Rage 2 hands-on: making the madcap shooter more explosive than ever

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Back in 2010, post-apocalyptic first-person shooter Rage marked a return to form for industry legends id Software, and the beginning of a successful streak that culminated in the much-loved reboot of the Doom series in 2016. 

Thanks to an unfortunate leak from Walmart Canada back in March, Rage 2 has been on our radar a little longer than publisher Bethesda Softworks and joint developers id Software and Avalanche Studios originally anticipated. But following some social media marketing wizardry from Bethesda and an official announcement in May, we finally have confirmation of a follow-up to id Software’s take on Earth’s ruined wastes.

We managed to get hands-on with the Rage 2 demo at Gamescom, and spoke to id Software studio director Tim Willits and Avalanche Studios senior designer Loke Wallmo to find out how the team planned to iterate on Rage’s wacky wasteland thrill-ride. 

Superhero of the wasteland

Before we’re thrown into the world of Rage 2 we’re given a crash course on the tools at our disposal out in the rabid wastes. Rage always had a kitsch no-holds-barred appeal to combat, and it’s clear that with the sequel, the dev team are seriously upping the ante. We’re presented with an array of ‘nanotrite’ powers that our character has access to, and it quickly becomes apparent that rather than a hapless wasteland wanderer, in Rage 2 we’re a bonafide jacked-up badlands superhero.

For the demo proper, we’re tasked with gaining access to an old-world science facility that’s been overrun by bandits. No time was wasted in throwing us in front of a group of enemies, and it was clear that the true purpose of the demo was to showcase Rage 2’s combat systems – and boy were they showcased. 

Anyone who’s concerned that a return to Rage’s open world would diminish id Software’s focus on the phenomenal shooter gameplay it’s become known for needn’t worry. The combat was fast, messy, loud and glorious – we’d be hard pushed to name a game other than 2016’s Doom that matches up to the fantastic gunplay on offer here. 

To understand how id Software frequently manages to create gun systems that feel so tight, yet satisfyingly bombastic, we quizzed Willits on what goes on behind the scenes. 

“There's no secret formula for it but there's a feel we try and capture,” Willits explains. “First we follow some basic rules: weapons have to be heavy, meaty, powerful, but also situational. And the sound has to be crisp and clear. 

“Then we look at animations, how it plays out on a controller, how damage works over different distances. We just keep adjusting all those different little knobs until it feels good. And I think we’ve got it feeling pretty good.”

After a few minutes of gunning down bandits, we decide to get to grips with the nanotrite powers at our disposal. We’d given them a go in the demo’s makeshift training room, but using them out in the field of combat brought an entirely new dynamic to the gameplay. This is definitely not a cover-shooter, where you pop in and out of vision and get a few rounds off where you can: Rage 2 wants you to be in the thick of it. We jump off a shipping container and activate our ground slam ability, propelling us downwards at pace, and a shockwave catapults our enemies away from us once we make contact with the ground.

The wingstick – a fan favorite from the first Rage – makes a return too. It felt a bit bizarre to rely on a three-pronged boomerang when you have big meaty guns at your disposal, but after locking on with the wingstick, and watching it fly around the bandit’s cover and proceed to grind them up to a pulp with their arms waving comically in the air, we could definitely see the appeal. 

It’s all balls-to-the-wall, fast-paced fun, and if the team can carry that energy through to the rest of the game it’ll definitely be one to watch.

A whole new wacky world

While the environment we were placed in was definitely intriguing, and surprisingly colorful for a desert, it’s was a shame we didn’t get to explore more of Rage 2’s open world setting. We’ve been told the game is going to be loading screen-free – impressive given how detailed the developers claim the world will be.

The original Rage struggled to set its post-apocalyptic aesthetic apart from other media in the genre, but Wallmo told us that with the sequel, Avalanche Studios is trying its hardest to make the game stand out. 

“We're looking at how varied we can make the world,” he adds. “And we're looking at leveraging our technology to create more extreme environments so there's more verticality and drama within the landscape itself.” 

The pre-demo trailer we were shown promised a diverse range of biomes, from wetlands to jungle to forests – all environments that titles in the genre usually avoid – so it’ll be interesting to see id Software and Avalanche’s take on post-apocalyptic swamplands, rather than the usual dusty desertscapes.

Also making a return in Rage 2 is vehicle travel and combat – the teaser promised large-scale battles with what looked to be Mad Max-style convoys. Different factions in the game will have their own unique vehicles and combat styles, and while we didn’t get to play around with any, from what we’ve seen so far they all look to be fitted with an array of guns and explosives – exactly what we were hoping to see. 

“The biggest change in Rage 2 is that we have this whole open world to play around with,” explains Wallmo. “We put these big guns on our vehicles and you can chase down these huge convoys filled with bad guys. 

“It gives us the opportunity to have some real arcadey fun, driving and racing around blowing shit up. We're just trying to get all the best parts of vehicle combat all in one place.”

While our demo was limited to a short firefight with bandit hordes, Rage 2 has definitely captured our attention. To stand out from all the other post-apocalyptic media on offer – including Bethesda’s own upcoming foray, Fallout 76 – the team will have to pull out all the stops; but whatever happens, the combination of id Software’s gunplay and Avalanche Studios’ open-world expertise will most definitely make for a game worthy of a look.