‘How did it come to this?’, I think to myself as a feather-boa-wearing elderly lady named Desdemonya slides her arse up my legs like an excerpt from a Miley Cyrus dance routine, as her two lingerie-wearing assistants gyrate around us. It’s gross. Especially considering I’m currently in what looks like Salvador Dali’s interpretation of a seedy 50s smoking lounge, which he clearly designed while in a rotten mood and with only junkyard furniture at hand. Judging by the uncomfortable body language of Walker, my character, he feels the same way. But this is typical of Rage 2: off-the-wall characters, settings with delusions of grandeur, and in the middle of it all there’s you - the sane, slightly exasperated Ranger who can’t quite believe they’re stuck in the middle of all this tomfoolery.
I’m currently trying to make a name for myself at Mutant Bash TV (or MBTV), which involves navigating a maze of rooms filled with mutants - one has a spinning, bladed gorilla model, another has large swinging electrified pendulums that make Walker’s blood feel all fizzy when they hit you (trust me on this), and the last task features a minigun-wielding mutant descending from the ceiling while other mutants wearing masks of JK Stiles, the previous chap who ran the TV channel, ambush me. Calling it hectic would be an understatement. Having survived the chaos, I’m thrust into a beat-up yellow armchair while a camera films Desdemonya’s assistants spraying champagne over me and my trophy, pouring the beverage into each others’ masks with enough ferocity to make Spring-Break-partying frat boys cower in submission. With an abrupt crackle over the tannoy the trophy is snatched out of my hands as Desdemonya recalls her posse so they can “move on to the next sucker”. Charming.
Expect the unexpected (and then shoot them)
If it sounds like zany overkill, good. Because that’s exactly what Rage 2 is meant to be. When I sat down to talk to Tim Willits, Studio Director at id Software who are working on Rage 2 along with Avalanche Studios, he said that the studio want Rage 2 to be “a little more over the top”, as they don’t take themselves too seriously. After all, as Willits puts it “at Bethesda we have another post apocalyptic game we have to deal with, so we really try to be very unique and different” (*cough* Fallout 76 *cough*). During my time with the newest demo, it’s safe to say that they’ve certainly succeeded.
First off, I help Wellspring Mayor Loosum Hagar (some players will recognise her as the wingstick instructor from Rage) take down the Goon Squad bandits attacking her sky-high office, spraying the walls with their blood and rainbow-painted skin. Picking up a mission to become a celebrity in order to get into the Winners’ Lounge, a club run by the dickish Klegg Clayton (who sent the bandits after Hagar in the first place), the elevator I take back down to Wellspring’s streets is full of bandit corpses. At this point that surprises me. Aww. Sweet little naive me. Little do I know that there are far, far weirder things in store.
After tackling Desdemonya’s MBTV gauntlet, next up is making a name for myself at the racing track, so I go to the local derby to meet a chap called Chaz Car. Chaz has a sausage impaled on his Kaiser-style helmet. Chaz is also waving a meat drumstick of indeterminate origin around with irresponsible abandon. Chaz thrusts it into my chest and leaves a meat juice stain, which my character brushes off with barely-concealed disgust. I don’t like Chaz. Still, I need to win this race, so I suffer through his lack of respect for personal space and general food safety hygiene, get in my car, then encounter the most frustrating race I’ve ever played in a game. Rage 2’s car controls are in desperate need of some work, as speeding around even generous corners is a challenge no thanks to the numb, unresponsive steering. Whether it’s because the tires turn too slowly, or because even clipping the small rocks at the sides of the track make you lose all grip on the road and sends your car spinning off into the wall, the driving element of Rage 2 - both in the race and in the open world - is frustrating as hell.
By some fluke I manage to come first on my second attempt, but at least I can now use my celebrity status to worm my way into Clayton’s elite club. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t go to plan. After confronting Clayton I find myself dropped into a giant sewer-basement underneath his office. Ready to greet me is Clayton’s giant mutant pet, who has a huge blonde quiff in imitation of his master. Because of course he does. After making him decidedly un-alive, a cleaner opens the door to his enclosure to clean up what he thinks is my squished, dead body, but ends up cowering in fear as my very I’m-too-old-for-this-crap self strides past them.
Doom déjà vû
Thankfully, in a world that over-the-top, your abilities are just as outrageous as your surroundings. With nanotrites coursing through your blood just like in the first game, you have four upgradable abilities to decimate your enemies: vortex, shatter, slam, barrier, and dash. Each one builds on the combat style id developed in the first Rage, with what Willits calls “movement as offence and defence, pushing you into the action”.
Dash is pretty simple, letting you sidestep enemies in the blink of an eye, and Shatter is a super-powered slap that sends foes flying. It’s the other abilities that really let you toy with attackers like a sadistic feline: Vortex sucks enemies close before spitting them out in slow-mo so you can get some sweet aerial kills, Barrier temporarily protects you from enemy bullets, and Slam sends enemies flying into itty bitty chunks with its explosive ground punch. I might have cackled with glee during an especially grisly slam. Maybe.
Given the legacy of Doom, id's bloody 2016 masterpiece, getting the action just right for Rage 2 was one of the studio's top priorities – not that it had any other choice. "The thing that I have found is that when we say, 'oh, you know, it's the id-style combat' people in their mind remember Doom," Willits told me of the studio's struggle against expectation management. "And they go, 'the gunplay's not going to be as fun as it was in Doom' but the second-to-second dance of death that you do [in Rage 2] is as enjoyable as we say it is. I think the moment-to-moment combat is what people will enjoy the most.”
Haven’t played Rage? Don’t worry - Rage 2 is made for people like you
Convincing people that Rage 2 is still for them, even if they haven’t tried the first game, is something Willits is especially conscious of. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first Rage, as Rage 2 has been created with newcomers just like you in mind. "If you haven’t played the original, don’t stress about it. We’ll fill you in on everything. We have a new character, new abilities, [and] the story stands on its own,” Willits assured me, so you shouldn't be left floundering if this is the first time that you’ve stepped into the colourful yet deadly world of Rage.
According to Willits, the studios wanted the game work on its own, so it’s very deliberately set 30 years after the original, with different characters, and a wildly different look. Or, as Willits puts it: “Rage was very brown, and Avalanche Studios, the guys that made Max [the 2015 Mad Max game], was all brown, so when we discovered that there’s another part of the colour wheel, we were like, 'hey guys look at this, there are all these other colours!'"
However, there are some nods to the past for returning players. I’ve already mentioned that the Mayor of Wellspring is former Wingstick Instructor Loosum Hagar, but returning is also Dr Kvasir and John Marshall, members of the Resistance from Rage. Those three form the Dagger Initiative, an organization created to take down the Authority, the big bads from the first game who control the Wasteland. They’re still a very lethal nuisance, and on May 14 you’ll get to take them on yourself - if you don’t get distracted by the world, that is. Good luck with that.
Want to know what else is coming out this year? Here’s all the new games of 2019 have to offer!