Rage 2 is a game that feels like it shouldn't exist.
No, not because it's not good, but because it's a sequel to an id Software-developed original IP that released in 2011 to a mixed reaction. The original Rage felt like it was cut from the same cloth of most other apocalyptic wasteland shooters at the time, pulling in bits and pieces from games like Fallout 3 and Metro 2033. But between its game show-like aesthetic and racing-based economy, Rage presented enough original ideas to bum players out when they realized there probably wouldn't be a sequel.
Surprise! Rage 2 isn't only a sequel to the 2011 original in story, it takes a lot of the gameplay mechanics and ideas of the first game and makes them ten times more interesting. It helps that the game is basically the baby of id Software, hot off the heels of the incredible DOOM, and Avalanche Software, whose work on games like Just Cause and Mad Max made the studio the perfect choice to take the lead on this game.
Rage 2 is set twenty years after the events of the original, with players taking on the role of Walker, the last of a team of super soldiers from the town of Vineland. He has to gather the best and brightest minds in the Wasteland in order to enact a protocol set on taking down the game's antagonist, General Cross, and his band of Authority members set on reshaping the world to their whims. It's fairly boiler plate, and the story that plays out is nothing to write home about, so it helps that there is a lot to do.
The main gameplay hook of Rage 2 pulls heavily from id Software's DOOM reboot, marrying deliberate, fast-paced gunplay with brutal abilities and expert movement. Encounters feel smart, and based on the build you create from the game's many skill trees, there are a number of ways you can go about any situation. Each weapon has a primary and secondary firing functions that is enhanced by the aforementioned skill trees. For example, the combat shotgun fires a burst when shooting from the hip, but when you aim down the sights, the bolts fuse together to create a single shot that can blow enemies back into walls or remove their armor.
Because the game just drops you into its open world at the beginning (following a bit of story exposition), you can sort of play how you want to. New weapons and abilities are hidden around the map in Arks, glorified shrines you'll discover as you adventure throughout the Wasteland. But the loot inside is not random, so you can strategically map out which Arks you want to tackle first or just go in blind and enjoy the surprise when you find something new.
Rage 2 is at its best when it surprises you, and there's nothing that embodies this quite like the game's monstrous boss encounters. Tower-sized mutants that dwell in dens or out in the Wasteland can be a big challenge at first, but as the game makes you more powerful, they're just plain fun, and easily the strongest set-pieces in the entire game.
If you're wondering about the two keystones of the first Rage, Mutant Bash TV and vehicle races and combat, rest assured that they are both here. Both are introduced through the main campaign, which forces players to complete "projects" for three key individuals before going after General Cross. You'll have to set a high score at Mutant Bash TV and win the racing circuit to get in good with a specific character, but these are basically glorified tutorials to the mini games.
But story missions aren't enough to complete these "projects." Nope, you'll have to complete side quests, take down bandit dens and destroy towers before you can progress further. Honestly, this feels a lot like 2018's Far Cry 5 in that you can't really do anything in the story until you complete enough of these side quests.
Rage 2 also deals with a number of performance issues. During cutscenes and key moments, the sound will cut out, which almost sort of works as a "censoring" of the game's dialogue, but ends up just feeling unpolished. There is also some intense slowdown in the game's menu, which makes it a bit cumbersome to try and quickly view upgrade requirements or unlock new abilities and weapon modifications. Even viewing the map can feel choppy and uneven.
While the gunplay is excellent, Rage 2's secondary gameplay element, its driving, leaves a lot to be desired. Boosting across the Wasteland can be quick and painless, if the terrain is a straight shot. If its not, the driving feels straight out of the first Mass Effect game, with your vehicle bouncing around, making too wide of turns and getting lodged in building structures, bushes and trees -- or just tumbling off a cliff. Sure, in some cases this is user error, but it happened far too often to write it off. For a game that has an entire portion on racing, the vehicle controls can be quite frustrating.
In this case, the positives do really outweigh the negatives. Rage 2 is a strong shooter that tries its best to emulate the feeling of the more recent DOOM and Wolfenstein entries. It's story may be weak, but with a colorful, crazy open world and plenty of activities to sift through, its hard not to recommend this post-apocalyptic party. And honestly, its even better that it's single player-only game. We could always use more of those.
Rage 2 is now available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. A review copy was provided by the publisher and played on a PlayStation 4 Pro.