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"RAGE 2" and the Necessity of Linearity

Roberts has been a games enthusiast since 1997, a reviewer since 2009 and a cynic since 2014. He's still raging to this day.

Against the Machine

I had to stop playing RAGE 2 before I'd really done much of anything, so irritating was it that I was forgetting that games are meant to be fun. RAGE 2 tries to insist it is fun with its art style, music and mechanics, but the volume and proximity to your eyes and ears is so painfully loud and close it's hard to tell. Its attempts at being wacky are an assault on the senses, so the best thing to do is play the game like any of developer id's other shooters (I say other; id worked in collaboration with Avalanche on this, as they'd made the first RAGE). But then staying back and sniping at foes from a distance isn't fun for a number of reasons, mostly because you're fully aware you're not playing how the game wants you to. It wants you to get up close and personal, but I refuse when it just wants to throw colourful static at me upon approach.

I suppose the game has to do this when it doesn't have the hallmarks of a good open world, which Avalanche Studios have very rarely done well to say it's their supposed forte. Where Just Cause (2006) was a harbinger of things yet to come for gaming as a whole, the Swedish development house's quality has been up and down since. Their best title that I can think of, barring the first JC, was Mad Max (2015), which borrowed heavily from the then tired "Batman Arkham" combat. Even though Avalanche have a history of tight character and vehicle controls RAGE 2 lacks even this as racing is a large - and once favourable - part of the intellectual property.

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Although the first game in this series was open world, there was very little to do in it. Most of the gameplay took place in pockets of civilisation or dungeon-like instances where linearity and corridor shooting would take place. The open world didn't do much for the original RAGE, and lessons have not been learnt here besides "adding more stuff", which begs the question - why? RAGE 2's world is larger and more densely packed, but suffers the same problems: when the shooting stops the fun stops, and you're doing what you can do in any other Avalanche or Ubisoft or Bethesda Game Studios title. And yet they mostly offer meaty combat, if trading the gristle of RAGE 2 for soft fat.

If the open world is to remain a part of RAGE 2 it must have better environmental hazards than falls (and the game is very liberal with fall damage and instant kills) and explosive barrels, because it depends entirely on the player and their arsenal to make things more interesting than skill and observation. The community's stories of badass kills are far and few between compared to something like People Can Fly (now Epic Games Studio)'s Bulletstorm because there's only so many ways you can make the game fun on your own.

Bulletstorm is absolutely the game to watch here for tight level design and enemy AI. The game encouraged killing lavishly rather than pragmatically, as lassoing and booting enemies into spiked walls among many other things was far more encouraged than popping heads from a distance, secure in the knowledge that the distance alone will keep you covered. If you didn't do this you didn't get paid, and not being paid meant you couldn't buy your upgrades to have even more fun. RAGE 2 on the other hand cares only about screaming at the top of its lungs about how great it is, too distracted by its own ego to notice that you've robbed its uninspired bandit camps and repetitive boss encounters of what little they're worth.

The reason Bulletstorm can achieve all of this with the same juvenile use of curse words and style is because of its linearity. Enemy placement and pathing, level design and mechanics can be more carefully crafted to guarantee certain ways of playing, and this goes for the first RAGE as well. A lot of the time you'll see people doing exactly the same thing at certain parts, the reason being linearity, something apparently unfashionable in Stockholm. Whereas in RAGE 2 and its ilk one has to hope those awesome - if encouraged (I can't say "scripted" as such) - moments occur because the zone has to be challenging from all angles. This was a major point with flight in MMOs, particularly World of Warcraft - where once you only saw the game from a certain point of view, extra work has to be made to ensure it looks good from wherever you are.

In a market so vastly saturated with open world shooters a bit of linearity would be welcome about now. Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal have seen overwhelmingly positive feedback, sandwiched between multiple modern Wolfenstein games, also mostly linear. Wolfenstein: Youngblood only goes to prove that sometimes a more open environment is less welcome, which changed combat and progression - as did RAGE 2 - to suit this style of play, rather than develop what the intellectual property did well and capitalise on that.

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Not only is RAGE 2 exhausting, the game itself is exhausted. It takes deep breaths between its earsplitting tantrums and its fatigue shows, as you navigate featureless wastes in cars that don't feel good on roads littered with obstacles as if you're playing Spintires. In giving up on it, I've turned my attentions to another game that uses the engine and the open world better, and one by the same developer. theHunter: Call of the Wild is far more deserving of the code used to put it together, with its gorgeous art style, expansive landscapes where navigation is a reward unto itself, and features that same meaty gunplay that - hopefully - will bag you some meat for experience points and cash. Everything RAGE 2 does, Call of the Wild does better, with exceptions made to the neon and explosions.

It even has better camps and watchtowers. Why does RAGE 2 need to exist again, Avalanche?