Bethesda has been making its own brand of fast-paced, mechanic-driven first-person shooters with Doom, Wolfenstein, and now Rage 2. But aside from all the nuance and depth in each title’s core gameplay, id and Bethesda have also brought fair difficulty back to first-person shooters that hitscan weaponry, methodical pacing, and regenerating health had nearly taken away. And not only are these games playable on harder settings, it is the best way to play them.
This is unusual since first-person shooters have mostly been experiences more suited to standard difficulties. Most video game guns shoot hitscan bullets that can’t be dodged, which is why regenerating health became the norm. It was the game’s way of evening out the damage you were bound to take. And since most first-person shooters have realistic guns with realistic sprint speeds, avoiding fast-moving bullets was nearly impossible. They were made to play at a certain tempo and everything supported that.
Because of this, normal difficulties don’t usually require much precision. Call of Duty is the best example of this as the default mode doesn’t push the mechanics too far since it focuses on spectacle over skill. Cranking it up to hard nearly breaks the game since the hitscan bullets are impossible to dodge, making most of them sheer tests in patience. Hard was never fun in these games and, since most of the genre took cues from Call of Duty, neither was much of its competition when on anything above normal.
Rage 2 on hard isn’t Call of Duty on Veteran
And if you play Rage 2 like a straightforward shooter on normal difficulty, you’ll probably be a bit bored. The game lets you waltz through most firefights without requiring you to take advantage of your weapon wheel or powers. Headshots are easy and effective and the starter rifle is accurate enough to not require much experimentation. Since simple running and gunning works, it’s what most people are going to do. Rage 2 moves faster than most shooters and has a decent arsenal but you’d hardly notice on the default setting.
To truly realize the frenetic it was designed for and get the most out of it, you have to play on hard, as was the case with the recent Wolfenstein and Doom games. And Rage 2 achieves this through its core health mechanic and more resilient opposition. Health pickups spill out of enemies once they die, which links the act of recovering in its offensive mechanics. By tying health pickups to aggressive gunplay, it means you have to be a better shot in order to survive and not be better at ducking behind a wall. Enemies do more damage and will obliterate your health bar if you play it like a Call of Duty game so you need to move quickly and be efficient in order to live and kill the stronger foes.
Killing with style… or else
But it’s incredibly difficult to move fast enough while only utilizing the most basic tools that work on normal. And this is how the game gets players to exercise its entire arsenal. In order to keep a continuous supply of health pouring out of dead enemies and kill the tougher enemies fast enough, players need to constantly be switching between weapons and using powers off cooldown to scrape by. You don’t get the privilege of only using the assault rifle and occasional dash as you’ll be overwhelmed and enemies won’t die quickly enough if you fail to expand your horizons.
Survival becomes frantic at first as you look for foes to use the Force push on, groups to toss gravity vortexes at, close enemies to blast with the shotgun, and high ground to slam off of. Tougher foes usually Improvising your next step can be pleasantly hectic but the true bliss comes when all of the game’s mechanics start to slowly click into place and become second nature.
Since Rage 2‘s hard mode trains you early on to use whatever you have as fast as you can in order to do enough damage and gain more health, the later camps and mission become one big rhythmic ballet of murder as you cut through hordes using every tool imaginable. It’s still difficult and you need to keep combos going to live, but by this time, the game has trained players through its difficulty to become the wasteland Jedi that the trailers advertised.
This feeling is what id’s shooters are all about as well as MachineGame’s Wolfenstein games. Cutting through and using the power sets and big ass guns as quickly as possible as if it were any other modern shooter running at 200% speed is how Rage 2 should be played. It’s just a shame this feeling isn’t more readily available or as apparent on the default setting.
Similar DNA, similar issues
Doom and Wolfenstein also had similar problems even if they both weren’t as negatively effected by their normal difficulties. Doom is all about getting up close and using glory kills to get more health to gush out of dead demons. By hopping up a setting or two, players were forced to rip and tear more quickly to stay alive, making players feel more like the Doomguy they’re controlling.
Wolfenstein’s focus on plowing through Nazi scum by dual-wielding huge guns was increasing cathartic as the tempo dialed up, as, like Doom, it more accurately portrayed the fantasy of being B.J. Blazkowicz and slaying the Third Reich. These combat loops are made to be fast and are more satisfying as players are inspired to go even faster, especially given the role-playing aspect that comes with playing as badasses like the Doomguy and B.J. Blazkowicz.
While Rage 2 isn’t quite on Doom or Wolfenstein‘s level, it still should have done a better job encouraging players to use its entire arsenal or at least been more explicit about what the difficulty settings mean. However, just because its default mode isn’t great at pushing experimentation doesn’t mean it isn’t there at all. By delving a little deeper and cranking it up, players can find id’s signature fast-paced combat loop, which is the way it should be played. Ironically, it’s just a shame that it is a little hard to find.