LOS ANGELES—The first Rage didn’t generate much buzz amongst fans of first-person shooters when it shipped in 2010, but one of id Software’s later titles (the 2016 Doom reboot) made a big splash. With Rage 2, publisher Bethesda is hoping that some of the post-Doom goodwill can elevate this low-profile franchise to popularity.
The publisher partnered id’s FPS veterans with Avalanche Studios (Just Cause, Mad Max) to make this sequel open world. The first game had a veneer that made it look open-world, even though it was just as enclosed as Doom.
I played Rage 2 at Bethesda’s E3 booth this week, and unfortunately I can only judge the id Software side of that partnership. The demo I played was a linear, corridor-crawling action shooter experience with no open-world aspects. When I asked a Bethesda rep why that was, he told me that the company wanted Rage fans to be sure that the gunplay is still just as good even though the game is going open world. I think it’s more likely that the open-world part of the full game (which is slated to launch in spring 2019) just isn’t ready to be played yet.
In any case, I wasn’t disappointed by how Rage 2 felt to play.
A dozen ways to kill
The demo I played sent me into an abandoned space facility to launch some kind of satellite or rocket. I didn’t get much story context, but the set pieces were built on the amusing premise that your player character (named Walker) gained access by convincing the facility’s pre-apocalypse security system that he’s the president of the United States.
If you played 2016’s Doom, you’d feel right at home in the demo. As in that title, movement is fast, enemies swarm from all directions, and you’re going to handle it all with a lot of jumping around. In Doom, you could enter a “berserk” mode in which you do bonkers melee damage. That’s back here—though this game’s “rage” mode amplifies your equipped weapons, not your melee attack, and turns your machine gun and shotgun into temporary, head-‘sploding terrors.
Also back is the first Rage‘s tri-bladed boomerang. This combined with several special abilities—like an air leap attack, a blast that hits enemies in an arc in front of you, a limitless supply of quick dash moves, and great-feeling weapons—keep the power fantasy value quite high in Rage 2‘s combat. The shotgun feels good in particular. What is it with id Software and awesome-feeling shotguns? Once I tried that weapon, I never switched back to the other one. And I played through most of Doom using that game’s two shotguns as well.
A colorful apocalypse
The game’s first-reveal trailers featured a zany song by Andrew W.K., vibrant colors, and a whole mess of goofiness. These together gave the impression that this would be a fresh take on the sometimes-stale Mad Max aesthetic, but I was disappointed that this didn’t shine through much in the demo. There were a couple one-liners, the hostiles had crazy hair colors, and there were streaks of neon in the environments. But the goofiness I enjoyed in the trailer wasn’t present, so I’m worried that was just a marketing aesthetic.
That said, the game is more colorful than many other post-apocalyptic titles—and in a different way than Borderlands, to which onlookers have already compared it. There are deep, gorgeous, and surprising colors in the environments—think Blade Runner 2049, a bit. They just didn’t pop much in my playthrough because Bethesda set me up on a PC with a poor-quality IPS monitor. I’m looking forward to trying Rage 2 on an HDR TV that will really push those unique aesthetic elements.
id Software has proven itself more than once as the go-to studio for modern takes on frantic, ’90s-inspired FPS combat. On one hand, I hope the open-world stuff shapes out to be a fun framing for all the action.
But I’m holding that shotgun in the other hand, and it feels so good I’m not sure I even care.
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