“Rage 2” has been a long time coming.
Born in another time, for a different console generation, its predecessor, “Rage”, was an early example of a solid if underrated shooter that blended exploration, gunplay, and vehicular hi-jinx in a way that tried to loosen up the traditional FPS formula. It told a story – something id Software hadn’t done much of prior to that point – whilst retaining the satisfying combat that id, quite rightly, is renowned for.
When news of the sequel broke, I was surprised on two counts; one, that it hadn’t happened before, and two, that I’d – somewhat shamefully – all but forgotten the original Rage had existed. So when I sit down with Tim Willits, id Software’s studio director – both of us drooping a little in Stockholm’s unseasonable heat – that’s the first thing I ask: why is now the right time for a “Rage” sequel?
Willits’ answer is simple: “right now is as good time as any.”
“The opportunity to work with Avalanche really was the kicker that pushed it forward,” Willits explains as we sit in Avalanche Studios’ Swedish headquarters. “Working with Avalanche – and using the Apex engine – we’re able to actually create the promise of the original game in “Rage 2”.
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“The original “Rage”… we did a lot of great things […] but it wasn’t really as open as we wanted it to be. So with Avalanche, we are able to actually create the promise of the original game in “Rage 2″.”
While Tim won’t be drawn on how the partnership began – “I can’t remember who exactly called who, but there was interest from both sides in working together, and the relationship sparked quickly – I call it love at first sight” – but from the presentation he gives with Avalanches’ head of production, John Fuller, it’s clear there’s a lot of respect – and affection – between the two studios.
“We have a lot of hardcore shooter fans on the team,” Fuller tells us as we settle in for the demonstration. “But we don’t have a track record in making first person shooters, and these guys invented the genre. It’s been an amazing ride so far, and an honor to work with them. We’ve learned a lot.”
Although the idea of a sequel had been bubbling around for a little while, Willits confirms that what we’re seeing today is “all new”, conceived only after the studios partnered up.
The slice of “Rage 2” served up to us bleeds id Software. The gunplay – tight, frantic, meaty – will feel familiar to anyone who’s spent time with an id game before. And it’s strange, jumping into a game that at once feels both familiar and new. Tim summarises it perfectly for me – id games “all weave that id DNA through them” – but whilst the ten-minute hands-on demo we play today does indeed feel like an id offering, it’s not yet clear how strongly Avalanche’s own identity will shine through, too.
We don’t get to see much of the sandbox exploration Avalanche is known for, nor get to play with any of its vehicles (although we know they’re there; we see one in action during a live gameplay presentation that preceded our hands-on time). The ten-minute demo we experience is brief, but combat heavy. You play as Walker – “the last ranger of Vineland” – and unlike Rage’s protagonist before him, this one actually talks, revealing not just his thoughts and feelings, but also the history of the world around him… and these offer a tantalizing glimpse into what happened after “Rage”‘s divisive ending.
“The asteroid hit [and] 100 years later, “Rage 1” happens. 30 years later, “Rage 2″ happens,” Willits explains when asked about the sequel’s story. “People move on. This is not a wasteland. This is civilization – the world is moving. And so we wanted to have the biomes, we wanted the people, the characters. And then that just built upon itself. And then we started changing the sky, and we started changing the menu, and the box art. And then it became this personality because of a desire to move past an apocalyptic world.”
There’s plenty of colour and variety in this limited demo, including some gorgeously distressed internal sets that paint the progress of this world in the 30 or so in-game years that have passed since its predecessor. Willits maintains that these internal spaces wouldn’t be as meticulous nor as detailed were it not for Avalanche’s expertise and its Apex Engine.
“The biggest improvement is the ability to create larger underground and indoor areas,” Willits says. “These types of environments work really well for our id Software-style of combat, giving us a lot of variety in our combat areas as well as a variety of areas to explore and discover. This ability to create both compelling outdoor and indoor environments will help “Rage 2″ be unique from other open-world games, and help give variety to the combat and combat encounters.”
Like Doom it tempts you ever-forward, forcing you to keep moving to scavenge life boosts and Nanotrites, the energy you need to pull off some spectacular superhuman abilities, including the ability to shatter and slam your foes. And while there’s a temptation to hang back, camp, and snipe – it’s a busy screen, with lots of formidable-looking The Authority enemies intent on taking you down – it won’t do you any good here, even if we get to play with those awesome Wingsticks again. As the tutorial delights in telling us: mobility is key to survival.
“In “Rage”, we pioneered a number of things, like reactive AI,” explains Willits. “We had some new gunplay techniques, and, of course, we perfected combat in “Doom” 2016. Now, with “Rage 2”, we’ve taken and even extended it out more. Whereas “Doom” is the king of the push-forward combat, in “Rage 2” I like to say it’s movement is offense and defense.
“Yes, we do encourage you to move forward and stuff. But there’s so much out there, there’s so much to do,” Willits says when asked if there’s going to be any opportunities to slow it down and and diversify the combat. “And if you’re more of a “I’m going to take this a little bit slower,” the pacing allows you to play it slower. I do think that it may be more approachable than a classic id game.”
But how can any game grounded in a post-apocalyptic setting – even one that describes itself as post-post-apocalyptic, with splashes of color and texture woven throughout its environments – stand out from all the other similar post-apoc titles like Borderlands or Avalanche’s own Mad Max?
“In “Rage” we used brown really well,” Willits laughs. “Every color of brown, we had it. [But for “Rage 2”] we wanted forests, and weird vegetation, and swamps, and pink. So all of that personality really started from the actual game itself – even from the beginning, we did not want to make a brown game.
“At its core “Rage 2” is post-post-apocalyptic,” he concludes. “There a reason there’s two “posts” there – it’s a sandbox full of insane action, id-style combat, and emergent gameplay. You have two triple-A studios coming together making a game with six As. We’ve admired the Avalanche folks for a long time – their games are exactly what we needed to help infuse new life into our “Rage” IP.”