As I slide into a smoking crater, I spot a dozen mutants lingering around the meteorite I need to mine for the precious resources inside. The monsters haven’t noticed me. Time slows as I make my first move, taking down the closest fiend with a single shot. I hit another with the butt of my rifle as time resumes its normal course. A third mutant leaps at me and I open fire, turning into a pink mist. Another rushes me, crawling on the ground at freakish speed, and I shatter it with something like a “force push” from Star Wars. Its body slams against the meteorite, its limbs flying in what seems like a million directions. After I kill the rest of the mutants and the smoke clears, I take what I needed from the meteorite, hop back in my car, and drive off to find the next group of hapless mutants.
This is Rage 2, a first-person open world game out May 14 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC from publisher Bethesda and developed by Avalanche (the folks behind 2015’s Mad Max game) and ID (the people behind Doom). And it’s exactly the cocktail of cartoonish hyper-violence you’d expect to get from those ingredients, light on story but high on guns and gore, with beautiful visuals to boot.
A sequel to 2011’s Rage, Rage 2 takes place hundreds of years after a devastating asteroid strike changed human civilization forever. What’s left is a sort of Mad Max hellscape in which violent gangs of humans and mutant-machine hybrids vie for supremacy. You play as Walker, a wasteland warrior with suped-up genes and fancy armor. The mutants, defeated in Rage, return after a decades-long hiatus and wipe out Walker’s home. Walker, who players can choose to be either male or female, then travels the wastes and makes alliances on a quest to build a mutant-exterminating superweapon. The characters are thin, the dialogue bad, and the mission design your typical “go to location and kill these people” structure. But the story isn’t the point here — the gameplay is. Rage 2 is pure power fantasy, and doesn’t apologize for it.
Like a lot of other big-budget open world games, Rage 2 has a huge map full of activities, most of which are some variation of traveling to a location and killing everything there. There are three enemy factions: the Goon Squad, which look like extras from Mad Max, the mysterious and technologically advanced Immortal Shrouded, and the villainous mutants. As Walker travels around, he or she encounters these bad guys in various bases and outposts. The Goon Squad has set up roadblocks to impede progress, mutants hide below ground in breeding pits, and the Immortal Shrouded like to take over power plants and research stations.
It’s combat where Rage 2 excels, but it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s hyper violent — heads explode, bodies burn, and limbs fly in darkly comedic arcs when separated from bodies. The weapons are inventive — my favorite was a “firestorm revolver” that shoots incendiary darts; shoot a few bad guys with darts and you can trigger them to ignite all at once. Walker’s bizarre super powers make the game faster and weirder. He or she can create barriers to absorb damage, jump in the air and land with a shockwave that knocks enemies of their feet, float through the air to get the higher ground, and more. The unique combination of guns and abilities, all of which are upgradable, open the door to all manner of creative ways to take down your enemies, and as you become stronger, so too do the game’s baddies. The outlandish combat makes Rage 2 plenty of fun, if wanton violence is your thing.
Indeed, Rage 2 is at its best in its moments of pure abandon — when the momentum propelled me forward and I felt like a superhero dealing death to monsters and malevolent wastelanders. But the downtime between these moments is boring and frequent. Traveling between missions, done in a variety of vehicles, simply isn’t fun. The cars don’t drive well, the optional races are boring, and the vehicular combat feels tacked on. Worse yet are the end-of-mission objective hunts, which are slogs at best, especially after the adrenaline rush of a multi-mutant takedown.
Don’t expect much from the game’s storyline, or anything by way of maturity. One of Walker’s main allies is Kvasir, a mad scientist with broken legs who rides on the back of a mutant slave. As Kvasir talks, his mutant — who wears a soiled diaper — belches and farts. It’s the kind of thing I maybe would have laughed at when I was 12, but now feels gross and immature, both for me personally and in terms of the progress the gaming industry has made more broadly. Meanwhile, Rage 2’s mutants have been rightly criticized for their design, which comes across as insensitive to people with cleft palates and similar conditions.
If you can put aside the infantile decisions and dull moments, you might find something to enjoy here. Rage 2 doesn’t ask a lot of the player, and that can be fantastic when you’re in the right mood. It’s perfect for run-and-gun gameplay, especially on a weekend when you don’t want to do too much — it’s the video game equivalent of catching Rambo: First Blood Part II on TV one lazy Sunday afternoon and sticking with it through the credits. The story is bad and characters uninteresting and childish, but that nonsense doesn’t undermine Rage 2‘s core promise: journeying through a post-apocalyptic hellscape and doing great and often ridiculous violence to gangsters and mutants.
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