Last month, Bethesda revealed it was making Rage 2 the sequel to a 2011 first-person shooter no one was waiting for. (Except, maybe, DT’s former gaming editor). Rage was something of an outlier in the canon of first-person shooters made by Doomdeveloper Id Software, as it emphasized world-building and story much more than its classic games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake, in which you shoot first, and ask questions later. I had ignored Rage when it came out, but decided to go back and take a look at it, in light of the surprisingly intriguing sequel. In so doing, I found a game that delivers tons of the high-energy action Id’s fans have come to expect wrapped in a story that absolutely no one needed. The action made me very excited about what’s to come in Rage 2, assuming its developers can find and expand on the game’s best qualities, which weren’t always obvious at first glance.
Set some time in the future, after an asteroid has crashed and destroyed the majority of humanity, Rage is bleak, brown, and desolate. The world’s infrastructure has been decimated, forcing survivors to move through long stretches of dirt in the hopes of finding a friendly outpost. Bandits lurk around every corner, ready to jump anyone without a second thought, and deadly mutants threaten to destroy entire towns with little more than a stomp and a swipe.
You control Nicholas Raine, an “Ark Survivor,” intentionally spared from the asteroid, who roams the wasteland and eventually decides to band together with isolated groups of survivors to make the Earth safe for the average citizen again.
There’s not much to say about Raine. Based on the game, I thought the protagonist’s name was “You,” because that’s all I heard anyone call him from the opening credits to the final mission. He has a backstory, but Id apparently held most of it back for the Rage novel. I played the entire game without knowing a thing about him, and there was no point during Rage that made me curious to learn more. He’s little more than a tool of destruction for anyone willing to put him to work. He can solve to any problem, from issues with communications to disruptive robotics factories, as long the solution involving piling up a lot of dead bodies.
That disinterest isn’t necessarily an issue for a shooter, particularly not one from a developer like Id, except that Rage insists that we pay attention to a featureless vessel’s personal history. The story comes across as a distraction, a means of grounding the game’s ridiculous premise rather than enhancing it.
Compare this to 2016’s Doom, which offers up a similar amount of narrative depth, but uses it to leverage the inherent silliness of its premise. The Doom Marine is merely a representation of how the average player wishes they would react when confronted by an army of demons middle fingers up, with no patience or respect for the gravity of the situation.
When the talking stops and you start separating enemies’ heads from their bodies, though, you can see that Rage’s best qualities are remisicent of the new, modern Doom. Everything from the basic pistol to the powerful machine gun has a raw, unrefined weight that feels perfect for a gritty post-apocalyptic setting, and with the ability to carry as much ammo as you can afford at the in-town shops, you’re free to make the world a canvas for your bullets.
To find that wild combat, though, you have to play against the game’s structure. In 2011, when cover-based shooters were in vogue, this “hide, aim, shoot” flow may have been par for the course, but make the game feel dated now. From the early bandits to more powerful foes decked out in armor, every enemy you fight in Rage demands your full attention, as they’re capable of taking you down in just a few hits. You have to hide behind walls, use grenades to flush them out of cover, and pick off distant targets with headshots. It works perfectly well, but it lacks the always-mobile intensity that is so prevalent in the studio’s other games.
Interestingly, you can even see some of the problems Id found in Rage and fixed in Doom. To switch weapons in Rage, for example, you have to use a real-time weapon select, or pause and bring up a menu. Both options feel very clunky. Doom reacts, solving the issue by putting the game in slow motion when you bring up your weapon wheel.
That said, some of Rage’s unique qualities have some appeal. As a very clear descendent of The Road Warrior, Rage splits time between linear shooter levels and relatively open vehicle combat arenas. Even more than the shooting, Rage’s car combat really holds up.
The cars from the basic buggies to later armored vehicles have an arcade-style feel that works in harmony with in-vehicle shooting. Bandits constantly ambush you as you speed through the wasteland, firing machine guns and rockets as you do the same.
My enthusiasm for it died down over time. It’s hard to stay excited after you’ve effectively fought the same battle five or six times. Perhaps it was a design decision meant to reinforce brevity, but Rage’s “open world” respawn the same groups of enemies in the same locations, occasionally upgrading their gear.
Rage is perfectly serviceable, but even in 2011, everything from its brown-and-grey environments to its ambiguiously authoritarian enemy faction had already been done to death. Despite this, the elements of wackiness I encountered which Rage 2 seems to lean more heavily on have given me high hopes for the sequel.
I just hope Avalanche Studios, the team making Rage 2, sees the same strengths (and weakenesses) in the original that I do. With a little bit of luck, Rage 2 will be the balls-to-the-wall action game the first could have been.