There's a gun in Rage 2—you'll see it a lot in the footage above—that put a big smile on my face. It's the Grav-Dart Launcher, which is like Half-Life 2's gravity gun combined with the crossbow from BioShock 2, and it'll splat smaller enemies into any surface it comes into contact with as the darts are pulled together. If you attach it to two enemies, they'll fly towards each other, and if there's an object in between, they'll smash into that and explode. This is the sort of novelty weapon nonsense I loved about the gun mods in 2016's Doom, and while this isn't strictly Id's game, the armoury of Rage 2 is where they have the most in common.
Since Avalanche worked on the slightly underrated Mad Max game, people have assumed (fairly) that this is a successor of sorts—in the driving, post-apocalyptic setting and car combat, I can see that. In reality, this is more like playing a Ubisoft open world game to me: there are question marks all over the map that represent different sandbox activities, upgrade trees to fill, and you can seemingly play most of the game in the order you want. Rage 2 feels to me like post-apocalyptic Far Cry (except, not New Dawn).
I played about 2.5 hours of Rage, first at the start of the game as you travel across the map, accumulating powers and weapons, and then at a later point where almost everything is unlocked. The opening section takes me to more familiar desert landscapes, but the latter is much more colourful, set in dense jungles where off-road excursions are made trickier by trees and other obstacles.
If I'm being honest, it feels like a much better FPS than it does a car combat game right now: a Bethesda representative noted that the handling on all vehicles is still a work in progress, but even driving the default Phoenix car felt unnecessarily stiff to me. Of the two convoy battles I participated in, neither felt like much more than flashy set pieces, as you spam smaller vehicles off the road and wait for weak points on the truck at the head of the convoy to pop up before you open fire. Joining in with a chase feels exciting, but I wish there was a little more to do than ram into enemies, hit the nitrous and hold down the fire button—perhaps there will be deeper into the game, or by participating with other vehicles that have different mounted weapons.
As you'll see in the footage above, too, you'll eventually have the option to call in a tank that resembles the Tumbler from the Dark Knight movies. It moves pretty slowly, so I'm not sure how much use it'd be in a chase, but turning up to a populated control point in one and opening fire is pretty entertaining. Mission types vary between clearing out populated enemy areas, opening up gates to new regions that are guarded by AI, or even heading underground to fight a giant mutant in a sewer. You can even take part in races on the fly, as the option will pop up on your HUD.
The FPS combat has a lot more promise. Your abilities encompass a Vortex Grenade (basically a gravity bomb), a ground slam, a running charge called Shatter, and the ability to throw down a shield, each of which have their own upgrade trees. In fact, pretty much everything has an upgrade tree in this game, including all your weapons—this is a massive world with a daunting amount of icons to check out per region, and completing each task will keep your progression ticking along. Doing everything in Rage 2 looks like it will take tens of hours. Whether it'll sustain that with its range of upgrades, abilities and mission templates is less clear to me after playing this preview build, but I can see this being an ideal pick-up-and-play game for 30 or 40 minutes at a time.
What I like about Rage 2, too, is that the world feels chaotic in a way that fits the setting. You'll drive past factions having gunfights with other factions, which you can join in with, leave entirely or simply try to spoil by running everyone over. Other vehicles will drive by constantly, some friendly, and some not so much. There's a vendor in an overhauled ice cream truck who you can beep at to pull over and restock on the road. It might ultimately be a superficial way of keeping an often barren-looking world from feeling empty, but it dials up the idea that there's always a thing to go and check out on the horizon.
A few things to note about the footage above: I found the default key bindings (which are temporary in this build, and flash up as such on the HUD) for using the powers pretty fiddly in Rage 2, hence me using a controller to grab the footage. The default mouse and keyboard controls otherwise seem fine. Secondly, a Bethesda PR explained this build had a lower difficulty setting because it's part of a public show build, which explains why the only times I died was when I got ran over by a car, mistimed a jump off a high surface, or, er, crashed a gyrocopter into some kind of environmental hazard.