As I approach the bandit encampment, the high-intensity music kicks in. It’s go-time. I launch myself from my vehicle and immediately begin blasting fools with my insanely awesome shotgun while busting out a glorious assortment of explosive abilities and equipment. It’s a beautiful and satisfying frenzy of chaos and carnage.
Then, a minute later, it is over.
I feel deflated because I know that wonderful minute of action is now going to be followed by 5-10 minutes of any number of incredibly dull, repetitive or aggravating tasks. This list includes driving, collectible hunting, interacting with NPC’s and managing inventory and upgrades - essentially, anything outside of that one minute of action.
For those who haven’t played the first Rage, it was a stale, cliché-filled take on a post-apocalypse. Unfortunately, this has not changed. If anything, the game leans even harder into the most cliché and ham-fisted aspects of the first game – making Rage 2 often feel like an unintentional parody of bad 1980’s action movies.
After an opening which makes Rambo look like Citizen Kane, you are tasked with venturing out into the wasteland in order to take down the game’s villain – the performance of whom, coincidentally, makes Sly Stallone look like Daniel Day-Lewis.
It is from here that the core loop I described in the opening commences. You travel across the map in a variety of vehicles encountering a variety of points of interest. The cars themselves are fun enough to drive – however, it quickly grows boring due to the banality of the world and how often and far you need to travel. I eventually unlocked a hover-craft which doesn’t feel very good to use, but I ended up using it the most simply because it cut- down on the amount of time I had to spend travelling.
Mostly, you are travelling between different enemy encampments. The short amount of time it takes to clear out these bases is where the game shines – perhaps the only place it does. For me, the design of combat in these moments is paralleled only by 2016’s Doom – not surprising, seeing as developer ID Software helped design the gunplay in this game.
The battles have an incredible sense of controlled chaos. In combat, there is a lot of action happening on screen at once, but you always have access to a range of approaches with which to deal with it whether that be your arsenal of terrific feeling guns or the range of abilities that you unlock and upgrade throughout the game.
However, once those brief battles are over, you are tasked with my least favourite part of the game – hunting collectibles. Each location has a checklist of collectibles you need to find in order to have fully cleared the location - these collectibles give you money or feltrite, two essential currencies for upgrading and making progression in the game.
How these collectibles are implemented is detrimental to the experience for many reasons, but primarily for the effect it has on pacing. As I’ve described, entering any point of interest is a high-paced minute of blood and bullets. When that minute is over, suddenly you’re tasked with the laborious and infuriating job of hunting in all the nooks and crannies for these crates – a task which can often take five minutes plus and requires a butt load of backtracking. It’s completely antithetical to the great experience and energy they generate with combat, to then slam on the brakes and turn the game into a hidden object game that your nana plays.
There is eventually an upgrade to have your radar ping when you are approaching these collectibles which makes the process slightly easier but still doesn’t remove the slowdown it has on pacing. Plus, you’d be lucky to find this particular upgrade within the games bloated progression systems.
This deluge of upgrades is another flaw of the game. There are a fantastic variety and range of abilities and weapons in the game – which is great. But each has its own upgrade item, and skills tree and the game has multiple storylines which level up individually and unlocks are generated through multiple avenues. It’s an overstuffed mess of items, progressions systems and currencies and as a result, it is all becomes pretty meaningless. I never had a clear sense of what I was working towards or what effect my actions would have on progression. So, eventually, I just ended up playing through and hoping I would generate what I needed to progress my favourite weapons and abilities.
Ultimately, I started to feel like that messy and overfilled progression system was a pretty good analogy for the game itself. At its core, there was a really tight and engaging system that promised heaps of variety and fun. But it piled onto it was layers and layers of boring, confusing and poorly considered elements which obscured that core until you could barely see it anymore.