'Rage 2': Game Review

Bethesda's sequel to the 2011 postapocalyptic shooter aims to top its predecessor in every way.

Out of Bethesda's myriad properties, one of the least likely to receive a sequel seemed to be 2011's Rage. Yet, here we are. With Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Doom) taking over main development duties from id Software, Rage 2 set out to make something bigger and better than the first installment. Does it succeed? Sort of.

Rage 2 is a serviceable postapocalyptic adventure with absolutely stellar combat that ends up muddying its most impressive achievements with a lackluster open world, forgettable characters and a forced over-the-top attitude that's more grating than endearing.

Rage first debuted eight years ago as an enjoyable enough action game despite its overwhelming brown pastiche and cookie-cutter shooter sameness. It followed former U.S. Marine Lieutenant Nicholas Raine as he emerged from an underground shelter known as an Ark 106 years after being sealed away as part of an initiative known as the Eden Project — typical sci-fi stuff. Raine was one of the few remaining survivors who exited the Ark and began acclimating himself to life on the surface while leading a resistance group against an organization known as the Authority, who have risen once more in Rage 2

The sequel picks up two decades after the end of the first game, with Raine out of the picture and a new Ranger named Walker picking up where he left off. You can opt for a male or female Walker (it doesn't matter who you choose) as you work toward revenge fueled by the destruction of Walker's home settlement Vineland by the Authority.

That desire for revenge (and a huge arsenal of guns and abilities) makes Walker an unequivocal badass. Rage 2 is deliciously gory, which allows Walker's violent tendencies to thrill and delight. There are no stealth sections to slow things down, which is great news for anyone fed up with sneaking through areas where a well-timed shotgun blast to the face would do the job just as well. id Software, taking on combat duties in this installment, has ensured that when it's time to fight, players will have a smile plastered on their face every second. And there are plenty of goons to wreak havoc on.

A wide variety of weapons are at Walker's disposal, from a basic pistol to the Fury Smart Rocket Launcher to the devastating Combat Shotgun. This bone-shattering arsenal is what imbues the game with such satisfying gunplay. The Rage "staple" weapon, Wingstick, a souped-up boomerang that'll return to you after ripping apart your enemies, is always good to have at your side. The weapon can be upgraded to curve around corners and still hit its mark, making it useful in a pinch. The Grav-Dart Launcher is an interesting tool that lets you toss your enemies around the map.

All of the game's weapons can be upgraded to be even more destructive, making for an experience that's more reminiscent of 2016's fantastic Doom reboot than other modern shooters out there.

But Walker's Nanotrite abilities — veritable superpowers — are integral to the experience, as well. Overdrive is especially useful, letting you pull off some particularly gruesome attacks. The Combat Shotgun feels overpowered as it is, but paired with Overdrive, Walker quickly becomes a killing machine. Of course, there are other abilities to learn such as Dash, which lets Walker speed or jump further; Shatter, which makes enemies' heads explode; and Barrier, which creates a portable shield.

Players can also combine Nanotrite abilities together with weapons for different types of satisfying combos, which makes the game feel a little unfair for everyone who isn't Walker. The bottom line is that combat is visceral, frenetic and exciting at every turn. It's nothing inventive, but it's a rush of adrenaline and leagues ahead of anything the original game did. You can practically feel Doom’s influence oozing out of every pore.

It's a good thing combat is so enjoyable, because the rest of the game falls flat by comparison. Rage 2 features an open world that players can traverse at their leisure, hitting up vendors, trade towns to fast travel between, vending machines that offer handy loot, and bounties to be completed via the job board. There's no shortage of things to do, with quest-givers seemingly around every corner, but it all feels dull: go to area X to pick up item Y and return to person Z. It’s a well-trodden path that’s mostly forgettable, especially for those who've played an open world game in the last decade.

At least you don’t have to do it all on foot. There's a plethora of different vehicles to hop in and burn rubber with, but you'll likely want to stick with the all-terrain vehicle called Phoenix (voiced by Lynda Carter) but fair warning: her commentary will begin to grate on your nerves. If you find a monster truck, race car, or terrible old jalopy out there in the wasteland during your travels, you can save it using the garage system, much like the way Borderlands lets players "catch a ride." They'll be up for grabs later whenever you want to call in a ride, anywhere you happen to be.

Thankfully, vehicle controls have been vastly improved since the first Rage, which is a godsend when considering some of the driving-heavy segments required to proceed through the campaign.

The world of Rage 2 is a chaotic and colorful one, rife with bizarre personalities that seem as though they're about to leap off the screen at any moment. Unfortunately, while many of the more prominent characters themselves seem interesting at first glance, beyond the surface they're anything but.

In the end, the game's characters begin to blend together: inhabitants of the world who appear to be the same person copied and pasted again and again (they're huge fans of Mohawks) and other quest-givers with sob stories to share about their woes in the apocalypse. Anyone who isn't a main character is practically interchangeable, which makes exploring the open world a bit fruitless given that so many of its inhabitants look and sound the same — overtly cautious, out of their minds, weird for the sake of being weird or always talking about "swill." At least their names are unique, with people like Glisten Success, Lance Havoc, Dag Satan, and Ornstein Rumbunkle wandering around.

With that in mind, one of the most frustrating things about Rage 2 is that everything, including its marketing materials, seems engineered to be "zany" and "over-the-top" when it doesn't really need to be. Its characters feel painfully generic, and soaking them in overwhelming amounts of neon doesn't change that fact. 

Rage 2 was obviously dead-set on improving from the first game in every way. Unfortunately, splashing random bits of shocking hues onto the wasteland doesn't make for a better game, nor does attempting to liven things up with schlocky dialogue, random names and canned weirdness. It’s a shame the entire package isn’t a complete improvement, because id Software’s fantastic combat helps elevate the game beyond most of what Rage 2’s peers usually offer.

Without an interesting world to explore for 10-12 hours, however, it ends up falling flat. Here’s hoping a potential Rage 3 moves past its “OMG Sp0rK!!1!” phase and finds a happy medium between Borderlands and Doom for its next iteration.

Rage 2 is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC on May 14.

This game was reviewed on PC.