It’s funny how RAGE 2 just sort of happened. There was no real impact at the game’s reveal, lead-up, or release, despite an arguably far more aggressive marketing push than for its predecessor. Part of this can be attributed to a massive shift in focus, going away from id Software’s “Legend of Zelda with a shotgun” and instead Avalanche of Just Cause fame aiming for a more Borderlands-meets-Mad Max framing. Layer on combat similar to that of Doom (2016), a bright neon aesthetic more Cyberpunk 2077 than an apocalypse, and a massive open world, with a sprinkling of rather cringey humor. It was a compelling argument, yet RAGE 2 fell completely off the radar. After multiple requests, I dug in for several hours to find out why this was the case.
And boy howdy should I have left well enough alone!
Critics were exceedingly generous with the game at release, to the point I’m not sure how it scored half as well as it did. This is a game with glaring bugs within the earliest hours of the campaign, yet resources were instead prioritized for two for-purchase expansion packs and a bunch of microtransaction cosmetic packs. Forget the texture pop-in of its predecessor; RAGE 2 has NPCs spawning in walls, NPC drivers plowing into walls and static elements, hard freezes, and somehow lag in menus. I’ve found multiple players alleging online that it’s possible to be locked out of finishing the game by simply quitting without finishing the final quest in the main storyline once it’s accepted.
The physics in RAGE 2 are also wonky at best and broken at worst, both for on-foot combat and for vehicles. Driving in races brings back haunting memories of the original Mafia. Any time you drive off a ramp into the air, it’s a roll of the dice how you’ll land. Meanwhile, on-foot play is mostly a matter of enemies behaving unreliably, but this includes their attacks, which can sometimes hit you when you reasonably believe you are behind cover. Regardless of advertisements insisting this is another rip-and-tear-style FPS, your puny health bar and limited self-healing options will make your starting hours an absolute chore where you’ll abuse sightlines to survive.
Yes, when you are freely flowing about in combat, dashing, pounding, and electrocuting enemies before charging a shotgun burst, there are moments of catharsis. Though never as good as its inspiration, RAGE 2 understands how to make guns sound impactfully kickass. However, the bright spots aren’t enough to make up for everything else, with braindead enemies made all the worse by too many enemy types that grind down to “hide while the baddie fires, then unload a few clips into the designated weakpoint(s).” There’s an entire sidequest variant involving Authority sentry turrets that’s legitimately just this exact formula, repeated over and over.
Even the game’s sense of humor stumbles. Alongside its mix of super-powered FPS and vehicular combat, RAGE 2 trades a charming, if subdued personality for a sense of comedy that would feel stale in a Borderlands game. Yet that humor is the only unique leg the game has to stand on, however eye roll-worthy it may be.
The opening is so rushed that I can summarize it in one sentence: Everyone but you and your best friend is dead thanks to generic evil scientist, so go reunite his enemies to kill him. Do these allies of yours have unique personalities? Not really, save for the scientist Kvasir, and even he’s no prize winner for charm. The main villain is so bloody bland that all I remember about him is that his chest looks like a second face.
Maybe the story was meant to be secondary, but then why are there so many drawn-out cutscenes and linear missions trying to win you over? The open-ended sandbox is so divorced from the story campaign that one wonders why they are paired as they are at all, conjoined at the hip against any good sense. Exacerbating things is that everything from line delivery to facial animations is a noticeable step down from in RAGE, which was released for consoles with much better optimization.
The story behind this game’s development is where I imagine the real drama must be buried. Avalanche is a solid studio, crafting cult classics like Just Cause, Generation Zero, and Mad Max. They don’t typically leave things unfinished, going so far as to re-release Just Cause 4, so it’s bewildering to see RAGE 2 in such a poor state.
The minute design oversights go on and on, like lack of minimaps when in towns — or good signposting of said towns, for that matter. Much of the environmental design is indistinguishable, regardless of biome. There’s a transphobic moment where a trans intelligence broker deadnames themselves in their introductory dialogue. Hell, RAGE 2’s cybernetic hacking cinematic actually gave me a headache from its excessive flashing lights and screen-jittering. Even older design elements like the dynamic combat animations and certain enemy types have become worse with time. I hate to be as repetitive as the game itself, but it’s undeniable that RAGE has aged far better than a game that, as of this writing, is only two years old.
What’s most infuriating is that, amid all the frustrating cut corners and unfinished elements, you can see the potential underlying RAGE 2. As cliche as the story may be, Mad Max meets The Seven Samurai is a helluva pitch. Your various super soldier abilities, which are unlocked via exploring the world for Ark pods, could be game-changing in the vein of Crackdown if given much briefer recharge times. A narrower world with the same amount of freedom afforded could be a vast improvement, allowing for higher-quality design. A sturdier health bar would do protagonist Walker wonders as well.
Neither a total power fantasy nor committing to a more brutal apocalyptic shooter, RAGE 2 is a game without a real identity. It’s loud, obnoxious, and desperate to win over those enthused by its predecessor, but in doing so all it does is isolate those of us who cared about the first game. Much like Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, this is a reboot in all but name, lacking a confident step forward in lieu of starting from scratch no matter the cost. The story oddly alludes to an entire conflict that sounds far more befitting of a sequel to RAGE, but that was skipped over in favor of… this.
I might not get the hours back I wasted playing RAGE 2, but I can at least save you the time of ever touching this broken mess of a game. No arsenal of weapons and abilities is worth enduring a bland sandbox and a boilerplate hero’s journey. I feel bad for everyone who got roped into this game’s development — it’s clear that talented people were trying to address criticisms of the original game and revive the IP with their own spin. However, it simply never comes together enough to warrant playing it.
At best, RAGE 2 will remain a rare curiosity on Xbox Game Pass for those brave enough to push through all of its problems. At worst, it’s another game leaving fans frustrated at Bethesda’s inconsistent margin for quality over the last few years. Just a few years prior, we were told that promising-looking games like Prey 2 were canceled by Bethesda over quality concerns, yet now we get games like this and Fallout 76. Again, it leaves one to wonder, and maybe someday we’ll have an answer. For now, I’m turning my attention to a concise game full of ripping and tearing that sticks the landing… with a jetpack.