Against the Machine 2
Avalanche is a weird as hell company with a wild track record. The same umbrella that brought us the beloved Just Cause 2 also gave us the maligned Generation Zero. They’re an open world box of chocolates: you never know how much busywork you’re going to get.
Yet, the boisterous bombastic nature of the Rage series lends itself well to Avalanche’s chaotic design philosophy. It is truly a singular analog for their work thus far. This isn’t the Rage you remember. Gone are the drab aesthetics, empty world building blocks, and tight shooting compliments of Id. This is a whole new ball game.
Rage 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: May 14, 2019
Rage 2‘s resting state is what I can only describe as “macabre wackiness.” There’s lots of death, lots of shooting, and an array of bright colors, which, like Far Cry New Dawn, feels like a direct response to the “brown shooter” motif: broad strokes the original Rage employed. Although the two aforementioned shooters have plenty of company, it feels like we’ve made it into a brave new era of aesthetics.
After a very serious intro you’re thrown into the rainbow world of Rage 2‘s apocalypse with a pistol and the Krull thing. Very quickly you’re gifted “ranger gear,” the main gimmick that grants you superhero-esque powers. Even though Rage 2 has a lot of by-the-numbers mechanics (detective vision, a devil trigger/rage of the gods super-state called overdrive) it owns them. Once the neon vision hit after engaging overdrive for the first time and I saw the arcade-like multiplier on-screen, I was in.
You have one job to do: kill the evil commander (who is part of the equally evil-sounding “Authority” regime) that obliterated your home. Times are tough in the apocalypse, and different factions have popped up amid a mostly reconstructed technological era of warfare. It also makes a point to show you who every named character is (with a little Borderlands zoom up freeze frame intro), which seems cheesy but is actually admirable, as I can’t remember who practically anyone is in most modern shooters. Yes, admirable, but mostly unsuccessful.
A narrative isn’t really something that Rage 2 sells with any degree of zeal. After the first five or so hours of NPC intros, the second portion of the campaign basically involves “doing a bunch of stuff on the map to level up three VIP NPC ranks to progress with the story.” Now I dig that! If it was a narrative-heavy experience with nothing to do that would be the worst kind of gating. But Rage 2 is basically “screw around: the game.” I completed one of three requirements before I even got to that point, then chain-completed the other two while I was doing the first critical questline.
At no point was I gated out of a campaign mission. But the fact remains, the narrative is very one-track-minded and feels detached as a whole. Nearly everything you do is a solo affair and there’s no real attunement to the world from start to finish. Your main request is to crush, kill, and destroy, alone.
Not all of the side activities are winners. In one instance I came across an uncompleted gas station I needed to blow up that I swore I had done earlier that day: I just assumed the game failed to save my progress. Nope, it turns out it was just a different, smaller version of that same area. Now raiding that gas station — using force push to rip someone’s armor off, jumping onto the roof to power slam the ground like Goku, and using overdrive to turn an assault rifle into a machinegun — was a hell of a lot of fun.
Rage 2‘s crowning achievement is that it’s always a joy to play in spite of any slow moments or on-paper open world busywork, which assuaged some of the low points. In all you’re looking at a roughly 15- to 20-hour campaign, with the typical “double that” guesstimate to do everything. If you’re on board with the aforementioned rank-up missions, there’s very little room for bloat there as Rage 2 has a reasonably sized map and a pointed critical path.
Chiefly, Rage 2 is perfect for messing around in, and that counts for a lot. Upgrades are plentiful, and include double jumping, dashing, and launching singularities with your hand. It embraces the weird aspects of shooters and allows for fairly open-ended customization with upgrades for abilities, guns, and projects (more macro-type stuff like general passive upgrades). Almost everything is impactful too. Random chests can net you a ton of cash or upgrade materials, a random low-grade shotgun enhancement allows you to reload all six bullets at once, and you can craft or buy pretty much anything in the game. Most of these systems aren’t new, mind, it’s just curated well.
That really is Rage 2‘s whole vibe. It’s like a Voltron of other shooters: Borderlands‘ irreverent wasteland setting, Doom‘s fast-paced FPS angle, and Far Cry‘s upgrade system; and while I wouldn’t say it’s better than either of the top performers of those franchises, it comes close. Vehicular movement, when it comes to most of the game’s selection, is tight, and wandering around blowing up Mad Max-style raiding parties and convoys is a fun way to make traversal engaging.
While the open world is the main draw, Rage 2 is still a shooter first. Locomotion isn’t quite as smooth as the recent Doom, but Avalanche is no slouch, with plenty of aerial antics and quick responsive action. Headshots have a satisfying pop to them and combat can get pretty damn deep, especially if you jack up the difficulty setting and dig into some of the skill upgrades to customize your approach. Rage 2 also employs the “slow mo” effect with aplomb, using it in specific surgical instances without overdoing it (even Doom‘s glory kills got old).
I was pleasantly surprised with the shooter chimera that is Rage 2, which ended up being open world mini-Doom 2016. It’s not going to make anyone a believer the free roam format, but folks already predisposed to those vices will find plenty to sink their teeth into.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]