It’s hard to imagine hot pink being run-of-the-mill. Belonging to the neon family of eye bleed inducing colors, hot pink, by its very definition, is overpowering to the point of almost single-handedly representing 80’s hedonism. I kind of think that’s what Bethesda was going for when they chose hot pink as the primary color of Rage 2. I don’t think they succeeded.
That’s not to say that there’s none of that Andrew WK “Let’s Get Ready to Die” hot pink explosion party that was promised each time a trailer for Rage 2 was released. The game they advertised is in there, it’s just buried beneath a terribly mundane story, some rather incredible bugs, and some design choices that are more insipid then inspired.
Rage 2 puts you in the shoes of Walker, a seemingly standard run-of-the-mill soldier serving the wasteland town of Vineland with her best friend Lily under the direction of Lily’s mom, and your surrogate aunt, Erwina Prowley. She’s a Ranger, a kind of wasteland super cop, and while Walker has expressed interest in becoming a Ranger, Prowley has always said no. Well, within the first three minutes, Vineland is attacked by The Authority, a mix of mutant and augmented human soldiers led by a giant cyborg/terminator named General Cross. Part of this force is a enormous, three-story tall super mutant who quickly crunches the head off of Ranger Jersey, depositing both his headless body, and requisite power armor, next to Walker and Lily.
Walker, sensing an opportunity within this extremely unsanitary situation, strips the suit off the body and puts it right on, grabbing Jersey’s assault rifle and proceeds to go to town on some of the smaller mutants before both being accosted by said three-story mutant with Prowley. She pulls off a maneuver, saves Walker by shooting the arm off that is holding her, and then dies by Cross’s mechanical hand. Walker then wakes up, dusts off and stumbles upon an underground DNA storage vault called an ARK, where she finds a message from Prowley that says Walker should have been a Ranger the whole time, find more ARKs to increase your power, and to go meet three people to enact Project: Dagger, a super secret squirrel-type scheme that involves taking a big tank and driving in through the front door of the Authority Stronghold. Oh, and did I mention that you are the last Ranger? Because of course you are.
And that is it. Literally seven missions and a small variety of open world content later, you have consumed ALL of Rage 2’s meaningless story. There’s never any drive to make you feel connected to the world around you, no reason outside of “yo, these dudes are clearly evil because they monologue” to go after the Authority, no even insightful looks into Walker and how she feels being thrust into the role of FINAL RANGER after working towards it and being told no her whole life, only to find out that she was just being held back.
The quality of those seven missions are suspect as well. Aside from two of them which introduce you to the wasteland activities of Racing and Mutant Bash TV, a wave-based kill mode that’s run by what could be the creepiest old woman and her assemblage of musclebound croneys dressed in thongs and large mascot-like human heads, the rest follow a fairly strict script. Go to a place, kill a butt-load of things, fight a large cyber-mutant, return from place. There are occasional deviations from this script, like having to plant a bug in equivalent of a Trump-style business man’s office, but largely, once you’ve done one, you’ve done them all.
If Rage 2 were just its story, there would be nothing here to do. But thankfully, Walker’s moment to moment interactions with the wasteland denizens by way of her guns and abilities are the real draw to whatever the rest of this is. As a Ranger, Walker has access to both a tremendous arsenal featuring some standout weapons, and some entertaining powers that aid in exploration and/or killing. My most used weapon was the assault rifle that Walker starts with, along with the more than satisfying shotgun you can pick up fairly early on, depending on how you approach the story. The true hero of the game, though, is the Smart Missile Launcher, which can single-handedly melt any and all of the boss mutants you fight in the game. Every weapon is upgradeable, and each even has a little skill tree with five levels of unlocks. They raise the general power of the weapon and also offer specialized perks, like a faster fire rate or, in the case of the shotgun, the ability to reload all six shells at once rather then one at a time.
For powers, Walker has access to a number of movement related boosts, like a double jump that can be upgraded from a jump to a small hover, or a dash, which, well dashes. She also gets access to some offensive moves. There’s a Push, which is capable of not only throwing enemies away from you, but also shredding the armor off of said enemies, as well as two kinds of vortex abilities, one which you throw out and gather enemies to a point before robbing them of gravity for a few moments, and one which pulls them in for a ground pound. The latter is so fun to use, and was my go-to power, especially when I could get a good group of bandits together. The resulting smash from a high jump into the pound is a thing of pure beauty.
As with the original Rage, Rage 2 also has a driving component, with a talking car, called the Phoenix, available as your primary means to tool about the wasteland. Fully upgradeable and armed with dual miniguns to start, the Phoenix is pretty decent all around, but also kind of wasted, as there are only a few activities that even call explicitly for car combat. The rest of the time is spent either rolling up to a bandit den and blasting everyone in view, or taking out the small groups of random other folks that appear on the sides of the road. The Phoenix is also home to Rage 2’s greatest crime, as none other than Linda Carter, Wonder Woman herself, provides the voice to the car, and is so underutilized that I can’t imagine why they even bothered to use someone, let alone her.
While the entirety of the wasteland is represented by more than a few different biomes, like an arid desert, a wet, overgrown swamp, and a mountainous area, driving around is kind of boring. You set a waypoint on your map, and then follow the glowing arrows on the ground to your destination. As you drive, you occasionally pass areas that haven’t been explored, represented by a question mark on your map, which you can either pull off the road and see right then, or come back to later. Should you spot another vehicle, you can commandeer it and return it to one of the Trade Towns to have access to it later, but with the exception of a few actual tanks and a flying motorcycle, there’s no incentive to drive anything but your heavily armed Phoenix.
There’s also a small exploration piece to nearly every area you come across. Most contain pink-topped supply chests, which you summarily punch to release their contents, while some contain data pads for info dumps, or ARK chests, which contain one of the four currencies you need for your various upgrade paths. If you’re lucky, you stumble up on them without much trouble. If you’re not, well, I’ve spent better than half an hour looking for a lone data pad because my completionist brain just couldn’t let me leave without it. There’s a specific upgrade tree that introduces a small radar mechanic that lights up as you close in on things, but getting to it is entirely dependent on the way you go about your quests. For me, they were one of the last things I got access to.
Locking the upgrade trees, called projects in game, behind the introductory quests for the three main NPCs you deal with is a valid decision, but with no information on what projects each of the people offer, there’s no player agency aside from blind luck in which to access first. The same can be applied to the ARKs you find in the wild that hold your powers and guns. Some initial ones show up on the map, but the others require you to Focus, a power Walker has that allows her to interact with ARK stuff, and look around for prism beams shooting up into the sky in the environment. You can only see them while you are focusing, and you can’t focus while driving, so searching for unknown ARKs is a slow, painful process of constantly pulling over to make sure you are still headed in the right direction. This search gets a bit easier when you get access to the flying bike, but accessing the powers and weapons that make the game enjoyable shouldn’t be such a struggle.
Speaking of struggles, Rage 2 is a bit of a buggy mess on top of everything else. Multiple times I lost sound completely, had my sound replaced by the constant revving of a race car engine, or had dialog completely unsync from whoever I was talking to mid-sentence. I’ve also fallen through the world, been thrown from a motorcycle into the sky while riding across a bridge, and at point, dashed into a rock that proceeded to swallow my character until I found the correct pixel exit point that allowed me to escape. These things happen, for sure, especially in open world games, but the frequency with which they occurred is worrisome.
But that’s Rage 2 in a nutshell. The outside looks good, but the moment you get close enough to interact with anything, it never ceases to reveal just how shallow it is. The missions, the few that actually exist, end the same way and are quite frequently unimpressive, the wasteland looks great but is boring to traverse and explore, and the few things that are good, like the combat, are mired with systems that are either a hassle to get access to or a hassle to deal with. It’s been a while since I have been genuinely disappointed with a game in almost every way. I don’t like this feeling. And neither will you.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!