3 out of 4 stars
"Rage 2" is a game my 13-year-old self would love.
The sequel to the 2011 first-person shooter is comically gory. Its plot isn't too deep, but most importantly, the game is wildly fun. Helmed by Avalanche Studios, the game follows the team's typical design: The developers give players a compelling tool set and let them run wild with the possibilities.
Set 30 years after the first game, "Rage 2" takes place in a world where an asteroid has smashed into the planet. Humanity survived by creating Arks that kept some inhabitants alive. In the first game, players took on the role of Nicholas Raine, an Ark dweller who battled a faction called the Authority. The organization was able to sabotage the Arks and kept them hidden so they could rule what's left of the world. In the original "Rage," Raine was able to stop them while freeing the remaining Ark survivors.
The sequel shows what happens when the defeated Authority strikes back.
Players take on the role of Walker, a protagonist who can be either male or female. The hero becomes the last Ranger of Vineland after the settlement is attacked by an Authority force that has been building up its power over the years. Fortunately for players, the ranger suit and the nanotrites in Walker's body gives the protagonist superhuman powers and affords access to powerful weapons.
The campaign asks players to complete Project Dagger, which was a plan the survivors created to fend off another Authority attack. That requires Walker to contact three major leaders — Capt. John Marshall, Wellspring Mayor Loosum Hagar and Dr. Antonin Kvasir — and win their trust by completing missions for them.
Although that sounds straightforward, the issue for "Rage 2" is that other than the simple quest, it has no real structure. That means players get as much out of the game as they put into it. They can rush headlong through the experience and explore a small portion of the world and pick up a few weapons and powers. Completists will explore every cave and ramshackle settlement and pick up upgrades that make their version of Walker more powerful.
The fact that players can finish the game without even collecting all the powers and weapons is off-putting. That means they may not experience the breadth and depth of a combat system that is remarkably fun. If they want every piece of gear, they'll have to do the sometimes-burdensome job of inspecting every question mark and mission in the wasteland, and with dozens of hotspots, exploration can be onerous, even with the Icarus hovercraft. Thankfully, that vehicle lets players fly to their next point of interest.
That's a shame because powers like shatter, slam, barrier and vortex can all be combined in inventive ways. Together with the weapons, it encourages players to be aggressive. It's a game in which players should charge into the chaos and improvise ways to defeat the enemy.
When it works, the way the gunplay and powers mix reminds me of "Bulletstorm." At the same time, these powers make "Rage 2" easy. With all the different upgrades, Ranger Walker can quickly overpower foes, and the missions become monotonous cakewalks. The enemy attack patterns become predictable. Avalanche Studios tries to mitigate that with other activities like Mutant Bash, racing and convoys. Those side quests are fun and highlight other aspects of the game, but the studio does a poor job at introducing these missions and does even less to incentivize players to tackle them.
Without a guiding hand from a stronger narrative, "Rage 2" puts the onus on the players to make the most of it. It's a game that will make them work to unlock the fun, but if they do, there's a lot of joy in the adventure.