Of all the blockbuster games in need of a sequel, 2011’s Rage has to be near the bottom of the list. The id-developed post-apocalyptic shooter was a stunning technical showcase, but an entirely forgettable game, set in a drab brown world that did little to distinguish itself. It’s hard to imagine many came away from the game dying to know what happened next. But alas, here we are, and Rage 2 is a video game you can play right now. It’s not an especially original one, either. It’s like a grab bag of existing open-world concepts, fused with some excellent Doom-style gunplay and a set in a slightly more colorful take on Mad Max.
That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success — and yet, strangely, Rage 2 succeeds. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in vigor. It’s not a game that will change your life, but it might just be the big, dumb shooter you didn’t know you needed.
In all honesty, even though I just completed it, I can barely tell you Rage 2’s general plot. I definitely can’t tell you how it connects to the original. It’s set in a vast wasteland, one filled with all kinds of dangerous groups to contend with. There are mutants, raider gangs, and the big baddies, a mysterious group known as the Authority. You play as a ranger, a sort of post-apocalyptic guardian with a suit that gives you all sorts of cool powers. You also happen to be the last of your kind, which means everybody needs your help. That means doing everything from clearing roadblocks and destroying mutant nests to securing helpful technology and, ultimately, taking out the Authority.
The structure of Rage 2 is very reminiscent of Far Cry 5. Essentially, there are three main leaders throughout the wasteland, each of whom holds a particular key to defeating the Authority. But before they’ll help you, you first need to make sure their needs are met. In practice, this means completing lots of smaller quests until they’re satisfied. The result is a nice amount of freedom, since you’re not pushed to do any specific missions. For the most part you can take them on as you want, and as you do you’ll slowly chip away at your goals. The missions themselves are fairly standard stuff: go to a raider camp and kill all the bad guys, or venture into a toxic swamp to find a hidden cache of weapons. It’s a whole lot of killing and looting.
So far, I could’ve been describing pretty much any open-world game made in the last five years. So what makes Rage 2 interesting? It comes down entirely to the action and tone. While the game was developed primarily by Avalanche Studios — the same team behind the Just Cause series and 2015’s Mad Max game — Doom studio id also had a hand in its creation, and it shows. Back in 2016, when id rebooted Doom as an aggressive, streamlined modern action game, my colleague Sam Byford called it “the Mad Max: Fury Road of games” and in a lot of ways you could say the very same thing about Rage 2.
It can be hard to put into words, but there’s just something about the combat in Rage 2 that feels right. The weapons all have a satisfying heft to them, and the game demands aggressive play; health replenishing items pop out of enemies, so you’ll find yourself charging at them, shotgun blasting, in order to both kill and heal. I usually lean toward stealth in action games, but I never took that route in Rage 2. And new gear and abilities can be unlocked at a regular clip.
Again, few are particularly original — you’ll get a double jump, a devastating kinetic blast, and a rocket launcher that can lock onto enemies — but they’re all polished to the point that they’re fun anyway. In most games, the constant enemy encounters can become a nuisance, but in Rage 2, I found myself enjoying almost all of them. They were a chance to play with new toys and try new strategies. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so attached to a shotgun.
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t get tedious at times. Rage 2 features an incredible array of things to unlock and upgrade to the point that it can feel overwhelming. You can get new skills, augment your body with upgrades, tweak every weapon and vehicle, and much more. It’s especially daunting early on, when you don’t know the ins and outs of the various skill trees and upgrade materials. My least favorite part of Rage 2 is destroying a goon hideout and then spending 20 minutes trying to find all of the hidden item caches I need to get a better pistol. But this becomes less of a problem once you’re further into the game and are already superpowered. (Some players might also be turned off by the game’s comparatively short length, with a campaign that clocks in around 20 hours.)
Possibly the best thing about Rage 2, though, is that it’s proudly a video game. It’s over-the-top, ridiculous, and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. One of the first button prompts asks you to press X to “stick your hand into a strange hole.” You have a sassy talking car that tells you “I know I look good, but I drive better,” and a major mission involves becoming a famous mutant-killing TV star. There are explosive red barrels and you open up chests by punching them. After playing through dour open worlds like the humorless zombie game Days Gone and the disappointingly serious Far Cry: New Dawn, Rage 2 feels like a breath of fresh air. I haven’t played a game like this since Sunset Overdrive.
Rage 2 is a game that knows what it is and what it wants to do, and it does that particular thing very well. There’s a bit of fluff padding out the experience, but the core of the game is solid. Really, though, Rage 2 does something very rare: it offers an experience you’ve already seen plenty of times, but makes it fun regardless.
Rage 2 is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.