Bethesda had to react quickly last week when a ‘glitch’ on Walmart Canada’s website included a listing for the then-unannounced Rage 2 (among a handful of other unconfirmed titles). Forced to play their hand earlier than they probably planned, the publisher cleverly responded with some fast and furious social media marketing, poking fun at the retailer for spoiling the news early and introducing the world to the series’ new fondness for the color pink:
— RAGE (@RAGEgame) May 9, 2018
Bethesda immediately did away with any illusion of secrecy from there, smartly embracing the leak and starting the rollout of the game’s marketing campaign. In the days since they’ve confirmed that Id Software is teaming with Avalanche Studios (Mad Max, Just Cause) for the sequel, and a slew of promo art has been released, featuring pink paint splattered over familiar modern day locations, teasing a May 15th reveal. Unfortunately, after a bold and sharply messaged lead up, the first footage of Rage 2 lacks a punch:
Here’s why the trailer does nothing for us.
Rage 2 has an identity problem. The first game was critically well-received and enjoyed commercial success, but even Rage‘s biggest fans would be hard-pressed to communicate anything unique about it. It’s a brown apocalypse where the player travels around killing mutated thugs. From a distance, it’s one of video games’ least original premises. There are some specific qualities that make Rage a particularly fun playground to play in, but the elevator pitch on its own offers nothing of substance. The story is also supremely forgettable, without a single plot point or character to latch on to. We played the game when it launched and couldn’t tell you anything about our character’s storyline, why the apocalypse happened or how the story resolved itself.
It’s also eight years old. Despite the problems mentioned above, there was a lot of momentum behind Rage in its lead up to launch, thanks to early buzz about its impressive graphics and fast, chaotic gunplay. While the final product left something to be desired, a sequel could conceivably have filled out the hollow framework built by the initial title. Unfortunately, work on a second game got scrapped fairly early on, allegedly so Id could put all hands on deck for DOOM, which launched in 2016. As years passed, Rage was quickly forgotten, and in the time since a slew of similar, better games took its place: Borderlands 2, Just Cause 3 and Mad Max all filled the role of the unmade Rage 2, and did so with far more recognition. In 2018, we’re not exactly nostalgic for Rage‘s kind of video game.
So coming back to this week’s trailer, Id and Avalanche needed to convey to fans that it’s revitalized the franchise with an enticing, recognizable identity, and make it very clear why we should be excited about Rage returning to the fold. It didn’t land.
Bethesda’s fixed the visual blandness problem with all the colorful flourishes and a winking sense of playfulness, but it still hasn’t given us something or someone to connect with. We don’t see anything notable about the environment at all in the flurry of awkward live-action/CG shots, and we’re guessing the two mohawked raiders shown mugging at the viewer symbolize the male/female playable characters, but they’re not any more likeable or interesting than the other freaks bouncing around the trailer wagging their tongues at the camera:
I hate all these people.
The reveal doesn’t do anything to explain why it’s exciting to return to the world of Rage, nor does it even suggest what the player will do in the sequel. There’s nothing for prospective players to latch on to here, whether they’re newcomers to the series or fans of the first game.
Admittedly the purpose of this trailer is more about calling attention to a proper gameplay reveal coming later this week, but we feel Bethesda would have been better served to skip the flat intro entirely and surprise us with the gameplay. We can’t be too hard on them for having to scramble in the wake of Walmart’s error, but our takeaway is to keep our skeptic’s hat on until we see more, and in the meantime throw Mad Max: Fury Road on instead.
Sure enough, the gameplay trailer released today does a much better job of selling the game, and likely would have been the better first impression:
Image: Id Software, Avalanche Studios, Bethesda