We flew in to Stockholm over a swelling sea of leaks and rumours surrounding a possible sequel to 2011’s post-apocalyptic FPS, RAGE. Our welcome was a befitting explosion of pink and yellow, mohawks and machine guns. RAGE 2 confirmed, and the doors to the headquarters of super stylish Swedish game developer Avalanche Studios opened.
Tim Willits, the Studio Director for id Software, was undeniably excited to show us a short presentation on the new title. The head of id Software, the veteran studio behind DOOM, Quake, and the original Rage was on hand and quick to dub the sequel a ‘post-apocalyptic first-person shooterverse’. The resulting baby from a collaboration and partnership between id Software and Avalanche Studios, a perfect union between the gurus of true open-world gaming and the masters of the modern-day FPS. Equal parts chaos, quirky insanity, and the ability to shoot anything and explode everything and you have the premise for RAGE 2.
Touring Avalanche Studios was a true gamer’s delight. The walls adorned with chunky framed prints of games gone by, room after room filled with arrays of desks, monitors showing motion capture editing and concept artwork pasted on the walls. Vibrant drawings and colour palettes, the first forms of maps and sketchy outlines of bizarre hulking creatures, turrets and vehicles. Avalanche had an almost tangible hum of proud, behind-the-scenes energy. With all hands working towards fleshing out the sort of vast open worlds we all enjoy at home.
Tim talked us through some of the key points of the sequel, powered by Avalanche’s proprietary Apex Open-World Engine. Previously utilised in the Just Cause and Mad Max games, it has now been fine tuned, improved, and modified to support id-style indoor areas and fast combat. RAGE 2 has been designed from the ground up to embrace the non-linear exploration and progression that we’ve seen in Avalanche Studios titles in the past. Tim’s excitement rose several notches when he revealed that RAGE 2 boasts no loading screens, in their place a seamless open-world.
In a later interview, Willits expanded on the benefit RAGE 2 would enjoy from the collaboration between the two studios, “We had no limitations, no constraints… we can make anything we want.” Referencing the zany, rampant style to the game, he pushed the unbridled fun factor, “It’s all about the fun. From our box cover, to our trailers, to the game, to the menu… the colours, and the attitude.” And RAGE 2 has attitude aplenty.
A mayhem-filled demo followed, showcasing the beautiful insanity of RAGE 2. In the hands of an experienced player it was hard not to be impressed with the world. A stroll through a lush forest environment gave us our first taste of the new and creative art direction and ambient atmosphere, in addition to some truly stunning sunlight-through-the-tree effects. It wasn’t long though until the fun, over-the-top, and, well, insane side of RAGE 2 began to surface. Which naturally happens when you find yourself chatting to a small, cute cactus - silly hat in tow. The chatty little weirdo would directs you to the lab of returning character Dr. Kavasir. Looking a little more weathered, the good doctor sheds light on the situation and guides you to the Eden Space Centre which is overrun by one of the many violent Factions of the Wasteland - a bunch of Tank Girl-esque mohawked bandits called The Goon Squad.
The experienced guy with the controller dispatches this mob in style, using an array of Nanotrite abilities which Tim explains form the “cornerstone of combat,” and have “evolved since RAGE,” apparently along with almost everything else. RAGE 2 appears to retain many of the well-loved elements of the first game, with a hefty amping up across the board. The Wingstick is back (yes!), it is upgradeable, more powerful and features a new target lock-on ability. Mutants have also, well, mutated more, and acknowledging that “everyone loves giant mutants,” Tim assures us they won’t be few in numbers, but will be “more dynamic, and more in the environments. Yes, yes, yes!”. One such formidable beast, Digg The Masher, leaps down a rock face during the demo, all gnashing teeth and flinging saliva. Deliciously disgusting, he takes a lot more firepower and carefully crafted combo moves to bring down.
More than a sea of brown, greys, and endless arrays of rock and sand, RAGE 2’s new environments are vibrant, buffed, and shiny. Introduced in the sequel is the concept of space-bound Ecopods harbouring fresh technologies, which have started to descend to the wasteland and either deploy perfectly or misfire with leaking fission reactors, creating the framework for the creative teams to design a multitude of new territories and vegetation, alternative biomes and twisted creatures. Despite the dreary name, the wasteland as seen here will now feature jungles and swampland, and a vastly expanded environmental colour palette.
Set 30 years on from the events of its predecessor, Tim explains that the game will clarify any unanswered questions from the ending of RAGE, with familiar key characters resurfacing to fill in the gaps and more in-depth subplots. We poke a bit harder about the “very exciting” ending promised, gently reminding Tim of the lukewarm reception and disappointment surrounding the ending of the original. Willits whispers with confidence, “it’s awwwesome,” chuckling to himself and joking, “so instead of pushing three buttons… four. We’re pushing four buttons this time.” He continues, “the guy I work with said, ‘this is the redemption for Willits game.’ “
You traverse the wasteland as Walker, the last of the rangers from the destroyed Vineland Settlement. Our new protagonist has an internal monologue which muses on the events and history of the wasteland. Having only played the original a few weeks prior to this visit, there was an immediate sense of the back-story involved, the Authority’s role, the evolution of the world and its inhabitants since Nicholas Raine. When queried about Nicholas, Tim shares with us that “we do make some references to the Rain of Death. He [Nicholas] just went out and killed everybody,” tying together the reasons behind Walker’s monologue to imbue players with “more personality, more context… so you just [aren’t] some silent bringer of death.”
After a short tutorial to learn the ropes, it was our turn to tackle the Goon Squad faction that got annihilated moments earlier. Armed with newly acquired Nanotrite abilities, it was time to experience the explosive, colourful, and immersive insanity of RAGE 2. At our disposal, Slam, Shatter, Dash, Double Jump, and Shadow - with probably more to be revealed at a later date. In execution the abilities all feel suitably powerful and devastating, from a brutal crushing ground-slam attack that launches bodies in all directions, to a complete and total pulverisation of an enemy into bloody fettuccine.
Downed baddies drop Feltrite, a crystal substance that was used in the first game to craft armour, ammunition and explosives. For Walker, Feltrite provides small health boosts and along with strategic chains of Nanotrite abilities, contributes towards filling a Killstreak Meter for Overdrive; a quad-damage ability of epic Quake-like proportions. The ensuing 20 seconds of bedlam is an entirely psychedelic affair. Walker’s weapons are pushed beyond their means causing higher damage, his health regenerates, and the loot on offer improves. It’s a direct road to extremely satisfying super-slaughter. And with enough practice a single Overdrive-use should be more than enough time to clear a large group of enemies.
Unfortunately though, in our hands-on time with RAGE 2 we weren’t given an opportunity to experience one of the key pillars of the game - vehicle combat. Tim explained that Walker would have his own ride, “nicknamed The Phoenix.” Fully upgradeable, with various skins available to showcase Walker’s innate sense of style. Well, our innate sense of style. It doesn’t stop there though as Tim is quick to add that we’ll be able to “fill [our] garage up with other ones and call them out” when desired, and confirmed Walker is able to drive anything he finds, “if someone jumps off, you can take it.” This includes gyrocopters, monster trucks, buggies and motorcycles. We can also happily report that in the demo we witnessed, even at high speeds with enemy vehicles being torn asunder and multitudes of rockets launching around Walker, performance was impressive with no visible pop-ups or frame-rate dips.
After both the demonstration and our own hand-on time with RAGE 2 Tim Willits began asking for direct feedback on the combat mechanics and what we experienced. “We’re still tweaking things,” he explained, “I like to get everyone’s opinion… I like to talk to you hardcore gamers… people that have a critical eye.” He asked a number of questions on our feelings and thoughts towards enemy bodies reacting to the damage we were dealing out, whether we felt certain elements were “cool,” or needed more work. It was gratifying to leave Tim with some snippets of advice, especially for what already felt like a polished and robust open-world shooter. And in case you’re reading this, yes Tim, RAGE 2 is cool. It’s also over-the-top, fun, and insane in all the right places.
Thanks to Bethesda, Avalanche Studios, and id Software for making this possible.