For all of the years of buzz and anticipation, not to mention the imposing lineage of legends like “Doom” and “Quake,” the 2011 release of id Software’s open-world shooter “Rage” landed with more of a whimper than a bang—and had little lasting impact.
Given the marketing for 2019’s “Rage 2,” then, it’s clear that id and publisher Bethesda took some lessons from that release. From propulsive Andrew W.K. backing tracks to pastel-drenched, “Mad Max: Fury Road”-esque goons parading around the screen, the initial “Rage 2” trailers show a game that’s trying hard to make a much stronger impression than the original.
As Tim Willits, id’s studio director and the original “Rage” game director, tells it, striking a bolder tone is not only about moving “Rage 2” away from the first game, but also the glut of other grim-looking, post-apocalyptic games released in recent years.
“We wanted to set the game apart from the first one because we didn’t want people to feel that they had to play the original,” he said at this weekend’s QuakeCon convention. “And we wanted to get away from the ’50 shades of brown’ that we have in both ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Rage.'”
Id Software didn’t create the 2015 “Mad Max” game, but “Rage 2” co-developer Avalanche Studios did—and id hoped to shift gears from its drab, desert setting while keeping the kind of electric, enticing open-world action that Avalanche honed in both “Mad Max” and its own “Just Cause” games.
“We wanted to move away from this brown, post-apocalyptic world, so we’re like, ‘Let’s do a post-post-apocalyptic world,’ where people are trying to rebuild and vegetation has come back,” he said. “Rage 2” solves this dilemma by pushing 30 years into the future following the last game, and dropping in biomes from space that has transformed the land and introduced forests, swamps, and other diverse terrain.
According to Willits, the gradual creative process of infusing each element of “Rage 2″ with more flair eventually coalesced into a much bolder overall tone. Add in super-powered abilities, the boomerang-like Wingstick” weapon, and plenty of vehicular mayhem, and id Software hopes that “Rage 2” can deliver a first-person shooter experience unlike any other out there.
“We added more life and richness and color, and then that led to more color in the environments, which led to more color in the characters, which led to more personality in the vehicles and weapons, which led to this personality shift where it’s colorful, fun, and a little rebellious,” he said. “It does have a different attitude and a different kind of spirit, and we did that to help it stand on its own and stand away from other post-apocalyptic games—and to stand apart from the original.”
While id Software developed the original “Rage” in-house, Avalanche is the lead studio for “Rage 2.” Willits and his id home team are in more of a support and oversight role, working to ensure that the gunplay has the same satisfying crunch and over-the-top dynamic as in the studio’s other first-person shooters. However, it runs on Avalanche’s own Apex Engine, which enables a broader and more seamless open-world scope.
“A lot of open-world games have these sectors, where I clear a sector and now I go to this sector. In ‘Rage 2,’ we have an introduction area—but once you’re done with that and the door opens, you can go anywhere. You want to make a dash for the end? Go for it,” said Willits. “We really tried to break apart that cookie-cutter, section-by-section open-world game. We have a few key characters that you interact with, but how and when you do that is totally up to you.”
“Rage 2” won’t offer multiplayer gameplay, although some kind of social component will be detailed in the future. Furthermore, id Software plans to roll out both free and paid post-release content, although Willits believes that the core campaign is extensive enough to satisfy customers.
“It’s a single-player game, but we will try to build some community features in, and we’re going to try to pull the tail of the game out a bit to give players more experiences after we ship,” he said. “We’ll have some free updates and some paid updates, but the focus is on the single-player.”
Currently, “Rage 2” is slated for release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in spring 2019, although a Nintendo Switch version hasn’t been ruled out. Id Software already made a big push on Switch, working with studio Panic Button to port “Doom” and “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus,” as well as the forthcoming “Doom Eternal.”
However, the ambitious, processor-intensive nature of “Rage 2,” which constantly streams in world data to avoid slowing down or segmenting the action with loading screens, could be an issue on the Switch, which doesn’t pack as much power as other current-gen consoles or a well-equipped PC.
“We’re looking at the tech on that right now, and we’re still evaluating that,” said Willits about a possible Switch release. “We stream everything, and we’re just looking… because everything is open, everything’s available, so there’s no level loads. We are looking at that now, but we don’t know.”
Given the soft impact of the original “Rage” and several years without a sequel, the existence of “Rage 2” might surprise some people. However, id Software is in the midst of a resurgence, with 2016’s thrilling “Doom” reboot and the rapturous reception over this weekend’s “Doom Eternal” gameplay demo at QuakeCon, along with the newly free-to-play “Quake Champions” and the acclaimed recent “Wolfenstein” titles.
Willits sees “Rage” as another potential tentpole franchise that can coexist alongside those decades-old favorites, fusing frenetic gunplay with a different kind of environment and aesthetic. Maybe the second time will be the charm.
“It fits really nicely in our portfolio. MachineGames has done great with ‘Wolfenstein.’ ‘Quake Champions’ is rocking and rolling. ‘Doom’—well, you saw yesterday. And we’ve always liked this open-world, emergent gameplay environment,” he said. “All of the id titles have our DNA that’s weaved through them, but they’re all very different and unique. ‘Rage 2’ fits really nicely with our suite of titles, and we’ve always just loved the universe.”