A sand dollar sized sun cakes the world of Rage 2 in a sickly orange, as the sunlight reflects off of and seeps into the desert landscape that makes up a good chunk of the title’s open-world map. My car, aptly named the Phoenix, cuts tire tracks into the desert as I chase the millionth waypoint icon on my map (for what purpose? Just because). I’m headed for an Ark—futuristic structures left by the Rangers (the good-to-neutral faction in Rage 2) that harbor sweet, sweet combat/maneuverability upgrades. When I happen upon said Ark, it’s guarded by a merry band of generic Mad Maxian outlaws, and my car comes to a skidding halt as I—Walker—burst forth from the cockpit with a singular intent. I want that upgrade. My assault rifle sings as it punches holes in the outlaws. Combat distance closes in and I pull out my shotgun, combat-dash forwards, and vivisect the few remaining enemies. Reeling in the highs of victory, I stroll through gore and mozy on up to the Ark and hold one button to open it. Upon entering, I hold another button and am given the upgrade, and then taken to a forced tutorial that lasts two minutes too long. Then, when I think I am free to hop back into my car and repeat this task again, my game freezes and dumps me to the PS4’s homescreen. This is Rage 2.
Rage 2 is a videogame verbs greatest hits album by way of the bargain bin. Sure, it looks fine—even if the character models stepped right out of 2011 and found themselves trapped in a 2019 videogame. And yes, the iD-developed gunplay is delightfully crunchy (as a videogame person would say), and Rage 2’s shotgun is quite possibly one of the best shotguns in all of videogames (for whatever that means). But everything else? It is bad, folks. The driving feels as if every stretch of road is slicked with oil, as my car teeters ever out of my control. And that is decidedly a very bad thing since a good chunk of Rage 2 is spent driving from point A to an oddly similar point C with an occasional stop at point B to grab a skill one may or may not find useful when the gunplay begins. And when the combat and gunplay do begin, Rage 2 becomes immensely enjoyable, but these moments are too fleeting and too much happens in the period between not shooting my big shotgun and shooting my big shotgun. There are like five currencies to keep in check, too many skilltrees that amount to nothing more than a reason to deviate from the videogame’s main path, and there is also the story mode, itself—written(?) dialogue, cutscenes, the whole shebang.
The core story moments in Rage 2 are some of the worst and most fumbled moments of narrative I’ve ever encountered in a modern AAA videogame. Rage didn’t really set the world on fire in the story department, but compared to this it seems as if Rage’s narrative was penned by one of the world’s greatest storytellers. There is nothing here. Rage 2’s narrative sees Walker—the last Ranger—traversing a paint-by-numbers post-apocalyptic landscape to acquire the skills and means to destroy the nefariously evil Authority. The first hour of Rage 2 is a backstory exposition dumps that tells of a war between the Rangers and the Authority. The evil techno-fascistic Authority rises from under the Earth and destroyers the Rangers. Fast-forward a bit; Walker is the last Ranger and they (one can play Walker as either male or female, and there are no non-binary options) have to work with various talking heads across the wasteland in order to try and destroy the Authority and Martin Cross, the Authority’s almost fully-robotic leader, once and for all. Yet there is no real emotion or motivation that sets the narrative into action; it sort of just fumbles from one moment to the next, as the finish line gets closer and closer. Anything related to story is where Rage 2 is at its absolute worst. It does nothing for apocalyptic fiction and consistently falls back on tired and best-left-unused tropes.
For example, one of the enemy factions are the Mutants (the same ones from Rage). These mutants have been pulled straight out of 1950s space-age dime stories. They are humanoid, they speak, they think, they are sentient, but they are different. And due to their being different, they must die. But they’re hostile. Yes, that may be true, but their hostility is never defined because they are just bad—Rage 2 wants us to just look at them and code them as evil because they have malformed bodies, faces, and ligaments. The white hero once again eradicates an Other. C’mon. I went out of my way to avoid confrontation with Mutants, but Rage 2 is a big and loud shooter so that became impossible. Rage 2 has nothing to say because it only ever asks the player to do, to engage with the world through the reticle of a gun, and through destruction. That, on its own, is okay. Doom (2016) is a good example of this, but Doom’s enemies were literal demons whose forms and intents were quite defined. Rage 2 has nothing of the like.
Enemies are just enemies because they are—just shut up and shoot. The gore is cool, don’t think about anything else! Okay, Rage 2, sure. I’ll dribble in your court for a bit. Too bad just taking the world at face value and engaging with the gameplay toolset makes for a still-tiring experience. Players have done all of this before. The open-world map has mildly varied locales, question marks dot the landscape, and enemy camps are ripe for eradication. Rinse, reload your gun, and repeat.
Rage 2 just kind of is. It is neither damnably awful nor astonishingly great. It just exists, sort of. The only time Rage 2 is ever in a state of flux is when it bugs out or crashes, which happens. But why should I care if Rage 2 crashes? That is just an even better excuse for me to play something else, read a book, or stare at the sun. Rage 2 was marketed as a zany, colorful and gory romp through a varied wasteland. It is all of those things, and none of them at all. It is colorful at times, but usually drab. Zany? The wit is about as sharp as a spoon, but it is there, I guess. Gore? Sure, if that’s what you want. The wasteland is varied enough and yet it somehow manages to feel the same no matter where I am on the map. Rage 2 exists, it is playable, and it will keep you busy for awhile. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot also exists, it is readable, and it will keep you busy for awhile. Do I recommend either of them? Nope.
Rage 2 was developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It is also available for Xbox One and PC.
Cole Henry is an intern at Paste. He’s on Twitter @colehenry19.