E3 2018: Rage 2 hands-on preview: Not just a rat in a cage

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Bethesda is certainly going full 90s hard rock mode with their reboot of a middling FPS series, yet Rage 2’s combat seems to have stepped things up.

Something that Bethesda doesn’t get enough praise for is their emphasis on single-player experiences. Even if they work hard and get a disappointing result (The Evil Within), they’ll go back to the drawing board, improve upon what needs fixing, and come back and fire off something truly compelling (The Evil Within 2). Bethesda is betting on themselves again with Rage 2, yet I’m not 100% convinced it will work out this time.

To say the game has its own sense of style is an understatement. I got the chance to try out the gameplay demo shown off during Bethesda’s E3 2018 conference, and the Eden Space Port being overrun by multi-hair-colored bandits with high-powered assault rifles in buildings that vibrate in neon pink and blue sets the tone immediately.

Though Rage 2 retains basic FPS gameplay hooks (including fighting nameless enemies in open areas carried over in tight hallways), it’s the focus on frantic, Overdrive-backed gameplay systems that separate itself from the crowd. As you kill enough enemies, this mode blasts you with energy for a brief time, improving only as you kill more enemies. Chaining enemies together helps improve rewards, including health pips and more ammo for special weapons.

Rage 2 Cyber Crusher
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It was a short demo filled with large combat arena after large combat arena, so let me focus on what pieces of Rage 2 gameplay I found interesting. The Wingstick makes its return and is much more advanced off the bat. As enemies hit hard if you’re not in Overdrive, dancing around the enemy fire so you can aim at enemies around corners, throw it, kill them in one shot and have it come back is a fun wrinkle.

Your kinetic energy and melee attacks also keep the pace of combat racing. You have the abilities to hurl energy at combatants or, if you want to break up a group of enemies, run at them, charge up an air attack and crash to the ground. This attack’s effectiveness even changes based on how long you hold the input, sending enemies flying at maximum effectiveness.

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Bethesda has showcased gameplay footage of vehicular combat and humungous beasts in other Rage 2 videos, but our demo was fairly bereft in gameplay variety. It ended as soon as we drew the space shuttle back to Earth as shown off in the Bethesda conference demo, as we didn’t even get to see a glimpse of the big bad teased at the end.

Essentially, all I got to see was a bunch of nameless bandits, test out the Wingstick, fire off an assault rifle, get the chance to test the oomph behind the game’s impressive shotgun and run from combat to combat. Though the game’s crisp visual fidelity aids its sense of style in both presentation and artistry, nothing here convinced me that Rage 2 is a sequel that needed to happen.

Rage 2 Abadon Attack
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There’s a loose sense of narrative progression displayed, as the protagonist Walker is taking the fight to The Authority, who has taken control of Earth. There’s an artifact to find at the Space Port, but we don’t get to see what it is in the demo.

Avalanche Studio’s Apex engine is certainly impressive, as the viscerality of the combat where everything is balls to the wall certainly looks and feels immersive. It makes the action as explosive as it needs to be while making animations portrayed smoothly and with logic to each character model.

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I’d like to see more of Rage 2‘s other gameplay systems in effect as opposed to a portion of a mission in progress, as right now, all I can see is a beautiful, yet familiar, post-apocalyptic FPS co-developed by the same people who made an underwhelming post-apocalyptic Mad Max. I’m certain, though, that id Software has more up their sleeves, although I wish I had the chance to appreciate what it is.