RAGE 2 is a bit of an odd one. It's been marketed as a sandbox of insanity since its initial reveal, but the reality is that it's actually a pretty tame open world shooter — you could even call it safe. It can be loud but it's no Mad Max: Fury Road, it can be sassy but it's no Borderlands, and it can be brutal but it's no DOOM. It's a game of brilliant highs and surprisingly boring lows, where both positives and negatives punctuate this post-apocalyptic adventure.
RAGE 2 takes place after the events of the largely forgotten (but decent) first game, as an army of cyborg mutants emerge from their hiding holes and start laying waste to the, er, wasteland. After selecting a male or female main character (with no character customisation, it should be noted), you're thrown right into the thick of it as this freakish horde attempts to wipe your home off the map.
In the ensuing battle you're given a reason to venture out into the wasteland and get back at your enemies. Right from the beginning, it's clear that story isn't RAGE 2's strong suit. Despite some interesting designs and some solid voice acting, characters are dull and one dimensional, and they're never given the opportunity to develop. Exposition is either fed to you through your earpiece as your explore or dumped on you during painfully bland dialogue scenes. Some members of the cast can drone on and on and on for minutes at a time, somehow transforming "go here, do this" into five paragraphs of rambling.
The issue here is that RAGE 2 suffers from something of an identity crisis. The game is undeniably at its absolute best when you're tearing enemies to shreds with bionic powers and booming weaponry — more on that later — but it has a bad habit of keeping you away from the action. Whether you're sat listening to another boring speech or you're stuck driving across a vast expanse of nothing, it's very easy to conclude that there's simply too much downtime in RAGE 2.
Anyway, it took us around ten hours to see out the main plot, but that's a disingenuous statistic. There come multiple points where in order to progress the story, you have to bolster your relationship with the game's thee main quest givers, and to do this, you need to clear out bandit camps, find collectables, and... clear out more bandit camps. It's pretty much the most basic open world formula that you can imagine, and the act of putting a big green tick next to every icon on the map can get very repetitive if you don't pace yourself.
If you were to add the game's main story missions together, you'd end up with a campaign that lasts around three or four hours. It'd be short but it'd be sweet, and because of this, you could certainly argue that RAGE 2's open world is its own worst enemy. However, we're not entirely sold on that line of thought. For as predictable as its open world may be, its many, many bandit camps and mutant nests give you the freedom to fully enjoy the game's excellent combat.
The action in RAGE 2 really is top notch. Incredibly punchy guns combine with cooldown-based special moves, resulting in one of the most satisfying shooters we've played this generation. From the DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM of the relatively basic assault rifle to the BOOMPF of what is quite possibly gaming's best shotgun, you feel the weight and impact of each and every bullet. Superb sound effects combine with ragdoll physics to create top tier audiovisual mayhem. It's bloody glorious.
Supremely tight controls also help seal the deal, but this is the problem: the combat's so good that you don't want to do anything else. Instead of being happy that you've slaughtered the last bandit in a creaky old gas station, you're actually disappointed that the fight's over — and RAGE 2 never quite gets the balance right. Honestly, if you added, say, another ten enemies to every camp on the map, and made sure that the long, dusty roads in between were littered with ongoing battles, RAGE 2 would be a blast from start to finish.
As it stands, though, you're always left wanting more. It's like going to a restaurant and only being allowed to order a starter — you're always hungry for the main course in RAGE 2 but it never truly arrives. Sure, you can keep ordering starters and satisfy your appetite bit by bit, but it's just not the same. RAGE 2's combat is begging for meatier encounters — the kind of all-or-nothing brawls that leave your palms sweaty.
On-foot firefights are the highlight of the experience, then, and so it's unfortunate that the vehicular combat doesn't shine as bright. When you're behind the wheel, the controls aren't as tight and the mounted guns don't have the same oomph. Cars are weighty to the point where hitting the handbrake makes it feel like you're suddenly skidding across ice, and although slamming an opposing junk mobile into the nearest ravine feels good, that's the best it gets. Even after acquiring a full set of vehicle upgrades, your rides never feel as deadly as they should.
Speaking of upgrades, they're RAGE 2's biggest hook outside of combat. There are loads of enhancements to get your hands on, and at first, it's even a little overwhelming. All of your weapons and abilities can be upgraded and altered to suit your style of play, but if you want everything, you're going to have to work for it. When we finished up the main story we'd barely unlocked half the upgrades on offer — it took us a further 20 hours to sweep more of the map and gather enough resources for the rest.
With that in mind, it's fairly obvious that the game's structure is off. You can blitz your way through RAGE 2 without having seen some of its most entertaining gameplay wrinkles, and that's ultimately a huge shame. When you're deep into the skill trees and you've refined your approach to combat, the experience excels.
RAGE 2's on-foot action is some of the most fun we've had this generation. As a shooter it's undeniably top tier, but the combat constantly has to fight for its rightful place in the spotlight. All the bright pink paint in the apocalypse couldn't stop the game's open world from feeling lacklustre, and the vehicular stuff struggles throughout. RAGE 2 needed the chaos and insanity that its marketing campaign was so eager to push, because we've ended up with a disappointingly safe objective-based grind, in which the excellent combat is the only thing strong enough to string you along.