The original RAGE, released back in 2011, was a bit of a technical marvel; it utilised innovative ‘megatextures’ to hit 60 FPS on console and accommodated that trademark id Software freneticism on last-gen hardware. It played beautifully, but everything surrounding that was pretty monotone, resulting in an ultimately forgettable experience. RAGE 2 looks to remedy this by spray-painting the wasteland neon pink and partnering with Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios to inject some vigour.
It’s familiar and largely uninspired stuff, but, to be fair, better implemented than in its peers. Speaking personally, I’ve never been a fan of Borderlands and I tapped out on the increasingly tedious Far Cry series years ago, both of which share structural similarities to RAGE 2, yet here I am happily playing Bethesda’s latest for the gross number of consecutive hours which are required for the TV to assume I’ve fallen asleep.
So what’s different here? id Software, to put it plainly. The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting. Action is supremely fluid at 60 FPS (which does come at the cost of 4K support on enhanced consoles), allowing for the necessary precision to utilise the wide array of tools at your disposal whilst staying on the move. As in DOOM, defeated enemies drop time-limited health pick-ups, so it pays to remain in the thick of a fight in the absence of fully regenerating health.
The originators of the FPS are still doing it best, crafting on-foot combat encounters that are giddily exciting.
Whether using the exquisite shotgun or one of RAGE 2’s more unique firearms to pop heads with a satisfying squish, devastating active abilities like a ground pound and an essential force push can also be executed as often as their cooldowns dictate, fully encompassing the supersoldier power fantasy. There’s a frankly massive amount of maneuvers to unlock, to the extent you probably won’t remember to implement them all, though they’re gradually introduced in an effort to avoid that and also maintain a constant feeling of growth throughout the reasonably-lengthed campaign and much longer road to 100% completion.
While there isn’t any concrete incentive to do so, at least beyond boosting your own ego by looking damn cool, experimenting and discovering effective combinations of abilities allows for immense showboating on the level of Bulletstorm. Stringing kills of any fashion together in quick succession will increase your combo and more efficiently charge the Overdrive meter, which can then be activated to massively boost the effectiveness of all your other offensive and defensive capabilities for a short period, filling the screen with a psychedelic techno haze as you go ham.
Outside of Overdrive you can’t always afford to be so reckless, as different factions and the enemy types within them pose different levels of threat, encouraging slightly altered tactical approaches. Using the Focus ability lets you see through walls to formulate plans of attack, which can then be executed against clever AI which appear in numbers and play to their strengths in order to quickly overrun overzealous players. We particularly like the fact that throwing an uncooked grenade at an enemy can prompt them to intercept it and return to sender, then, with a well-timed melee strike, you can even volley it right back at ‘em!
RAGE 2’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections. These only really come into play when you encounter and engage a convoy in the open world, which visually plays out like one of the best scenes from Fury Road, but is less exciting to actually control. Ramming riders from their bikes and quickly dispatching the smaller four-wheelers at the rear is explosive fun, but the leading boss vehicles are comparatively uninteresting since you can mostly just hang back, automatically lock-on to their weak points as they’re periodically exposed, then hold down the fire button to win. Convoys were far more involved in Mad Max, where you might need to remove armour plating with a harpoon in order to expose a weak point, then use a specific ammo type to destroy it.
Swapping out vehicles would help to spice things up a bit, but we’d go as far as to say switching is actively discouraged, despite being able to hijack and even unlock a variety of transports directly to your garage. Similar to the Magnum Opus in Mad Max, only minus any of the context, the Phoenix is your starting vehicle and the only banger capable of being repaired and upgraded.
RAGE 2 ’s first-person firefights are honestly worth sticking out any of the game’s hardships for, and to a lesser extent, so too are the third-person vehicular combat sections.
One benefit of opting out of upgrades would at least be avoiding RAGE 2’s painfully sluggish menus, which hang momentarily whenever you switch between the numerous tabs. Elsewhere there’s graphical pop-in (not great considering the so-so visuals in general), invisible and unresponsive NPCs, we’ve fallen through the floor and had to reload a save, and the audio can cut out completely or persist where it shouldn’t (hearing continuous gunfire from a dead enemy, for example). In fact, the audiovisuals are disappointing on the whole, falling well short of the colourful, Andrew W.K. party atmosphere RAGE 2 was made out to feature and instead sticking closer to your archetypal post-apocalypse.
Still, if you’re looking for a substantial shooter to enjoy in all its gory single-player glory, RAGE 2 most definitely fits the bill. The game achieves its main goal in being sheer and unadulterated fun - it doesn't take itself even slightly seriously and favours gameplay above all else, to the extent that tackling what’s essentially the same side mission for the tenth time isn’t any bother, because along the way you can spartan kick a dude and then decapitate him with a boomerang as he sits up. What, pray tell, is not to like about that?
Let’s be blunt here: snooker hasn’t been in the mainstream since TV’s Big Break, featuring the chauvinistic “charm” of Jim Davidson and trick-shots aplenty from John Virgo. We appreciated our first foray onto Snooker 19’s green baize at this year’s EGX Rezzed, but is the final product “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan quality snooker, or “Rancid” Rob Holt level play?
Difficulty in the single-player modes can often feel out of balance, too. We’ve played multiple games with the AI set at the low, middle and high ends of difficult and nothing much seems to change. Making one mistake will definitely lead to a loss in the mid to top tiers, though two mistakes are still enough to see you off at lower rungs. You can change your own aim assists and the like to make tricky pots easier, though we’d advise playing with this enabled to begin with so you can get your eye in.
Multiplayer options are solid, if unspectacular. While there are your standard online 1-on-1s and tournaments, it’s local multiplayer that lifts the trophy for us. Playing in the room with an enemy or good associate is absolutely grand, their fixed gaze making for tense moments which lead to simple pots being bodaciously blundered.
As previously mentioned, Snooker 19 really does look and sound the part. Balls are super shiny, John Higgins’ face is accurately morose-y, and the arenas and tables look superb...y. The thoroughly satisfying sound of cue-on-ball and ball-in-pocket are truly authentic, while the commentary from Neal Foulds and David Hendon follows the action most of the time - a regular slip up for sports games of this budget/niche. There is a lot of silence during gameplay, but that’s befitting of a concentration-based sport like snooker, so we won’t hold that against developer Lab42.
As we reach the end of the frame, we cannae help but feel a touch disappointed with Snooker 19. Yes, it’s a niche sports title at a competitive price (~£25) but the lack of customisation, modes and training really hurt it. Big snooker fans will love it, that’s for certain, but it doesn’t have enough mainstream appeal to reach a wider audience.
Ever since previewing the game on PC back in March, we’ve been itching to rejoin Amicia and Hugo De Rune, the noble siblings orphaned and destitute in A Plague Tale’s opening chapters. After replaying those harrowing first hours on Xbox One X, we picked up where we left off on the journey to cure five-year-old Hugo’s undiagnosed illness.
A complete and uncompromised story, which gradually builds and builds towards an almighty crescendo.
You’re at least afforded a degree of control in telling your ‘main’ companion at any given time to wait, preventing them from getting in the way or meeting any misfortune during combat; unless you leave poor Hugo for too long, that is, in which case he’ll panic and unwittingly attract Inquisition guards.
Rats are too numerous to fight head-on, so when we say combat it pertains to humans, who take no issue with running Amicia through with a sword and snatching up her younger brother. You can dodge incoming attacks to open up a counter window, though most often it won’t come to that since encounters are incredibly easy with a few early upgrades under your belt. There aren’t multiple difficulty settings, either, which makes toggling the incredibly generous aim-assist and HUD off the only ways to inject some challenge.
Ms. De Rune’s weapon of choice - the humble sling - at least unleashes projectiles with a satisfying thwip. As well as slinging rocks, you’ll routinely need to craft and chuck alchemical concoctions to turn the tides in your favour, for example corroding an armoured helmet in order to expose the wearer’s dome for a lethal headshot. Alternatively, you could take a more indirect approach, maybe breaking a lantern as means to ring the delicious dinner bell on an all-you-can-eat rat buffet.
Should you need to conserve resources (which we always had in abundance), it’s also possible to opt out of the murder game for the most part. More likely to have you playing pacifist are the instances where your actions are questioned by the impressionable young cast, which, in the absence of a concrete morality system, serve to make you think.
Following a guilt trip, it’s time to engage with the familiar stealth systems. Checkpoints are pretty frequent, so you’ll most often just need to memorise set enemy patrol patterns in digestible chunks, maybe throwing a few odds and ends to manufacture helpful distractions along the way. Getting spotted can result in an instant fail state, necessitating some trial and error to discern the best routes, probably to the frustration of some. There’s no real cause for concern though, since you can get away with basically sitting in an enemy's back pocket while crouched.
There’s no sneaking past rats, on the other hand, who’s beady red eyes can number in the on-screen thousands. These black-furred vermin tirelessly scuttle over one another in their endeavour to escape light, so you’ll often need to utilise makeshift torches to cut a path through them and between more substantial stationary light sources. In the later stages you’ll need to use advanced alchemy and your sling to set and extinguish specific fires from afar, herding and trapping them to facilitate your safe passage.
These lite light puzzles feel rewarding, despite the fact that you'll never really need to pause for thought, rather tackle them instinctively. As the rodents grow to become more aggressive, however, some set piece moments require you to switch off your brain and run for it; here the evocative original soundtrack is perhaps at its best, accelerating from sombre to breakneck as the orchestral string section frantically work up a sweat, inducing absolute panic in the player.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting, reveling in displaying the gnawed and gnarled reality of widespread death through a liberal littering of ravaged corpses. You’ll wade through human and porcine viscera, as well as slimy rat nests that almost reek right through the screen. It’s unpleasant, but outstandingly so, with exquisite lighting and textures telling a story which justifies the lengthy load times.
Much like the soundscape, A Plague Tale’s visuals are diverse and affecting.
Thankfully, the same is true at the other end of the spectrum, where A Plague Tale’s changing locations and weather effects can segue tone at a moment’s notice. These effective shifts don’t just mirror the current mood, but reiterate the wider theme of perseverance, and emphasise the extreme ways in which the sheltered De Rune children experience the world outside their estate for the first time. Rarely is a game’s presentation this meticulously considered, making it a real shame when character models and animations don’t meet the high bar now and then.
Their first original project following a history of ports, A Plague Tale: Innocence has put developer Asobo Studio on the map and almost certainly secured their creative future. Aided by Focus Home Interactive, Asobo have crafted a memorably melancholic adventure with a life-affirming side of joy.
If you fancy playing A Plague Tale: Innocence, be sure to enter our giveaway before 23:59 on Friday 17 May 2019 for a chance to win an Xbox One copy.