Rage 2 is the closest I’ve seen to a publisher creating a mixtape of its entire portfolio. While the first-person shooter shares the name of its critically maligned predecessor, 2011’s Rage, the demo at E3 2018 displayed a game that has more in common with all of its other siblings in the Bethesda stable.
Created in part by id Software, Rage 2 has movement and gunplay that handles like the Dallas-based developer’s 2016 reboot of Doom. At least it feels that way until — time and time again — you come across unsuspecting enemies. Though Rage 2 is by no means a stealth game, the freedom to unleash fury on foes who didn’t know I was there reminded me of the stealthy bits of MachineGames’ reboot of Wolfenstein.
And what fury you can unleash. For starters, a rechargeable ability called Overdrive turns every weapon in your arsenal into human meat grinders, the shotgun being especially adept at vaporizing the lucky enemies and simply de-limbing the unlucky ones. It’s very Quake.
One addition took me a little longer to find a comparison within the Bethesda portfolio. The player is given Nanotrite abilities, powers that can be equipped to a limited number of slots. In the demo, I used Burst (a force push that hurls enemies into the air, except for the times it obliterates them into a puff of appendages and organs) and Slam (I leaped into the air, then stomped on the ground, sending a shock wave that knocked down everybody around me). At first, it felt like something from the cult classic shooter Bulletstorm, but the more I used the Nanotrites, the more they reminded me of rechargeable spells. And then it hit me: “Fus Ro Dah.”
Rage 2 contains many different individual hits, but it manages to become its own fresh thing. Like a good mixtape, the demo shifts seamlessly between its various styles and moods. It’s dark and violent one moment, silly and weird the next. Some corridors are grimy and muted. Others are streaked with bold neon colors.
Late in the demo, for example, I discovered that I had unintentionally stored 20 grenades. I’m the person who ends up holding onto my grenades because I’m worried I’ll use all of them just before I actually need them. But there I was with 20. So, when I entered the next room and found a half dozen enemies, I decided, what the hey: I tossed all of them. Yes, all 20 grenades. The room erupted with explosions, half of which I couldn’t see because it was now full of smoke, blood and limbs dispersed from the previous detonations. It was, for a moment, absolute mayhem.
(You can also carry an absurd number of blade boomerangs that work like the glaive from Krull. Because of course you can.)
But here’s the twist: As fun as the mayhem is, I like Rage 2 just as much when the weapons are simply slightly overpowered rather than wildly overpowered. Going back to the shotgun: When you fire into a powerful enemy at close range, it doesn’t instantly kill them, not does the baddie absorb the damage like a sponge. Instead, the blast does what you’d expect, knocking them to the ground or into the air, removing bits of helmet or armor. There’s a flow to combat that’s more complex than shoot the enemy until it’s eliminated, one that makes fights feel more like elaborate action movie choreography or even comically grotesque dances.
We still haven’t learned much about the story or gotten to see the vehicle combat, something we expect will showcase the expertise of Bethesda’s new collaborator, Avalanche Studios. But from what we have played of Rage 2, it feels like it could be the culmination of Bethesda’s past decade: a game that borrows great bits from the catalog, with additional ideas thrown in for spice.
The only thing stale about this game is its title. Similar to Bethesda’s Prey from 2017, this game doesn’t feel like a sequel or reboot of its predecessor, rather a new thing that uses the basic outline of its namesake to create something new and better.
Rage 2 is set for release in spring 2019 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.