[Note: Check out the responses to reader questions in the comments of our Ask Our Reviewer Anything About Rage 2.]
I never felt any rage while playing Rage 2. Excitement from thrilling gunfights? Yes. The joy of unlocking a great new ability that changed the way I move or fight in interesting ways? Definitely. A small touch of tedium from repetitive “kill everything” missions and a relatively lifeless open world? Sure – but no actual rage. Regardless, I haven’t played a single-player shooter this energetic and satisfying in its moment-to-moment action since 2016’s Doom; it’s clear that developers Avalanche and id transplanted some of that game’s successes into this large-scale shooter, making its action feel markedly different from and more vibrant than a Far Cry or Borderlands game.
Rage 2 picks up the story of the 2011 original, brushes off seven years of accumulated dust, and declares it still good under the Five-Second Rule. You definitely don’t need to have played Rage to understand the simple concept of a future Earth where an asteroid impact destroyed just about everything that wasn’t sheltered underground in Arks, which are basically Fallout’s vaults (without the sadistic experiments). Now Mad Max-style raiders run rampant and a techno-fascist group called The Authority is trying to kill or subjugate everything in sight – the connections to the events of Rage are thin and distant enough that Rage 2 is effectively a soft reboot.
The opening moments have a fun Duke Nukem/Bulletstorm action movie parody vibe to them, including one hilarious gag immediately after you select your character’s gender. It even goes so far as to name that character – who carries the title of Ranger – “Walker.” But it’s wildly inconsistent with that comedic tone and also tries to shoehorn in some emotional weight by introducing and immediately killing a mentor character. Every time that’s brought up it feels out of place next to all the gung-ho heroics. I wish they’d fully embraced the madcap fun with the same enthusiasm that Borderlands did with its sequel.
Throughout the course of the story there’s nothing really approaching character development for anybody, no decisions are made, and of the handful of allies you meet only the returning Doctor Kvasir stands out as remotely memorable, thanks in large part to his creepy demeanor and really gross sidekick. The original Rage’s General Cross also returns – in person this time – as a blandly evil tyrant who believes that “humanity has run its course” and should be replaced by his brand of cybernetic mutants. He doesn’t make any argument for this philosophy, so it comes off as evil for evil’s sake and makes sure Cross never becomes anything more than a cartoon villain.
That’s fine for Rage 2’s purposes because it puts its action front and center. Right from the get-go the feedback from shooting is excellent, from a satisfyingly juicy melon-popping sound effect that accompanies headshots to the reticule flashing a skull icon to indicate a kill. The latter is extremely useful because enemies react dramatically to being hit, including falling down and getting up again or having helmets or pieces of armor fly off to indicate that that hurt. And, though I wouldn’t call the AI smart by any means, they’re aggressive and generally keep on the move. While I’d have loved to have seen them bounce off walls to the extent they do in the original Rage, they’re excellent punching bags for you to use your ever-growing toolbox of tricks on.
Combat and movement start off fairly conventional, but Rage 2 does a fine job of doling out one game-changing power after another to keep it feeling fresh for its 20 hours of campaign missions and loads of optional side content. For instance, you begin with the ability to scramble up ledges and execute an extremely handy dash-dodge that lets you rapidly strafe out of the way of incoming projectiles or charging melee attacks, which feels great. But unlocking the double-jump opened up the map in a big way, especially after I put some upgrade points into it, letting me reach and explore the vertically stacked enemy bases much more easily.
Add to that the hyper-satisfying Shatter attack, which is effectively a Force Push or Fus-Ro-Dah that sends enemies flying, and the ground-pound area-of-effect blast and there are a lot of options to keep in mind while you’re trashing groups of thugs or mutants. There were several times when I felt cornered by a heavily armored enemy who was soaking up my bullets, then remembered that I had a Shatter charged and ready and flung the unsuspecting goon over a railing to his death.
Stringing all of that together into combos feels fantastic and fluid, especially when you mix in the weapons’ alternate-fire functions. They’re pretty standard guns at a glance, but most have interesting twists: the assault rifle zooms in as you’d expect when you hold alt-fire, but the pistol switches from the default burst-fire to single shot, the shotgun turns into a knockback gun that works at long range, the rocket launcher locks onto targets, etc. Each gun’s behavior changes again to be more extreme when you activate the Overdrive ability, which (after you charge it up by racking up kills) gives you a brief run of super-powered destruction. It’s a great way to get out of a jam, and not unlike Doom’s Berserk power-up.
Once you finish a brief intro mission you’re turned loose into the world, free to meet the three main quest-giver characters and do their bidding in any order you choose, or to strike out on your own and explore. Every activity you do ends up filling one of the three progress bars that represents each of those characters anyway, even if you haven’t met them yet, which is great because it means no progress is wasted no matter what path you take.
One thing Rage 2 has definitely learned from Doom is how it encourages you to leave a position of relative safety and dive into the fray. Most enemies drop a resource called Feltrite when they die, which is one of a ridiculous number of currencies used for upgrades. Feltrite expires relatively quickly, which means you have to put yourself out there in danger order to collect your reward, but doing so is made more survivable by the fact that Feltrite also heals you when you pick it up. It’s thrilling to constantly be in the thick of it, fighting enemies on all sides, and putting yourself into situations that would be suicidal in other shooters but are perfectly reasonable here. Ammo is, for the most part, extremely plentiful, and I didn’t find myself running dry on shotgun or assault rifle ammo until the last handful of missions when you’re up against enemies with lots of damage-soaking shields and armor.
As the violent name would suggest, Rage 2 is not a game about stealth. Sure, you can get in a free shot before a group notices you, but there’s no concept of a stealth kill. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned – skulking around would slow down the pace that makes these battles so much fun. But you can still get the lay of the land before charging into a big fight: with the push of a button you can illuminate every enemy or mission objective in a large radius of you, even through walls. That’s extremely helpful for knowing when the action’s about to heat up, finding the last straggler you’re supposed to kill, tracking down fuel tanks you need to blow up, or just for figuring out which way you’re supposed to go next since there’s no minimap to guide you.
Enemies across the four main factions are the expected and reasonably diverse mix of light, heavy, explosive, melee swarmers, stealth, and armored troops, but there are a few fun surprises in there. Goon grenadiers, for instance, whack grenades at you with baseball bats, which means if you shoot them as they toss the explosive into the air and wind up to swing the grenade will drop, killing them and anyone around them. There’s some color there, and it goes a long way toward making them feel unique to this game.
The actual objectives could use a bit more of that, because most of your missions, especially early on, will have the straightforward goal of “Kill All Goons.” That’s not the worst thing in the world considering how much fun it is to kill goons, but at the same time it’s frustrating that Rage 2 doesn’t make great use of the mission variety that actually exists. Later on, you’ll occasionally see quests that involve holdouts against waves of attackers, hunts to destroy specific types of objects, getting trapped while a horde of mutants attacks you, and more. But there were long stretches when I would’ve loved to see some of this variety interspersed between goon-killing sessions.
After wiping out each group of enemies, you can easily spend a lot of time hunting down chests full of cash, Feltrite, or various ability upgrade points. Every location will helpfully tell you how many such goodies it has left to find, but until you earn the upgrade that gives you a hot/cold proximity indicator for how far you are from one of them I don’t recommend getting too hung up on seeking them out – even with the assist they can be frustratingly well hidden despite being bright pink, and time wasted hunting for a box is time not spent having fun in a firefight.
With all of these great abilities and upgrades comes some cumbersome management. First of all, there’s just an absurd number of different currencies and resources to collect. In addition to Feltrite, which is used to upgrade abilities and guns, there’s cash to buy things in stores or summon vehicles, there are unique upgrade points for each of three different specialty trees, unique upgrade points for your car, and more. To go along with that are a ridiculous number of upgrade menus and trees to apply these points to. Each gun has an upgrade menu. Each ability has an upgrade menu. Each of the three main allies has their own tree of upgrades. Your car has its own upgrade menu. You can upgrade all of your craftable items with new behaviors, like allowing the Wingstick to bounce between targets. I found I had to pause periodically to go through every menu to see if I was leaving things un-upgraded, often finding a pile of money that needed to be spent or points that needed to be allocated in one place or another. While many of those are simple stat boosts to damage or cooldown times, others let you pick between modifiers like increased clip capacity, increased rate of fire, or even homing shots. They’re definitely worth checking out.On top of that is a very light crafting system where you combine two of a handful of collected resources to create consumables like healing items, grenades, or Rage’s signature three-bladed boomerang, the Wingstick. This feels like an obligatory homage to the original Rage’s crafting system – the fact that you can pause in the middle of an intense battle to go into a menu and craft more healing items as long as you have the materials takes some of the sense of danger out of things.
There are a handful of boss fights within the story missions, and those are mostly well thought out challenges that force you to make extensive use of the dash dodge ability. However, you’ll also be put through several fights against the biggest behemoth mutants, and even though they very much nail the look of a classic id Software monster, on Normal difficulty (the second of four settings) they’re are kind of a joke as long as you have the rocket launcher and a handful of rockets. A single shot instantly disables it, exposing its weak point that you can blast away at with an assault rifle or shotgun, so especially if the beast doesn’t have a lot of backup it’s reduced to a helpless pushover.
The open-world map is expansive enough and each of the regions does a decent job of flavoring itself with a different variety of post-apocalypse (generic wasteland, desert, jungle, etc), and in general it looks good and runs well. I played on a GTX 1070ti at 1080p at ultra settings with a steady 60fps, though a GTX 2080 had to turn the resolution down from 4K to 1440p to hold that same frame rate (it was in the mid 40s at 4K). The problem is there’s not much spontaneity or life to it, at least next to what you’d see in a Fallout or Far Cry. Sure, you’ll come across groups of enemies fighting each other (which is fun to watch) and every so often some cars will zip by on the roads, and you’ll occasionally stumble upon a wizard in a flying house selling cheats, but I’ve seen very little by way of interesting random encounters or wildlife. In more than 24 hours of playing, I’ve had exactly one run-in with a pack of roaming wolves – which is odd, because Avalanche included wildlife in the design but made it so rare you might never see it despite the world feeling barren for its absence.
That said, some of the best toys (and an entire city!) are hidden off the main story path, so there’s definitely a reason to ignore the mission markers on the map and explore on your own. I completed the campaign without ever finding the impractical but hilarious Grav-Dart launcher, which lets you chuck enemies off into the sunset, or several other weapons, and have been tracking them all down in the post-game, which continues merrily along even after you defeat The Authority.
Rage 2’s fully open world makes good on the promise of the original game’s concept of a Mad Max-style world where you cruise around the post-apocalypse looking for trouble, but there are few opportunities to make use of your tricked-out Christopher Nolan Batmobile-style car/tank, the Phoenix. This thing is so fast, armored, repairable, and upgradable that there’s basically no reason to use any of the other vehicles you can find and unlock until you get the low-flying Icarus aircraft that lets you travel from point A to B as the crow flies and explore with complete freedom. What good is a tank if it can’t keep up with a fast-moving enemy? What good is a speedy race car if its weapons are so ineffective? They all pale in comparison to the Jack-of-all-trades Phoenix, which is just more fun to use.
The best thing we get to do in a car is a series of Convoy activities in which you chase down and attack speeding trucks and their armed escorts, which are constantly roaming the map. Some of the cars are shielded and have to be hit with certain attacks to expose their weak points, and those fights can be a blast once you figure out which weapons to use.
Other than that, though? There’s basically nothing to shoot at from your car besides random motorcycle goons, and there’s not really a point to that since there’s no reward for dusting them. You can drive up to an enemy base and open fire and thin the herd before you head in, sure, but that hardly seems sporting and isn’t nearly as much fun as going in on foot because the absurdly effective auto-aim does all the work for you. After running a couple of races, I definitely found myself looking in vain for more ways to use the car.
Note that the BFG 9000 weapon is confirmed as being a Deluxe/Collector’s Edition exclusive for the time being, though despite playing on a Deluxe version I have not yet stumbled across it.