“Rage 2” Hands-on Preview
With Rage 2 (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC) only a few months away (May 14th, for those keeping score at home), the good people at Bethesda Softworks recently held an event at a loft in downtown Los Angeles where they gave game journalists a chance to play a bit of this open world first-person shooter. What follows are my impression of this game.
Suffice it to say, spoilers follow.
For those who missed the original Rage when it came out in 2010,
the premise was that you woke from suspended animation to find that the asteroid which had hit the Earth didn’t destroy all life as predicted. Instead, it turned the place into an automotive wasteland populated by bandits and mutants, many of whom have anger management issues, punk rock outfits, and names like Sleazy Too Easy and The Crushinator and other things that make them sound like former roadies for GWAR.
As for Rage 2, it’s thirty years later, and the oppressive regime from the first game, The Authority, are thought to be long gone…except they’re not because otherwise they wouldn’t have destroyed your town and killed your family and, most importantly, there wouldn’t be a second game. So, even though you’re not the same person — and no, I don’t mean that figuratively — you once again have to drive around, run errands for some people, put holes in others, and generally just try to survive while doing whatever you can to take down The Authority…again.
In other words, it’s like if the people behind Borderlands made a Mad Max: Fury Road game.
As for the part of Rage 2 we got to play, it takes place about a quarter of the way through the main story, with my path to vengeance taking me to the city of Wellspring. Since my first objective was to see the mayor, I made my way through the winding streets to City Hall, only to be told she was busy. But then some bad guys showed up, someone started shooting, and the next thing I knew I was saving the mayor’s life and getting the next step in my journey.
That next step in Rage 2…
was to meet up with a bigwig named Klegg Clayton so I could plant a spying device on his computer that would allow the mayor to figure out what he was up to. But like the mayor, his guys told me he was busy, and that if I wanted an audience with him, I’d need to make a name for myself. To do this, I was told I’d have to win a race called the Chas Car Derby as well as survive a game show called Mutant Bash TV. Neither of which take place in Wellspring, so it was out for a drive in the wasteland for me.
Getting into my car, I set a waypoint for the Mutant Bash TV studio and started driving. Unlike the recent Mad Max game, Forza Horizon 4, and others that have vehicles and open worlds, Rage 2 doesn’t like it if you stray from the roads. At least in the area around Wellspring I was visiting, anyway. But then, there’s plenty to see on the way. Which is how I wound up at a gas station overrun by murderous jerks.
This is a good place to talk about the guns in Rage 2, which are slightly futuristic versions of ones you can buy today. What makes them different, from both real guns and ones in most games, is how the trigger you use for iron sights doesn’t just bring the gun up to your eye for better accuracy, it also enables some weapon’s secondary systems. For instance, while the machine pistol fires multiple shots from the hip, it shoots only one when you pull the left trigger first, but it’s a really powerful one. Similarly, another pistol shoots regular rounds when you hold it normally, but small explosives you trigger yourself when you use iron sights, while the shotgun’s secondary attack pushes enemies back while filling them full of lead, as opposed to just filling them with said lead.
Along with your guns, Rage 2 also gives you some rechargeable special abilities courtesy of the nanobots in your blood. These include an electrical shield, a jump that ends with a powerful shockwave, and vortex grenades that suck everything nearby to a single point (though unlike similar grenades in other games, the ones in Rage 2 don’t squeeze people like a black hole; if left alone, everyone will be okay when the grenade runs out of juice). There’s also a short power-up called Overdrive that makes you briefly tougher, though it’s not like when you get the “Berserk” power-up in Doomand your ‘roid rage makes you go all slap-happy and invincible.
Together, using these abilities and the guns…
not only made the gas station shootout — and the other ones I got into — engaging but also somewhat different than gun battles in similar games. Though it also made them sometimes feel like those in the acrobatic shooter Bulletstorm, most notably when I threw a vortex grade at a wall near some guys and a gas can, and then shot the gas can as it and the bad guys hung in the air like a pinata.
Clearing out places like this not only gave me a chance to test out my guns and abilities — as well as Rage 2‘s controls (which are solid and intuitive) — but also to curry favor with the mayor and the game’s upgrade system. Like a lot of games, you earn upgrade points in Rage 2 by completing story missions, errands, and so on. And these points can upgrade whatever skills you want. But you have to unlock some of those upgrades, and not in the usual way of leveling up. Instead, you do so by completing tasks. For instance, clearing out gas stations — which require you to kill everyone, find some intel, and destroy all the gasoline — makes the mayor happen, and will unlock new upgrades in her section of the menu.
After clearing out the gas station, I got back in my car and headed down the road, only to run into an ambush. Thinking this would be a good time to try out the machine pistol, I used the weapon wheel to switch to it…and was promptly gunned down. Which would’ve been a bummer except it revealed that when you die, you don’t go back to the last spot on the map you visited — which, in my case, was that gas station I cleared out — but instead to the nearest town, which was Wellspring. Which sucked, yes, given how far I’d driven, but whatever, it was a nice day for a drive.
Eventually, I made my way to Mutant Bash TV’s HQ. Here, Rage 2 turned into a short game of “Horde” from Gears Of War 4 or some other challenge mission where you’re locked into a room and have to kill all comers.
It was while I was doing so…
that I noticed something about Rage 2 I hope gets fixed or changed before the finished game comes out: when you run out of ammo, you don’t automatically switch weapons, even though you’re well versed in the use of fire arms. Despite this issue, though, I was eventually able to take out all of the bad guys they threw at me, including one who might want to cut down on the lizard jerky.
Having become the winner of Mutant Bash TV, I headed back out on the road towards the Chas Car Derby. Here, I entered a two lap race on a dirt track full of turns, split pathways, and jumps. And while my car doesn’t turn on a dime — or even a quarter — I still managed to easily come in first, securing my status as a celebrity.
Returning to Wellspring, I met with Klegg and planted the device on his computer when he wasn’t looking. But as you can probably imagine — since this is a video game and you need things to do — it didn’t go well, and I had to shoot my way out of the place. And not just through the usual gang of idiots; I had to face another rather tough mutant as well.
Feeling like I needed a break to clear my head, I went back out to the wasteland, and after clearing out another gas station, I found myself at an abandoned dig site that was also full of mutants. Guess I’m still fighting.
After playing this brief bit of Rage 2,
it’s easy to think it’s going to be a lot like the original. Which is good; the original was a lot of fun. But it also seems like they’ve done to it what most people do when they make sequels: they’ve added more of what we love and some new things as well. I guess we’ll know for sure when Rage 2 is released for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on May 14th.