I approach a sun-blasted warren of shipping containers and chain link fencing. It is populated by narcissistic Sex Pistols rejects and the chatter of their bragging and bickering. I begin my murderous rampage by cooking a grenade and tossing it at an awkward couple on the outskirts of the camp, announcing my arrival via the medium of gibs and pink mist.
Bedlam ensues. My fingers contort across the keyboard as I deploy the many tools that hasten these mohawked thugs to the big dust bowl in the sky. Their attitude changes as I do so, opening with cocky Andrew WK quotations (“get ready to die!”), passing through frustration as I administer their medicine (“fuckin’ kidding me?!”), and terminating with pant-wetting terror that is delicious to behold (“I don’t wanna die!”).
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The demo I play at Avalanche’s studios in Stockholm is a showcase for Rage 2’s big box of lethal tricks. I have guns, obviously, but also a razor-edged, explosive boomerang called a Wingstick, which can both detonate and decapitate its targets. I have grenades, I have a melee attack, and through nanotechnology I have several special powers. Shatter is a palm slap that’ll look familiar to Destiny 2 Warlock mains, but in Rage it applies such force that enemies collide with walls much like paint on a Pollock canvas.
Mobility options are no less varied. I can slide along the ground, I can double jump, and thanks to another nano ability, I can make quick directional dashes. Those YouTubers who specialise in ‘skill kill’ videos will find plenty to work with here, and Tim Willetts – head of co-developer id Software and creative director on the original Rage – is looking forward to it.
“There is a weapon I can’t talk about – we don’t have a name for it yet, but right now we’re calling it the YouTube, because we want people to use it and then put videos up on YouTube,” he tells me. “My favourite thing, though, is the ability combos. You can just do ridiculous things – fun stuff with the physics and the robustness of the gameplay. There will be videos of people using a monster truck and jumping over things or dragging mutants around.”
Willetts cites Just Cause 3 – another Avalanche game – as a model generator for the kind of content he wants to see.
Your powers can be further heightened by activating Overdrive, which works similarly to a Destiny Super or an Overwatch ult. It’s a powered-up mode in which all your guns hit harder and you move faster. Overdrive lasts roughly 20 seconds, and when the fun stops, you’ll need to charge it up again by – what else – killing. So you have a wealth of options when approaching gunfights, and I’m told that you’ll be able to enhance your favourites via the game’s upgrade system, thus leaning in to your favoured tactics.
The sense of empowerment that you get from such a well-stocked arsenal unravels a bit upon contact with the enemy. Even regular thugs skew to the spongy, shrugging off headshots and butt-batterings from my assault rifle. This is probably necessary to leave some headroom for Overdrive to be your superpower, but it’s pretty strange to see a skinny punk get up after taking a canister of buckshot to the stomach – more so than when one of Doom’s imps does the same, at least.
But this isn’t to say that enemies don’t react– on the contrary, they stagger and stumble with every bullet, on top of the aforementioned swearing and whimpering when fights go against them. The physics engine is another point of interaction, with nano abilities and the shotgun able to send thugs ragdolling off balconies. The bloodlust of Doom-era shooters also returns, brought up-to-date with modern effects: there’s a viscous stringiness to the sprays of gore into which enemies dissolve after a close encounter with an exploding barrel.
And exploding barrels are just one of many id staples that are present in abundance. The setting for the demo is a dilapidated space centre made of steel catwalks and industrial concrete. The soundtrack is fuzzy synth that swells and thumps when a gunfight kicks off. The shotgun’s pump action makes a sonorous chick-chick that sends me right back to the UAC’s demon-infested labs on Phobos.
Indeed, if you were to replace the mohawks and bad attitudes with horns and snarls, you could easily mistake parts of this demo for Doom 2016. It’s essentially a corridor, sliced out of a larger mission that will, in the finished game, come after a 12-kilometre drive across the open world.
I get that it’s difficult to demo something like a free-roaming driving section, but those are the aspects of Rage 2 I’m most curious about, since they were the most heavily criticised part of Rage 1. That might not be the case for this sequel. Always a proud engine developer, all of id’s previous games have been made in id tech (except Quake Champions which, as Willetts notes, was “half and half” id tech and Saber tech). Rage 2 is the first shooter made with id’s involvement but in someone else’s engine: Avalanche’s Apex, which is designed to make open worlds. As a result, the original Rage’s lengthy load screens are gone, and the open-world experience will be very like Avalanche’s other hits – which notably include Mad Max.
“You will see for a long, long distance, and if you see something interesting, you can go there,” creative director Magnus Nedfors says. Without pinning an exact figure on the world’s size, Nedfors says “it will be perceived as huge,” and has been designed around the player’s experience of it. “We measured how often we saw something new, what happens as we’re travelling, how fast we are travelling in cars – that determines the size of the world, rather than saying ‘it has to be this big’ and then pouring content into it.”
There’s a narrative reason to get excited about Rage 2’s open world, too. A whole 30 years have passed since the first game and – I won’t spoil how – the Earth’s ecosystem has been revitalised. Where Rage 1 was unrelentingly brown and barren, Rage 2 will have lush forests and wetlands – the prelude to the demo has you sneaking through a vibrant swamp, replete with some pretty stunning water and vegetation. We need to see more of that.
Like Borderlands, Rage was clearly inspired by Mad Max, and since its release we’ve had an actual Mad Max game – how fresh can Rage 2’s open world be by comparison? Willetts is confident: “We have different plants that no one has ever seen before, we have water, we have ravines. We also wanted to push society a little further” – in the 30 years since the original, “people have been doing stuff. We still have brown desert, but we wanted to push that and just get a little further away from that desert.”
This demo is an assurance that the building blocks of bombastic gunfights are in place: look how mobile and lethal you are, it says. Look how creative you can be in your killing sprees. Look how crazy, how violent, how totally off-the-chain. All well and good – exciting combat is essential, of course, but given the studios involved, I wasn’t really worried that Rage 2 would feel great to play at the level of bullets and fists. My point is that good gunplay is necessary, not sufficient.
But it sounds like this mentality will run through other areas of the game. Willetts says that he “literally brought ‘more crazy than Rage’” to his first meeting with Avalanche as a design note, “and they really liked that, because they felt they could do whatever they wanted. We would have crazy animals like half-sheep, half-cow things, because why not?”
This provides plenty of reason to look forward to the Rage 2 release date – when you’ll be able to hold that shotgun for yourself and feel its power as it rips through the guts of a no good punk.