Hands on: Rage 2 first look review

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Early Verdict

The addition of Avalanche Studios’s open world knowhow could turn id Software’s Rage series into something truly special.

For

  • Attractive new biomes add variety to the world
  • Rally’s and convoy battles are phenomenally fun side activities
  • Combat is visceral, tight and satisfying

Against

  • Driving can take some getting used to

When we first managed to get our hands on Rage 2 at last year’s Gamescom, we let out a massive sigh of relief upon finding that id Software hadn't let standards slip: the glorious gunplay the studio is known for was still up to scratch, and we were excited to see how it would fit into the wider world that Avalanche studios was bringing to the table.

At a recent press preview event, we finally got to see that world realized, and it certainly wasn't what we were expecting – at least that was our impression when we jumped in our armored, machine-gun laden automobile and covered the wasteland with our tyre treads. We spoke to id Software studio director Tim Willits to make sense of it all.

A wide, wild world

Rage 2's environments aren't what you might expect. Image credit: idSoftware

Rage 2's environments aren't what you might expect. Image credit: idSoftware

As we dived into the demo we were spawned in front of one of Rage 2’s larger hub towns. We were keen to get out there and see the world, but we made sure to have a wander around and see the sights first, and we couldn't help feeling awed by the town’s bustling, futuristic aesthetic.

After a brief firefight with local goons and a lecture from the mayor, we swiftly exited the town and jumped in the vehicle awaiting us outside, anxious to tear up the tarmac, and drove into the night to get our first glimpse of the world of Rage 2. If we’re being honest though, the vehicle mechanics took us by surprise. Given the size of our car, we expected the steering to feel weighty and solid, but we frequently ended up spinning out, or tipping and rolling the car on the dusty desert terrain. 

After righting our vehicle several times (and dying in a gunfight after accidentally shooting a passing vehicle with our car’s Gatling guns), we set a point on our map in the complete opposite direction to our quest marker, and somewhere very different to the orange sands of our immediate surroundings, the middle of a forest far to the north – something that you can’t generally say in a game set in the post-apocalypse. 

It's truly refreshing to see a colorful take on post-apocolyptica, and not just in terms of the scenery. We found that when we set a map marker, fluorescent yellow and pink chevrons appeared on ground to show us the way – it's the funkiest sat-nav system we’ve seen, for sure. And once we finally arrived up north, we were shocked. It was as though we’d stumbled into one of Avalanche Studios’ Just Cause games. 

We accidentally jumped out of our vehicle trying to escape a giant robotic sentry turret that had fallen from the sky, and found ourselves immersed in lush greenery. It felt like a different world.

What happens after the dust settles? Image credit: idSoftware

What happens after the dust settles? Image credit: idSoftware

We quizzed Willets on how they managed to work in this dramatic change in terrain.

“We call it the post-post-apocalypse,” he explains. “What happens after the dust settles? What happens when life starts to come back? What happens when you're not searching for water.

“We wanted to get away from that classic brown wasteland look. Rage is very brown, Mad Max is very brown, so we're trying to do our own take. You went up north to the forest, but if you went out west, you'd have ended up in a totally different swampy area.

“[Avalanche] are the world developers after all. So they came up with the swamps and the forests, and the really cool vegetation. Their engine is just great, you can do so much with it.” 

It makes us wonder how dramatically different they’ll manage to make the rest of the world’s biomes feel.

Feeling the road Rage (2)

Image credit: idSoftware

Image credit: idSoftware

Wary of how much time we had left with the demo, we were keen to try out two more things: races, and convoy battles. Fortunately, our nearly-forgotten mission objective required us to take part in a nearby rally, and after following our fluorescent chevrons for a while longer we eventually made it to the track.

Racing in Rage 2 is something of an enigma. On the face of it there’s nothing special about it – it's your typical barebones video game racetrack structure; we couldn't fire any guns, and had no special power-ups other than a standard boost that we’d also had access to out in the world, but there’s something that just feels special about the experience.

In our first race we failed miserably for the first half, but at the midway point it was as if something clicked. The driving mechanics that felt disjointed and a little too loose out in the world now just added to the mayhem in the best possible way, and by the time we gave the race another go we’d managed to wrestle our car over the finish line in first place and noticed our hearts pounding in our chest. It was high-octane petrol-powered fun.

It turns out our initial failings were precisely the experience the devs had in mind.

“Driving is so weird because everyone has a different approach,” says Willets. ”Some people want a ton of differentials, some people want to be able to drift, or want gear-shifting. Some people don't know how to brake, and some people use the boost to steer. It's crazy. We've been trying to balance it, and we've been stressing like hell over this. It usually takes two attempts to get over the finish line first.

“True racing physics can become so mind-boggling difficult for people that they're not easy to pick up and have fun with. This is primarily a first-person action game from id, and the cars are a really cool additive element to it, but I don't want them to be frustrating or difficult.”

We go on to ask how someone with a racing game heritage might react to Rage 2’s racing mechanics.

“Look,” he says. “If you're a Gran Turismo fan, come play our game and you'll have a great time, but leave that Gran Turismo-ness behind.”

Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer. Image credit: idSoftware

Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer. Image credit: idSoftware

The finished game will apparently feature a whole host of different vehicles, some with weapons and some without, including motorcycles, cars, monster trucks, helicopters and tanks. According to Willits, every time you steal a car and bring it back to town, you can spawn it from your garage, with the same applying to cars you win through races out in the world.

With our time in the demo dwindling, we wanted to experience one last feature: convoy attacks. There’s a separate save set up all ready for us, and as we load in a huge tanker, followed by several cars and a number of motorbikes, all painted bright yellow, zoom past us. We rev the engine and take chase, locking on to the bikes with our on-board missiles. The whole experience is exceptionally Mad Max Fury Road – and dear lord is it fun. 

Ramming cars off the road, causing explosion after explosion with missiles and Gatling guns, it felt like Doom on wheels. When we reached the tanker, it even had the feel of a miniboss on wheels. Our guns had little effect on its armor plating, so we had to let off a EMP blast to open up its weak points, which we promptly exploded one by one with our guns. 

Early verdict

We're looking forward to exploring more of Rage 2's diverse world. Image credit: idSoftware

We're looking forward to exploring more of Rage 2's diverse world. Image credit: idSoftware

It’s clear Rage 2 is pretty ambitious. It’s combining the tried-and-tested expertise of joint developers id Softworks and Avalanche Studios, while slotting in some seriously fun side activities. 

It feels like a crock pot filled with the meat of Rage 1, a dash of Just Cause flair, and a sprinkling of that 2016 Doom bullet-storm mayhem. Whether it’ll be a recipe for success remains to be seen, but after the small taste we've had we’re anxious to try more.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.