If a single weapon contains the essence of a first-person shooter, it's undoubtedly the shotgun. Early in Rage 2, protagonist Walker—a wasteland ranger who can be either male or female, depending on your preference—finds a futuristic combat shotgun hidden away in an Ark: a kind of advanced fallout shelter designed to protect humanity and its precious technology from a cataclysmic asteroid impact. Rage 2 has a lot of problems, including a forgettable open world, a weak story, and terrible vehicle handling, but man, that shotgun. The instant you fire it, you know, everything else aside, it's a quality FPS.
This semi-automatic weapon of mass destruction is loud, violent, and obnoxious: a bit like Rage 2 itself, in fact. When you unload a round of buckshot into a hapless enemy you can almost feel the shockwave rippling through your shoulder. But it's the alternate fire mode, activated by holding the right mouse button, that really makes it special. The spread tightens and the force of the impact increases massively. Enemies are thrown savagely backwards by the blast, into walls, over railings, and off the side of cliffs.
And you're going to need firepower like this to stop The Authority, an army of mechanical mutants marauding across the sun-scorched wastelands of this bleak, asteroid-battered Earth. Defeating these guys and their leader, General Cross, is your primary motivation in Rage 2—not to mention fighting off gangs of raiders, bandits, and other goons. But honestly, the story is entirely forgettable. The combat is the black, beating heart of the game, and the reason you'll keep playing long after you've stopped caring about the plot.
Rage 2 is a magnificent first-person shooter, but brutal, tactile weapons like that beastly combat shotgun are just one piece of the puzzle. As you locate and crack open more Arks, which are found scattered around the open world, you unlock forgotten fragments of technology which grant you what are, essentially, superpowers. Some of these are pretty understated, such as a gravity-defying double jump or the ability to float in mid-air for a few seconds while aiming your weapon. But others are much more dramatic.
Slam is my favourite of the lot. Activate it when you're above a group of enemies and you'll unleash a concussive blast when you hit the ground. Anyone in the impact zone is immediately turned into a bloody paste, while the others are tossed into the air like gruesome ragdolls. And the higher up you are when you use it, the more devastating the discharge when you land. Rage 2 is a game where you frequently find yourself swarmed and overwhelmed by fast-moving enemies, making Slam an effective means of crowd control.
Cause enough mayhem and you can hit the V key to activate Overdrive mode, which makes your weapons more powerful, regenerates health, and reduces the cooldown time of your powers. You can also conjure up protective energy shields and drag groups of enemies together by tossing a swirling vortex into the battlefield. And all of these abilities—and pretty much everything in the game, including weapons and vehicles—have their own upgrade trees. There's a huge amount of customisation in Rage 2, offering countless ways to deal with any given combat situation.
Other powers include Shatter, which lets you charge rapidly towards an enemy with a surge of power, smashing their armour to pieces or, if they're close enough, exploding them in a mist of claret. Over the course of the game your powers, weapons, and upgrades stack up, and the combat becomes exponentially more fun in the process. If you loved the precision, brutality, and fluidity of the Doom reboot id Software released in 2016, but wished it had more variety, Rage 2 is the answer to your dark prayers.
Curiously, however, the default key bindings for your powers are incredibly clumsy. You have to hold down the control key, then press another key to activate them. That might not sound too complicated, but in the thick of a frenetic, fast-paced firefight, when you're also trying to run and jump and shoot, it feels like you're wrestling with your own fingers. Luckily you can rebind your powers, and I found assigning them to the number keys felt much more intuitive. It's clear Rage 2's UI has been optimised for a gamepad, because even menu navigation feels a little awkward with the mouse.
So we've established that the shooting is exceptional, but what about the rest of the game? Well, unfortunately, nothing else here quite manages to reach the high watermark set by the combat. The world is a consistent disappointment, being a surprisingly drab, uninspiring place. Co-developer Avalanche created a beautiful, haunting post-apocalyptic wasteland for its take on Mad Max in 2015, but this dreary expanse of swampy forests, rocky valleys, and dusty dunes is deeply uninspiring. Much of the game is spent driving long distances between missions, which only heightens the lack of visual interest.
Settings Vsync (on/off/soft), Motion blur (on/off), chromatic aberration (on/off), anisotropic terrain filtering (on/off), geometric details (low-ultra), global illumination (on/off), depth of field (on/off), SSAO (low-ultra), anti-aliasing (off/FXAA/TAA/FXAA + TAA), shadow resolution (low-ultra)
Performance With a GTX 1080, 16GB of RAM, and an i5-6600K overclocked to 4.0GHz I was able to play Rage 2 at 1440p on max settings at a largely stable 60fps. I'd get obvious dips in really busy parts of the map, but had no issues with frame pacing. Check out Jarred's performance analysis for more.
A lush jungle region to the north, The Wilds, is the most interesting in terms of visuals and atmosphere—if only because it's so different from the rest of the game. And I do like how Rage 2's world is relatively small, especially compared to other Avalanche games. It feels like a more curated, considered space, rather than an endless, empty sprawl. The fidelity of the world-building isn't quite enough to make exploration very rewarding, however, and the open world feels more like a means of getting you from one mission to another, rather than an intrinsic part of the experience. A good open world should compel you to venture off-road and explore, but I never felt much of an urge to break away from my GPS route.
The vehicle handling is another sore point—especially if you happen to be playing with a mouse and keyboard. Your main ride is the Phoenix, a chunky little APC with a couple of loud, rattly machine-guns strapped to the front. You can also drive other vehicles you find (or steal) in the world and, if you've unlocked a specific upgrade, drive them back to settlements such as towns and cities to add them to your collection. The problem is, they all feel pretty horrible to drive. The handling is sluggish, smeary, and unresponsive, and you never feel like you're fully in control whenever you're behind the wheel.
Driving is a little more enjoyable if you switch to a gamepad, but the overly wide turning circle many of the cars seem to have makes you feel like you have to fight to get them around a corner. It's a peculiar, strangely isolated dip in quality, because pretty much everything else in Rage 2 feels amazing: from the exciting little knee-slide you can transition into if you crouch while sprinting, to something as simple as smashing a crate open.
Rage 2 is one of the most satisfyingly crunchy first-person games I've played in a while, which extends to everything from the punchy visual feedback of your powers to basic navigation such as jumping and mantling. Artistically, however, it stumbles. The game suffers from a distinct lack of personality, with a lifeless world that looks like a dozen other dusty wastelands, edgy humour that frequently falls flat, and a shallow story straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. No amount of adolescent swearing or hot pink spray paint can change the fact that Rage 2 is about as punk as a Michael McDonald album.
But in the heat of the moment, besieged by enemies, chaining powers and firing those thunderous guns, I forget about Rage 2's bland world and story. The combat is a powerful distraction from the game's problems—at least until the gunfire stops. There's a lot to love here, but the gulf in quality between the combat and just about everything else is ultimately harmful to the overall experience. Despite those issues, though, Avalanche and id Software can still be proud of the fact that Rage 2's shotgun is one of the best in the business.