Rage 2, a late review, PS4

Bethesda seem to have their fair share of ups and downs, especially if you pay much attention the media, social or otherwise. Rage 2 was an interesting moment on that roller coaster given its lukewarm reception after a full-on and suitably anarchic promotional campaign.

Apart from the usual web, bus, media ads. It was interesting to see the local community team stacking their chips on more than a few expo appearances. Their Rage2 Tattoo drive certainly got people talking with mixed feelings, and being right on top of release without any sign of review code, obviously set a few reviewers off on the wrong foot.

I have been toying with these words for a while, and its fair to say Rage 2 got short changed in the review period after release. In this ever moving world that wants it fast and wants it now, the game is big in mileage and the narrative is short, but there is plenty to do on the side, it also falls in comparison to some stable mates and if an outlet was under pressure to turn the game around – you can guarantee they didn’t get far enough in to skip over the early hurdles. That may have been due to motivation or taste, but sometimes you need to boil it down and see what’s left. Instead of barracking a company for not gifting their product too soon.

I played Rage the first time round and it hit the spot for me, admittedly the last decade may not have been kind, but it was one of the first time AI enemies seemed to really come for you, scampering around the scenery as if they knew what they were doing. It was a post apocalyptic shooter and being born in the time of muted colours it didn’t really have a sexy look, but it had playability and in my then review for Game Console Magazine (NZ) it came up well, the review still lurks under the Future Five banner by a dubiously named ‘Contributor’.

Rage could have come, gone and been left alone, but here we are with a neon pink hued sequel, almost as if Avalanche, the developers of the cracking 2015 game Mad Max, had nothing better to do and offered more of their work at just the right time. It wasn’t really necessary, but it was in many ways a well founded and justified decision.

The game puts you in the shoes of Walker, and let’s clear up something here, he’s not the ‘Last Ranger’ – the police of the Wasteland, super soldiers in power armour using Nanotrites to be better. He is an opportunist that jumped into the suit of a fallen Ranger, a driven protagonist yes, but a Ranger by chance. We pick up the narrative during an attack on a haven of sorts and the stock standard training ground for picking up your basic moves, ending the introduction by facing off against a monstrous boss and being introduced to your sentient, cheeky and very useful vehicle the Phoenix.

The sequence sets out a revenge mission as your adopted mother figure is slaughtered and you vow to avenge. Tally ho. What follows really is up to you.

Once the world opens up it seems to be a great big desert with a few repetitive checkpoints scattered about. Of course the game drives you on auto through the first few things to get you started, but your world is wide open and that’s a nice thing for a change. For some people though, its too much to cope with, some people need structure, some people cannot simply explore.

Completing side missions, story missions and random encounters will start to fill your experience in three different tech-trees, each of these can be enhanced with skills and buffs as you spend one of your in game currencies to unlock them. This is also where it could get hard for the goldfish amongst us, the game has a lot it wants to give you, lots of skills, lots of buffs and lots of power-ups. They are all accessed from different parts of the (terribly laggy, yes) menu, if you play the game smartly to unlock some of these first you will make the rest of the game a lot easier. Personally hunting down the Convoys (Impressive Big Rigs with an entourage) that travel in loops around the regions was my go-to path, by taking them down and earning upgrades for my vehicle I could then deal more damage on my travels to the stationary mobs.

Currencies, well they come in the form of Nanotrites, Money, vehicle parts and Feltrite. All gathered from different activities, all managing different aspects of what you want to upgrade and you will want to upgrade them, because once you do – you realise that Rage 2 is the first person Crackdown you never knew you needed.

The world building is top notch, there are some stunning vistas on offer from wide open destroyed cities in the desert to claustrophobic overgrown roads in the tropical jungles. Graphically the game might not win awards, but the sunrise at dawn in the desert is something to behold. There is a photo mode, it does pale in comparison to others, but again Rage 2 is about fun over function more noticeable as the stickers outweigh the ability to pull a few nifty photo tricks.

The map is peppered with locations, side missions, towns and dungeons housing the ominous giant Crusher mutants. All these locations are built in a way that demonstrates structure in the world, but the anarchic murderous denizens are far from that structure. Society is on the way out, the last 20% of humanity is dwindling fast and you are racking up the body count too. The enigmatic Authority troopers making appearances and getting between you and the locals adds spice, but ultimately all these arenas are exactly that. Somewhere to go toe to toe with some bad guys, they suggest function, but there’s no infrastructure really connecting them all.

This goes also for the trade settlements, solid structures with a range of merchants and side quests, but where is the backbone of the society? Supposedly they all watch Mutant Bash TV, but where and how? Just come back to remembering that this is a game and a good looking playground to run around in, then leave it at that. While the narrative is fairly short and does take you on a tour of the key areas, there is a pleasure sure in walking the earth and sorting out the bad guys. Once you have a key few of the modest, yet perfectly functional weapons on your roster retrieved from the scattered Ark pods and some skills unlocked, you become a powerhouse.

There is nothing quite so relaxing as mashing through a bandit settlement, popping amazingly satisfyingly squelchy headshots, probably the best headshot sound in a long time. Then using a Shatter punch to liquefy a couple of close up bandits, then leap from a tall building and Ground Pound another half a dozen to dust. It’s fun and easy going, the restart from death is quick and forgiving, but once you are motoring it wont happen often. Yep, Crackdown.

It is also a persistent and active world, again I find the idea that there is a social structure in place a challenge because every few hundred feet there is a random event of violence. It’s not unusual to see the horizon lit up with conflict as rockets and heavy ordinance goes flying between random groups. If you like destruction you can keep yourself happily busy picking up rubbish in the countryside.

Okay, there’s a lot to like, it doesn’t have a bazillion weapons, but it does play well and while the endgame could get repetitive for some, if you treat it as a relaxing way to paint the world with gibs, then no worries.¬†Early frustrations can be overcome with focusing on the right skills and they inevitably lead to quicker and better growth, so win-win. To share an opinion I fell the game was hurt by the urgency we have as consumers these days and the drive to keep up with the instant accessibility of streaming versus a calculated write up.

Rage 2 is a game, it is a well crafted (apart from the menu) and enjoyable game and it sits well placed smack in the middle of this ridiculous degustation of titles we will be playing this year.

2019 is coming on strong.