn’t really know what kind of personality it wants to have. When making a game like this, you’d probably either want to aim for a tone that’s gritty, realistic, and truly dystopian - something like the earlier Fallout games or the Metro series - or maybe you’d want to go full on crazy and have an off the wall game full of fart jokes and memes like Borderlands or Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Rage 2 tries to have it both ways. At one moment your character is making jokes about people being splattered into blood puddles by mutants and cracking wise about killing bandits by the dozen. The next moment, they’re lamenting the loss of a heroic drug addict who died for their cause, and declaring that they will have their revenge for the death of their surrogate mother. The tone is completely uneven, which makes it hard to react to anything that happens in the game. It doesn’t help that the story and world itself are thoroughly unoriginal. If you’ve ever played a video game, then you basically can predict the story of this game beat by beat.

The characters in the game don’t fare much better either. Your character was probably created by running some kind of random FPS protagonist generator. You take on any job, you swear vengeance, you slaughter countless dozens of people, and still have the time to make sarcastic quips. Your best friend (and kind of sister), Lily, is just there to essentially say, “HOORAH! Go kill people champ!” at certain points, and also to function as a kind of deus ex machina at certain other points. Then, there are your other generic stereotype NPCs scattered throughout, such as the wise, old, battle-scarred general, the no-nonsense lady trying to lead the resistance, the mad scientist whose allegiances and ethics are questionable, the smarmy guy naively siding with the bad guys for money and power, etc.

In fact, the best character in the whole game is probably your first car, the Phoenix. For some reason, your vehicle’s A.I. has the voice of a nice, Southern lady. I almost didn’t want to drive anything else because I liked having that voice traveling around with me. It was like I had my own personal Blanche Devereaux.

The game’s world is actually quite nice graphically. Everything looks pretty, although a lot of the characters suffer from stiff animations and facial expressions. The overall locales are very well modeled, and there’s a lot of nice graphical touches here and there. The various multi-colored flares have great smoke effects, and the explosions and gore look awesome. There’s also a pretty cool effect whenever one of the Authority’s ships teleport in, resembling the effect of whenever a ship in Battlestar Galactica would jump in space.

However, while the locales look good, they’re also very uninspired. If you've played games like Fallout, Borderlands, Metro: 2033, or even if you’ve watched any movie in the Mad Max franchise, then you can pretty much picture how this game looks. It probably doesn't help that Avalanche, who helped develop this game along with id Software, also worked on the Mad Max game from 2015. It seems like a sizable chunk of that game was copied and pasted in here.

They try to gussy things up by adding in some flourishes of color, throwing in the odd neon pink, purple, yellow, or green here and there. But in reality, these colors are mostly there for function rather than aesthetic, as they often show you where to climb or what door to go through. Everything else just kind of has a dusty, grey/brown, apocalyptic feel that’s all too familiar at this point.

The voice acting is also nothing to write home about. It’s a game where everyone tries to sound as tough and badass as possible, and as a result, everyone kind of just comes across as a bunch of edgelords that are trying way too hard. There are tons of variations of lines like: "we’re all counting on you,” or, “I don’t know if we can trust this guy."

So, it sounds like I’m pretty down on the game so far, except there’s one thing that I haven’t really talked about where Rage 2 actually shines: the gameplay.

Rage 2, for all its generic story and boring world, is actually pretty fun to play. The guns all feel good to great, and shooting your enemies is incredibly satisfying. I’m a fan of any shooter where headshots give you an appropriate squishing or popping sound, followed by the head exploding into delightful, bloody chunks, which the game provides.

You also get a lot of abilities, the existence of which are waved away as a result of nanomachines living in your bloodstream. Granted, a lot of these powers aren’t breaking new ground or anything, but they’re fun nonetheless, such as a force push that can essentially vaporize enemies.

As this is an open world game, there is plenty to do. There’s a lot of side missions to complete, and in fact, a large chunk of the game is probably taken up by side missions as the actual story is relatively short by comparison. Unsurprisingly, most of the side missions involve killing everyone around.

By completing these side quests, you’ll gain experience points for each faction in the game. There are three main NPC’s who all give you “Projects,” which is a fancy word for upgrades and new skills. You need to level up each one of these skill trees to level 5 before you can tackle the main mission and take out The Authority, so doing the side missions is a pretty big part of the game. You can also upgrade your guns, your powers, and yourself (i.e. your damage, health, etc.), so if you like upgrades, then Rage 2 is going to shower you with ways to make numbers go up.

You can also upgrade your vehicles, although I personally didn’t spend too much time dealing with the vehicles, mainly because the vehicle controls aren’t really all that great. They all feel like you’re trying to drive a truck filled with cement blocks. They’re heavy, and stiff, and not so great for precision turns. They work fine enough, and considering Rage 2 has a pretty big world to travel around, you’ll have to use vehicles no matter what.

I encountered a surprising amount of bugs and glitches while playing. Enemies would randomly spawn in front of me in bandit camps and start shooting me. Music would randomly start up and then get cut off for seemingly no reason. There were points where I’d try to talk to NPCs, and they either wouldn’t respond, or they’d talk to me with another NPC’s voice. Hearing the grizzled old bartender’s voice coming out of a young woman was a bit startling. The in-game menus also have a weird issue where switching between the various sections would cause the game to freeze for a second. Overall, there’s nothing so bad that it broke the game for me, but it definitely could use a patch or two to work out the kinks.

In the end, Rage 2 is a bit of an enigma. I actually enjoyed the time I spent with it, as it’s a nice open-world romp, and shooting various bandits and mutants was pretty fun. There were some good, tense gunfights, boss battles that felt pretty satisfying, and there’s always something rewarding about leveling up your character to the point that they’re basically an unstoppable killing machine.

It’s just a shame that the story, world, characters, dialogue, and just about everything else about the game is just so unbelievably bland and unoriginal. The game wants you to believe it’s just a wacky, little post-apocalyptic adventure, but also wants you to care about the characters and their plight.

Rage 2 doesn’t know what kind of game it’s trying to be and tries to go for a little of everything. It’s the video game equivalent of going to a fast food restaurant with a self serve soda machine and pouring a little of every drink into your cup. Sure the resulting swamp water concoction will probably taste good and sweet, but it won’t really have much of a defining flavor.

Rage 2 is a sweet little experience that won’t leave much of an impression. It’s fun enough to play, and when it’s available for free on Playstation Plus, Xbox Games With Gold, the Epic Games Store, or any other game giving service in the future, it’ll definitely be worth downloading. It just doesn’t do enough to be worth a full $60 to $70 purchase.

3.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of Rage 2 was purchased by TheGamer for this review. The game is available now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

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