Before sitting down to get our demo of Rage 2, id Software Studio Director Tim Willits came over to show a small crowd of press members a meme on his phone in the most jovial, middle-aged dad way possible. It was this Spider-Man meme but with Far Cry New Dawn in the top right slot and Rage 2 in the bottom right slot; a tongue-in-cheek way of acknowledging the similarities these games share on the outside. Being pink, post-apocalyptic first-person shooters in an open world will naturally invite comparisons and while the objective pinkness has yet to be scientifically tested, Rage 2 might be the better first-person shooter.
Frankly, this isn’t surprising because of how much Rage 2 feels like an id Software game. Id has been a stalwart in the genre since its inception and games like 2016’s Doom have shown that that experience hasn’t wavered since the early ’90s. Rage 2 has that DNA but shows it in its own way.
Weapons sound explosive and are backed up their impact on screen. Each of them has an alternate fire that changes how they play. Firefights have momentum and are constantly encouraging the player to move forward and use aggression to win. Each of those sentences could mostly be applied verbatim to id’s lineup but Rage 2 also has its own tricks up its sleeve.
Nanotrite powers are the binding glue that keep each firefight moving. These easily accessible abilities range from a shield that can dissolve enemies, a singularity-like vortex, a ground pound, and a Fus Ro Dah-esque push. Each of these upgradeable moves is slotted on a timer and, in tandem with the double jump and dash, are the means to keep the tempo during combat high.
And it works. Dashing into a group of enemies, throwing a vortex grenade, double jumping, and then ground pounding only to dump a clip into the next herd of foes as your powers recharge is a sort of forward momentum that a good shooter has. Shooting is not just the thing to do while your brain numbs from aiming down the sight and pulling the trigger over hordes of stupid cannon fodder. Constantly moving and actively being encouraged to do so is what makes Rage 2’s combat engaging. In an unshocking twist, Willits explained how Doom helped realize this combat loop.
“We’ve taken a lot of inspirations from that push-forward combat that [Doom] excelled in,” he said. “All the mechanics really get your close into the action even though it’s a much bigger game. Even the weapons. We don’t have a classic sniper rifle in this game and we reward you for getting into the action.”
Rage 2 preview | A storm of bullets
Having a slew of moves that keeps you close to your prey staves off repetition but each takes some skill to pull of effectively. While the trailers and demos may make combos seem effortless, they aren’t quite that easy and take skill to line up. It’s akin to Bulletstorm where the tools are there and you have to learn the timing to be the badass that’s usually only in YouTube montages.
Although, for as much as it is like Doom, it’s not quite Doom. Sprinting is relegated to a button press like every other shooter and most of the weapons feature a classic reload. It was the absence of both that ensured you were always moving in 2016’s first-person shooter classic as well as its 1993 and 1994-era predecessors. It’s possible to have reloading and manual sprinting in a frenzied, fast shooter, but both put in small speed bumps in a game that thrives when those roadblocks don’t exist. However, Willits doesn’t look at these missing features as missing but just not part of the plan in general.
“We couldn’t recreate the same exact microcosm of action that we had in Doom,” he said. “With the weapons that we have, we wanted to reload in so you could fight, fight, pace, reload, setup, and then engage but with the abilities and rewarding people for quick kills that help you get into the action. I’ve been very pleased when people play it and think it feels like an id game but with all this other stuff.”
Rage 2 preview | Doomed to comparison
As much as copying and pasting those elements from Doom would likely make the game better in certain ways, it would probably come at the cost of its own identity. And that puts id in a peculiar spot since it ostensibly “solved” shooters with Doom and yet has make more of them without lifting wholesale from it. It almost seems as though id is competing with itself to diversify its titles but Willits says that, despite that point and shared heritage, its games have different enough personalities to stick out from one another.
“It’s always a fine line because you want every game to be unique,” he admitted. “But for id games, we like to have this kind of DNA that flows through them where you can pick them up and play them and you’re like ‘Oh this feels like an id game.’ And there are some mechanics that have naturally evolved into the games. Like we have double jump and we had double jump in Doom. But they have unique personalities and unique styles and there’s enough different that they stand on their own.”
While it doesn’t quite feel like Doom, it’s close enough and looks to have learned the right lessons in id’s School of First-Person Shooters. Willits’ insistence that reloading changes the pacing for the better might not matter as much once the combat loop opens up from allows players to naturally learn slicker combos with more powerful abilities and goofier guns. But this is contingent upon the pacing in an open-world game and while Avalanche is contributing its expertise in that field, another open world is not quite as exciting as the combat arenas.
Rage 2 preview | Another sandy sandbox
Open-world games are the norm now, which means that they are each going to have a harder time sticking out. Rage 2’s wasteland that’s in the process of rebuilding itself was pretty with some oddball characters but didn’t seem to push outside of what we’ve seen in the genre. The map was littered (but not flooded) with different icons with mini-objectives like gathering loot chests after clearing an area. It was pretty standard for the genre: head to the blip, kill the dudes, grab the thing, and then move out.
However, most of the demo took place in more conventional “linear,” mostly indoor segments within the map, which makes its open world even more difficult to predict since only such a small sliver was visible. Cruising between objectives wasn’t particularly exciting despite the functional driving mechanics and hints of more exciting events, like convoys, lurking in the periphery.
Avalanche’s success in creating great open worlds has mainly stemmed from the traversal mechanics surrounding those worlds. Just Cause’s map isn’t particularly innovative or expertly crafted but it’s a damn pleasure to use the grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit in tandem to soar around. Driving, by its very nature, isn’t as engrossing and when combined with the standard typical open-world elements it has, it feels as though the game is going to join the crowd of the other large sandbox games. Willits, however, thinks the Rage 2’s punk style will make it stick out like pink on a box cover.
“The biggest thing about creating post-apocalyptic world — and I like to say that this is a post-post-apocalyptic world — is that the personality is different,” he said. “We tried to add more color and vegetation. We really tried to give more personality and [show] the fun, action, light side of surviving in this world. I hope that personality comes through and [shows] why this is a different post-apocalyptic game.”
Rage 2 is different enough from at least one other post-apocalyptic game coming out this year; the game that is arguably its closest competition. It’s reminiscent of the infamous “inFamous versus Prototype” battle from 2009 where two similar games were constantly pitted against each other yet coexisted in the end. But one is naturally going to be more exciting and well-received, as was inFamous, and this scenario will probably play out the same way. Rage 2 may not have completely proved that its open world is going to be a standout part of the game but its aggressive, power-driven combat loop and lighthearted demeanor have given it a fresher outlook than its peers. And given Rage 2’s strong showing, it has a decent chance of being the “inFamous” in this situation.