At QuakeCon this month, I got to sit down at a PC and play Rage 2. Much to my disappointment, the demo contained zero driving or open world exploration: the session was constrained to a single mission inside a building that consisted of combat only, and all of it on foot. It's not that combat isn't fun—I enjoyed the demo—it's just that I really wanted to check out the driving. This is id Software, after all, they've got first-person shooting pretty well figured out by now, so most of my curiosity about Rage 2 is about everything else: the post-apocalyptic open world and crazy vehicle stuff from Avalanche Studios, developer of Mad Max.
Another disappointment was that id Software (according to game director Tim Willits) was still figuring out some of the keyboard controls at the time of the demo, so I was only allowed to play Rage 2 with a controller, to which I say: booooo. As you can see in the 14 minutes of footage above (also here on YouTube) captured from my session, after a lifetime of mouselook I am absolute shit at using a controller in FPS games. Hopefully you'll forgive my shoddy aim and clunky doddering around the map. I did my best.
The mission took place at a facility controlled by angry, stinky-looking bandits who seemed to remain confident, start to finish, that they could take me out despite my having killed a few dozen of them with a handful of nanotrite powers. There's a Dash power (it lets you dash) and one called Shatter, sort of a force push that can shove a nearby enemy away or completely splatter them if they're close enough.
There's also Slam, a ground-pound that delivers damage in a radius on all sides of you—a bit slow to trigger, considering you have to hover dramatically for a moment first, but useful in a crowd. Shatter and Slam are both fun to use, sending enemies ragdolling away among clouds of debris and broken armor. They're good for when you get the drop on enemies, like when I walked up behind a goon on the roof before he'd seen me and then sent him sailing. At other times, like when I suddenly realized I was surrounded, I'd trigger one of the abilities defensively just to give myself some breathing room. Shatter was especially useful against heavily armored bandits in the demo, who staggered around under heavy gunfire but were unwilling to drop. They'd basically be liquefied inside their precious, bullet-deflecting armor.
There's also Overdrive, which powers up your weapons to deal extra damage for a limited time, accompanied by a purple-pink haze that represented a kind of berserker mode. These nanotrite systems feed off each other, too—the more you use them, the more you can use them.
"Because we want to incentivize you to get into the fight," Tim Willits told me after I played the demo. "Because in an open world game you have a tendency to engage combat from way off. And you can still do that. But getting into the fight is where your nanotrite abilities actually work best. And then we reward you by charging your overdrive meter, which then allows you to do even more cool stuff."
Killing an enemy while using a nanotrite ability causes them to drop fuel for your overdrive meter, which Willits said "...kind of incentivizes you to get into the battle, much like the Doom guys do, where you glory kill and get a better chance of drops from the demons. So we kind of used some of that knowledge to get you into the action."
The wingstick, on the other hand, came off feeling a bit weak to me. Maybe it's from seeing all the footage of God of War 4 this year, with Kratos chucking around that devastatingly awesome axe of his, but I sorta feel like the bar for throwable bladed weapons has been raised a few hundred feet. From now on in games when you throw something big and sharp it's going to be compared to that axe, and I didn't get any kind of badass feeling from using the wingstick. It works, but it's just not as satisfying as rushing up and splattering someone with a nanotrite-fueled melee attack.
The demo I played at QuakeCon was perfectly enjoyable, but turning a few dozen bandits into red paint inside a darkened building isn't exactly the slice of Rage 2 I wanted to sample. Here's hoping I get my hands on it again before its 2019 release (hopefully using a mouse and keyboard) to get at least a small taste of its open world from behind the wheel of a vehicle or two.