RAGE 2 preview: This shooter sequel looks downright WILD

The year 2019 already hosts plentiful post-apocalyptic titles, from Metro Exodus's harsh post-nuclear world to the saturated styling of Far Cry New Dawn. However, with Bethesda's upcoming open-world shooter, RAGE 2, the series hits the far end of the crazy spectrum. With a new fresh new identity, it's a big departure from its drab legacy.

Here's how RAGE 2 is doing the apocalypse differently, and why it's one to watch as we get closer to the expected release this May.

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Stepping up the insanity

Even with a passing glance, RAGE 2 looks like it will convey a vastly different world than its predecessor. While it is a familiar post-apocalyptic tale of civilization's downfall, the series's second installment means a wackier tone than ever. Dropping its uninspired world grounded by realism, id Software's envisioned doomsday presents heightened vibrancy, draped in neon paints and punk rock attire. It's a similar shift made for DOOM, canceling its now-infamous fourth entry for an acclaimed 2016 reboot.

Returning RAGE fans are greeted by a familiar premise: a world shaken by an asteroid impact, now enslaved by the Authority. Starting 30 years after the original, the wasteland is developed, meaning more variety to the locations and inhabitants. And playing as Walker, offspring of underground "Ark survivors," players embark to topple the Authority's influence.

RAGE 2 is crazy, charismatic – and pure wasteland fun.

RAGE 2 is a collaboration between series creator, id Software and the talent of Avalanche Studios. The pairing means a pivot to its internal Apex Engine, previously of Just Cause and Mad Max fame, and rebuilding tight first-person gunplay mechanics. It's seemingly a fundamental shift under the hood, translating the best traits of DOOM's smooth shooting in a larger open-world sandbox. With a promised 60 frames per second (FPS) at the cost of resolution on Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, RAGE should remain buttery-smooth too.

From the early hours ahead of launch, RAGE 2's best strength is just how great it feels to play. Signature sharp and snappy combat returns backed by a roster of weapons spanning key categories. Common firearms like shotguns get a heavy-hitting twist, sending enemies flying with the exaggerated buckshot kick. And with experimental armaments like the gravity gun, pinning darts into enemies to propel them skyward never gets old.

Varied play abilities will complement this gunplay, each fluid and tied to smooth animations, including a traditional "Dash" evade, airborne ground-pound, to experimental gadgets like the bullet-absorbing Barrier. These each help build the sense of a sandbox for carnage, making the most of bolstered physics. While fun to experiment yourself, these also leave hope of bosses and levels purpose-built to leverage these abilities in full.

A new take on franchise favorites

Although RAGE 2 offers a newly-developed take on its setting and mechanics, it doesn't wipe the franchise's past. Our wasteland journey headed to two hallmarks, from high-speed racing to daytime TV.

The wasteland's slapstick "Mutant Bash TV" game show returns with RAGE 2, pitting players in wave-based battles against varied foes. The fast-paced action is ideal for experimenting with combat, facing off with varying enemy class types. It's prime crazy for the series, pairing perfectly with the title-wide combat improvements. And it never deters from its persona, from the unique amalgamation of punk science fiction, to characters dubbed "Sequin Glitterguts" and "Brexit."

Like any wasteland dustbowl, RAGE 2 also revives its fuel-guzzling ego with vehicular action. While dropping the original's divisive multiplayer mode, our time in the racing derby continued its motoring legacy. It's an obvious pairing in theory but still fails to stack up against the shooter action, especially with prominent gunplay improvements. We're yet to dive deep into vehicular combat, though concerns still linger after my early hours.

Our hands-on only granted time to briefly experiment with RAGE 2's underlying foundations, yet it already corrects various flaws of its predecessor. id Software's shooter expertise hits the open world, sculpting what might be a fresh face for the franchise. It's one to watch as May approaches, shaping up as a fitting addition to Bethesda's top shooters.

New beginnings for RAGE

Let us know your thoughts on how RAGE 2 is shaping up in the comments. The game is slated to launch on May 14, 2019, on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PCs. Preorders are now live, priced at $59.99 in the U.S.

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Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.