I soured on Rage 2’s open world after I unlocked Dr. Kvasir’s first story mission. I happened to be down in the far south of the map, in the Twisting Canyons, so I had to go pay Kvasir a visit in the north-western Sekreto Wetlands. I begrudgingly spawned a vehicle and drove up there, cleared out the enemies camped around his base, and then spoke to the mad doctor. Or rather he spoke to me, incessantly, before another icon appeared in the south of the map, down in the Dune Sea. So back in my car I got. Another long and boring drive awaited me.
I understand this sounds like a petty grievance. But when Dr. Kvasir later demands my return after a successful mission, I’m not at all eager to do so. Usually in an open world game, I take my time in the opening hours and then, once I’ve had my fill taking in the surrounds, beeline the critical path towards the end. But I’ve had no such desire in Rage 2. The open world format doesn't play to the game’s strengths at all.
I reckon I’ve spent about 80 percent of my time with Rage 2 driving. The driving doesn’t suck, it’s perfectly serviceable. The world, though: I’m thoroughly disinterested in being in it. It’s a drab, static, uninspiring wasteland and it’s not even dangerous. Driving to-and-from mission objectives isn’t challenging or thrilling, because enemies, sentries, convoys… I can simply drive right past them, they’re mere fleeting annoyances.
I’m untouchable, I have a shotgun, I can double-jump, I can blink through the air, I can ground-pound the earth! I’m too powerful to fear Rage 2’s wasteland. There’s nothing at stake.
It reminds me of walking to the shops at the height of an Australian summer, swatting blowflies away. I hear it’s possible to unlock an aerial vehicle but I haven’t done so yet. That’s my next goal, though first I have to muster the enthusiasm to return to Rage 2's world at all.
You can fast travel in Rage 2, but only to the major settlements. These are bunched up in the middle of the map, making each and all pointless if you’re trying to reach the fringes of the wasteland. I’ve never played a game that could benefit from fast travel more than Rage 2.
I’m not demanding the game to "respect my time"—I want it to respect its own strengths, and this open world design is antithetical to what Rage 2 excels at.
Another recent open world game, Outward, is one of the best open world RPGs I’ve played in years. It doesn’t let you fast travel, it doesn’t have vehicles, and movement is sloooow, but its world is alive with danger and every trip is an adventure. Slowly traversing the overworld is one of the game’s most potent thrills, even when nothing is happening. It’s possible to walk for 45 minutes only to die and be sent back to your origin. This setback is frustrating, sure, but it’s because so many in-game factors are at stake, not because I feel like my time is being wasted. It’s a game that demands careful preparation and tactical thinking.
On the other end of the spectrum, Just Cause 4 is one of my favourite games of 2018, and it has a mammoth, mostly featureless open world with a handful of distinct biomes. There’s not much that’s unique to discover, there’s no ever-present danger, but the simple act of moving around the island—with grappling hook and parachute, via giant zeppelin or fighter jet—is fun, graceful, even beautiful. Just Cause 4 needs that massive space in order to allow players to express themselves with its incredible traversal methods. Just Cause 4 is about movement.
But moving through the wasteland of Rage 2 is syrupy, plodding, boring. It’s a chore I have to endure in order to find new places to experience the incredible gunplay.
Open worlds are ubiquitous in modern games and it’s easy to see why: They can lend a sense of scale and adventure, and at their best they create the illusion of lived-in space. In Outward, open space makes me feel small and disempowered. In Just Cause 4, it lets me pull off incredible aerial gymnastics that never fail to set my heart racing. But Rage 2 is a game with a combat system predicated on rapid movement around fairly small spaces. Unlike Far Cry 5 or Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you won’t be stealthily sniping enemies or marking them from a distant hill.
When I see foes in Rage 2 I have to close in on them, and I want to. It’s a dexterity-oriented shooter. It’s not about calm and collected tactical pre-arrangement and it’s barely even about being able to aim well: It’s about slapdash high speed improvisation. All of the incredible tools and weapons Rage 2 offers me benefit from close to mid-range engagement.
Maybe the open world is there solely to accommodate the game’s vehicular combat, which is itself fairly polarising. I think it’s fine, it works well, some people even love it. But that doesn’t compensate for the five minute stretches of driving between objectives (it always feels like longer), where chance encounters rarely turn into pursuits. At worst, I’ve been shot at by passing vehicles but a simple press of the boost button always leaves attackers in my dust.
What I want to do in Rage 2, at least half of the time but preferably 90 percent of the time, is shoot rabid bandits point blank in the face with a shotgun. This is a first-person shooter marketed as a ridiculously overblown and cathartic romp. I don’t think these interminable trips between encounters is an artistic decision. It’s not even a challenging game: It fits squarely in the “dumb fun” canon. So how about a patch for more fast travel options, please?
Avalanche has created some of my favourite open worlds; id Software is the best first-person shooter studio bar none. As Andy wrote in his review, the combat in Rage 2 is pretty much beyond reproach. But it’s definitely not a world I want to get lost in.