LOS ANGELES – Back in 2011, the first Rage game was a pleasant jaunt through the post-apocalyptic wasteland. A fast-paced first-person shooter with a fair number of vehicle sections, Rage channeled the spirit of the Mad Max films, both in subject matter and general tone. Shortly before E3 2018, Bethesda announced Rage 2: a sequel that will maintain the same frenzied, action-packed pace, but give players a much more varied world to explore.
I went hands-on with Rage 2 at E3, and immediately began wondering why I never picked the first game up. There are lots of other post-apocalyptic games, sure, but the Fallout series takes itself pretty seriously, and the Borderlands series doesn’t live up to its potential unless you gather up four players. By contrast, Rage 2 is a straightforward single-player adventure that pits you against a whole bunch of murderous psychopaths in a ruined world — but it’s a world that maybe you can make a little bit better.
In the demo, I took control of Walker, a ranger (get it?) many years after an asteroid strike devastated Earth and caused society to fracture. The full game will let Walker explore a huge chunk of the world: not just blasted deserts, but also forests, wetlands and buildings that survived the impact. The task at hand was inside one of these buildings. I had to retrieve an resource-rich “ecopod,” initially bound for outer space before the asteroid hit.
Naturally, the ecopod installation was full of soldiers from the Authority: a villainous organization, dead set on maintaining the status quo rather than trying to rebuild a civilized world. This is where I got to try out the game’s combat; it’s also where I was sold on the game.
Walker has access to a variety of standard first-person shooter weapons, including a pistol, an assault rifle and an unbelievably satisfying shotgun. (One company behind Rage 2 is id Software, which created Doom, so this is not surprising.) Gunplay works fine, especially the game’s inventive Overdrive mode. If you kill enough enemies in rapid succession, your screen will take on a neon orange-and-blue tint, like a Michael Bay movie, if Michael Bay movies were fun to watch.
Not only will your weapons do more damage in Overdrive, but each shot you land will also restore health. It’s hard to describe just how satisfying it is to watch an enemy blast apart in five different directions while also seeing your health meter go back up. Even without Overdrive, though, most enemies drop health packs when they die, meaning that you’ll never have to wait around for your health to regenerate, or stop the action to go traipsing around for a health pack.
Shooting is only one part of the equation, though. Walker also has a whole host of special abilities, granted to him by nanotechnology. Drawing on a limited amount of stamina, he can dash around the battlefield, jump into the air and land an area-of-effect pound attack or blast enemies into the air with a telekinetic burst. Since these abilities take some time to recharge — and you have to pick which one you’ll use in any given situation — you can’t rely on them too much. But they help create an intoxicating rhythm of disrupting an enemy formation, blasting them into smithereens, and then looking for the next group to do it all over again.
What you can use fairly often, however, are wingsticks. Like grenades, wingsticks are consumable combat items. Unlike grenades, though, they can lock onto enemies. If there’s a foe hiding behind cover across a dangerous divide, you can hold out a wingstick (a three-bladed throwing star at the end of a baton), wait a few seconds for it to lock on, and then toss it around the corner. It’ll kill regular enemies in a single hit, leaving you free to focus on other challenges.
The Rage 2 demo was actually much shorter than I would have liked. By the time I felt I was getting the hang of combat, I’d already infiltrated the base’s control room and brought the ecopod online. The main game will have much more to do, of course, when it launches in the first part of 2019. But until then, I’m inclined to catch up with what I’ve missed, and other gamers who miss the run-and-gun roots of FPS games may want to do the same.