Bethesda release a new open world, post-apocalyptic shooter but it has more in common with Doom than Fallout…
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It’s quite common now to see people describe open world games as a genre. But although that’s not strictly true, since an open world can be used for any number of different game styles, it hardly seems worth arguing about, given that whenever somebody talks about an open world title today they’re invariably describing one using the Ubisoft/Sony formula, itself derived from Grand Theft Auto III. An open world should offer an infinite range of possibilities in terms of gameplay and visuals and yet everything about Rage 2, both good and bad, is strangely familiar.
There are many parallels to be made between Rage 2 and the recently released Days Gone, and which is better is going to be a source of argument for months to come – even if neither are really worthy of such prolonged discussion. We tend to favour Rage 2, since the gunplay is vastly superior and some of the best we’ve played all generation. The open world though, or at least the way it’s utilised, is something close to a disaster.
If you’re wondering what Rage 1 was, it was released, after an extremely troubled development, in 2011 and intended as a new stablemate for id Software’s iconic first person shooters Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake. It had nowhere near the impact of any of those games though and while by no means terrible was quickly forgotten, to the point where it’s genuinely surprisingly that Bethesda has brought it back; especially as this isn’t a reboot but a straight sequel.
You would’ve thought the relative obscurity of the original might have inspired a gentler lead-in to the story but Rage 2 opens with an immediately confusing rant by cyborg leader General Cross (we can only hope Admiral Angry and Flight Lieutenant Furious will be added as DLC) about conquering the world of an already post-apocalyptic Earth. What happened and why goes entirely unmentioned at first, although you quickly realise that the game isn’t interested in storytelling and that destroying Cross and his army is all that really matters.
What the game is interested in though is shooting things, and this it does extremely well. Although the lead developer is Just Cause creators Avalanche Studios (who also made the official Mad Max game) id Software has helped out and that’s immediately obvious from the excellent gunplay, which is at least as satisfying as the Doom reboot. As psychopathic as it may sound, the little pop and crack when you get a headshot is one of the most satisfying gameplay rewards we’ve experienced all year and that alone has helped put up with many of Rage 2’s problems.
What isn’t a problem though is all the many abilities and weapons you unlock as the game progresses. At the start you’re basically just a generic first person shooter character, but you’re able to constantly upgrade your suit to enable special abilities such as double jumps, Force pushes, and shockwave attacks. These in turn can be buffed and expanded by collecting in-game resources, as can your increasingly wide range of weapons and your vehicle.
The combat and the upgrading is great, reminiscent of Crackdown in how you track down new abilities, but with even more variety and customisation options. Each of your three main allies in the game have complex skill trees of their own to unlock, according to whether you complete their story missions and related side quests, and by the end of the game you’re an almost literal superhero, leaping tall mutants with a single bound and taking on hordes of enemies without breaking a sweat.
If you’re wondering where the catch is, it’s the fact that, bizarrely, the game fails to offer any interesting context for using these extremely solid gameplay mechanics. The story campaign is not only disappointingly short, it ignores whole swathes of the map, which you don’t have to go anywhere near in order to complete the short 12-hour story. There are plenty of side quests but most are unimaginative variations on clearing enemy camps and all are pulled from a small pool of templates and dumped onto the map with little thought or care.
The story missions are more varied but seem hellbent on turning the game into a dull, linear shooter that looks and plays worrying like a mediocre Xbox 360 title (i.e. something like Rage 1). If we mention that the first mission takes place in a sewer you can probably get an idea for the level of inspiration at work, with the sprinkling of boss battles and unique set pieces being too short and too infrequent to make up for everything else.
The driving is also a disappointment, and while you can drive any vehicle in the game most are either no fun to control or take a lot of upgrading until they are – by which point you’ve probably lost interest. Although overall Rage 2 is the better game, the convoy battles are never quite as interesting as in Mad Max and we soon found ourselves trying to use fast travel as much as possible.
Rage 2’s schizophrenic mix of good and bad is infuriating and we don’t understand how, if id Software were helping out with the gunplay, they couldn’t also have pointed out that the open world and story missions are so dull and lifeless. Neither studio has much experience with storytelling though and while the game is clearly gunning for a sort of 2000 AD style punk irreverence it’s rarely as funny as it thinks it is, especially compared to the thematically similar Borderlands.
You’d think that Bethesda of all companies would understand how oversaturated gaming is with both open world games and post-apocalyptic ones, but Rage 2 has absolutely no sense of self-awareness when it comes to its own lack of originality.
The parallels with Days Gone are obvious but where that game did everything to an acceptable, but never exceptional, level of quality Rage 2 is either excellent or awful, with very little middle ground. The end result is still enjoyable, once you learn how to work around and ignore the worst elements, but it’s rage-inducing to see so much good work wasted on such an ultimately unremarkable game.
In Short: As a first person shooter, Rage 2 has some of the best action of the year but as an open world adventure it squanders everything on a listless story campaign and banal mission design.
Pros: Excellent gunplay and a huge range of interesting and impactful abilities, weapons, and upgrades.
Cons: Terrible use of the open world environment, with banal, repetitive missions and an overly short campaign. So-so vehicle combat and a weak script that never lands its jokes.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: Avalanche Studios and id Software
Release Date: 14th May 2019
Age Rating: 18
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