RND/ to consider poor old Rage 2, as perhaps the worst videogame of modern times – one crying out for a new theory of Hollow Videogaming to explain its particular deficiencies.
A fascinating example of a global industry long gone to creative pot and perfectly content to sit on its distinctly minor laurels, imagine Rage 2 as the digital equivalent of taste free Styrofoam Packing Peanuts; the epitome of safe, by-the-numbers design by neckless committee – the apogee of lazy and cynical Corporate Gaming Culture. Yet do not lament for its D.O.A appearance, nor its near-instant passing.
Mechanically speaking of course, its movement system and moment-to-moment gunplay seem perfectly tuned to standard AAA sub-standards. While decidedly ordinary and mindlessly repetitive (read: normalized), these systems easily pass for what’s commonly termed Fun(TM) by wandering, easily impressed ‘PC Master Race’ hordes. Rinse and repeat till you finally uninstall due to Terminal Boredom.
Blowing up spanner dumb baddies with rockets – unloading round after predictable round of shotgun ammo while in ‘overdrive’ mode into blank, expressionless faces of idiot A.Is somehow remains interesting throughout the short length of the main single player campaign. It has to be – there’s almost nothing interesting about any other aspect of the world presented. As a fragmented whole far less even then the sum of its dull, listless parts, Rage 2 feels like a vast, open world stuffed full of.. nothing much in particular.
To say this game and others like it “doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel” seems a cosmic scale understatement. It’s a long abandoned sandbox in a post apocalyptic playground, casually littered with a few dried lumps of mutant dog crap and crushed beer cans – their ancient corporate logos scoured away by the dust of digital time and the synthetic ravages of game engine sunlight. As though every element of the game merely dropped in, right out of the Digital Void – or was simply pinched off, straight out of the industry’s dark arts.
Users often report crashes to desktop, while repeatedly sighing like unwell wood pigeons. Day one patches abound. Before release, the trailers are pure AAA, hyped up ‘bullshots’ – in game Rage 2 often looks smeary, flat, largely free of geometric detail (bring back megatextures, all is forgiven!) and amazingly devoid of anything approaching Life, Emotion – or Meaning. A barren gaming wasteland, listlessly explored in a little armoured beep-beep mobile, wondering why the heck you pre-ordered (while waiting for Doom Eternal, Halo Master Chief Collection or Keanu Cyberpunk 2077 to arrive.) In the meantime, there’s yet another wastey bandit camp for you to clear out to the deep virtual north of here.
Remember those Super Ultra Generic cans of quality consumer digestibles seen in the Alex Cox’s cult punk road movie Repo Man (1984) which just said “FOOD” on the label? Well, consider Rage 2 in the exact same hopeless category. The helpful phrase ‘naff’ describes it well; a UK term indicating something is of poor quality; dull, flat, deficient. (Think of some cheap widget brought off Ebay that breaks within a week, some small plastic bit snapped off forever.)
Despite the use of awful Andrew W.K whiteboy music, Rage 2 is about as edgy and hardc0re as Your-Dad, a game nobody asked for – and yet still somehow didn’t even really arrive, even as it limped on and then instantly off our collective memory screens. Just view recent Steam Charts for desperate, saddening proof. It’s the long tale of a dead rat.
The only reason it seems to exist, is that by now it’s pathetically easy for companies to throw violently uninspired games like this together, and then (apparently) make easy polystyrene profits. One can imagine the design brief, tacked to the corner of some poor, half Crunched to death gamedev’s monitor screen – “Wacky Post Apocalyptic Something Loot Shooter.” (Even so, Gamesindustry.biz reports that, comparatively speaking Rage 2 is selling about half what the original did, despite the increase in digital sales.)
As regards artfully chosen aesthetics and coherent overall art direction, at least the original Rage had some – unlike Rage 2, where precise, considered design has been replaced wholesale by garish neon hues and dumb spiky hairdos. (Most NPC’s look like Keith Flint [rip] after a heavy night out on the sauce.) Someone’s making a killing in post apocalyptic hair gel! Fetishistic dystopian nuke porn for a generation all but undead from exposure to the gamma radiation of pre-order hype. (*Cough* I returned my virtual copy within half an hour.) Despite expressing what Jim Sterling disliked about Metro Exodus – that it was hopelessly cluttered and extraneously detailed to near-Baroque levels, featuring “immaculately detailed rust” – at least the original Rage clearly indicated that, at least someone somewhere was honestly trying their best.
With Rage 2 however, the overall tonal deafness and disjunction is complete. It looks and feels like it was thrown together almost automatically, via Algorithmic Google A.I Hive Mind Tech. The visual results are at worst, amazingly banal but at best express a kind of lonely, hollow kitsch. As though the entire game’s universe is simply milling about. Much like its NPC’s. Disconnected fiddling. ‘Faffing’. Permanently idling. Waiting around for a player to come and put it out of its miserly misery with multiple bullets. Truly, a game both from and of a digital post apocalypse.
Several places in Rage 2 remind one of PUBG’s desert map Mirimar – but instead of a timeless desolate beauty, their simply non-places, disappointing loot-deficient cubes.
With Rage 2, the desperate illusion of a dynamic, breathing world has finally come to rest, utterly spent and wasted by the side of the Mad Max highway to videogaming oblivion. It’s a toothless dog that’s crawled under the porch to die, alone and unloved. From this point on, there’s an argument to be made that Rage 2 symbolically stands as the ultimate in abandoned movie sets – half built and jerry-rigged, stuck together with sun melted duct tape and cheap cans of neon paint. (Even now, you can still hear the bearings rattling inside the cans, fading into the silently howling digital desert night winds.) Rage 2 as the static between dead stations, now and forever offline.
Of course, the best-worst aspect of the Rage 2 experience must be the endless (false) need to keep running forward, endlessly scooping up those fucking blue Feltrite Cells (health shards) dropped by recently killed enemies. Naturally these disappear almost instantly, and so must be proactively collected like crack vials. This exactly mirrors 2016’s “Doom Lite”, giving players back health with each kill, thereby forcing them to wade into the fray, like Mario collecting coins. Deliberately putting oneself in harm’s way, chaining – kills like empty, unwashed milk bottle days between – because such action directly feeds into the game’s focus on constant movement as raw AAA corporate videogame consumption.
This is a naked gambling mechanic which seems inspired by the repeated pull of Las Vegas slot machine levers. A straight up dirty psychological tactic, designed for short and long term reinforcement and guiding behaviour, a form of ‘learning’ about dopamine-potential-spike like rewards. In terms of raw disgust, it has to be up there with using Deliberately Slow Walking Speeds to pad out play time (eh, Metro Exodus?) Anything, anything at all to keep us gaming and our attention off the fact we’re being actively diverted from all that truly matters. From the plain fact Rage 2 doesn’t matter in the slightest (and most certainly doesn’t give a single rusted bottle cap about us.)
The two dimensional dialogue of Rage 2 ‘characters’ is amazing – like listening to the inner cringe inducing psychic ramblings of mildly coked up strangers in some try-hard XPox 360 game lobby. Someone disposable (with bad lip sync) yelps “There’s plenty more where that came from. I’m telling you. This is the big one.” To which the listless response is “Alright, then let’s go fuckin’ get some.” Yea. Certainly the kind of quality AAA Industry writing that gets anyone pumped for the action to come! And ooh boy does it ever go on, especially in cutscenes, the first of which players encounter in a sealed vault has them breaking fingernails in attempts to claw the front door open, trying to escape what might be termed an ‘unskippable, unending inquisition by turgid narrative exposition’.
As Danny Brown says or rather screeches in one of Rage 2’s bizarre trailers, “Ain’t it funny how it happens?” To which the answer is no Dan, not really. It didn’t happen by accident but was designed that way. It seems the only point of Rage 2 is to help combat gamer insomnia. Perhaps passing poly-dimensional alien anthropologists from the impossibly distant psychedelic future will eventually pry open the dusty, long-abandoned ark of ‘our’ Corporate Gaming Culture and scratch their elegant insectoid heads in bemusement at this oh-so slight, kinda pathetic 21st Century example of Brainless Digital Fun. Hopefully they will then unceremoniously seal the ark for good, and have no trouble at all forgetting about its existence – and the oh-so safe, dull and hyper derivative product contained within.
Observant players will notice the high numbers of store front mannequins dotted around Rage 2’s blandscape, many of which sport broken televisions (maybe oldschool computer monitors?) on their idiot heads; could there be any more accidentally on-the-nose symbol of this game’s pathological uselessness – perhaps of gaming’s profoundly un-profound cosmic uselessness as a whole?
Expect to pay no more than 20 dollars when it comes out on sale, fished from the bottom of some dusty Digital Walmart bargain bucket – a mummified rodent, partially covered in pink spray paint. A dead land of bone tired existential waste and impotent ‘rage’ indeed.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images [..]
– The Waste Land by fascist T.S. Eliot
Update Patch: bulletpointsmonthly.com/ rejection email
Thanks for sending this over! I like the article but we’re not planning to run a month on Rage 2 anytime soon and don’t accept freelance submissions upon request.
Thanks again for thinking of us with this, though.
All the best, Reid McCarter
Example Reference Links
- Ehh, You Gamin’ Real Good: On Vacuous Play
- Paste: Rage 2 Is a Game and It Exists and You Can Certainly Play It, If You Want To
- The Art of Nothing: A Look at Negative Space within Videogames
- Compound Improvements: Do Not To Do List – Power of Empty Spaces
- Writing On Games (Youtube): Why Breath of the Wild’s Empty Space is So Important
- Psych Central: When You Feel Empty: What It Means & What to Do
- r/StopGaming: I Just Feel Empty When I Play Video Games Now
- Goombastomp: Review: ‘StellarHub’ is Nothing But Empty Space