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This past week Rage 2 released to
thunderous a mild and polite smattering of applause. In spite of the game's fantastic combat system, its world, story, vehicular gameplay, and pretty much everything else outside of charging into the fray with mutants and bandits leaves much to be desired. However, in spite of those failings, it's worth expanding on just how great Rage 2's combat system is and why I hope this troubled outing isn't the last we've seen of it.
When Gears Of War and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed the industry's approach to shooters, resulting in a years-long bombardment of the genre that was obsessed with gritty realism or embracing bleak edgy material, a lot of the more frantic shooters went away for a bit. However, to say that Rage 2's gunplay is merely an arcadey throwback to the likes of Doom, Quake, Unreal Tournament, and other fantastical retro bloodbaths is a disservice to what this surprise sequel does right. Wolfenstein reinvented itself by bearing down on a tragic, epic story featuring well thought out characters and dollops of wacky, blood-soaked shenanigans. The 2016 Doom reboot didn't really reinvent itself as much as it put its best elements forward and modernized them for a new generation, forcing players to become a constant whirlwind of shotgun-toting death if they have any hope of surviving the horrors of hell.
Rage 2 is...well, it's different because its combat is about the toolset at hand, a colorful array of death-dealing weapons capable of flattening, splattering, disintegrating, and launching foes head-long into their death. Sure, you could argue that Doom is also a shooter that's about having a creative toolset. However, I would argue that Rage's flexibility sets it apart. In Doom, you constantly need to be switching weapons to stay alive, knowing which tool is the right one for the purpose. A wave of zombies and imps at the end of the corridor before you? Better whip out that shotgun and do some shell-sweeping. Giant demon? It's time for the mini-gun or the rocket launcher. At its best, Doom feels like a violent ballet, with you constantly having to switch your weapons at the right moment to overcome the hordes as they descend on you.
Rage 2 doesn't require that sort of dexterity. Its toolset isn't rigid. You can blast through the entire game with only a shotgun and assault rifle combo if you so choose. While the slack in difficulty means that you're not forced as often into pulling off death-defying feats of amazement, it also means you're given enough room to get creative as hell when it comes to using Rage 2's arsenal of dastardly amusements.
My personal favorite? The Grav-Dart launcher. The Grav-Dart launcher functions like a more weaponized version of the Gravity Gun from Half-Life 2. You hit your target with a number of darts and then, once you have your target stuck with the desired number of darts, you point elsewhere (say at a water tower, vehicle, gas canister, or even up into the blue sky) and click the left trigger to send that target flying into wherever you're aiming your cursor. The more darts they're stuck with, the harder the target will be flung.
I've gone entire fights in Rage 2 slamming enemies into distant objects (or even other enemies) and watching their bodies erupt into gory explosions. Once, I was fighting some foes near an open road when a vehicle came back. I had just tagged a bandit with some darts and fired into the road with the left trigger. I watched breathlessly as the foe zoomed into that road and was immediately transformed into red paste by the truck as it zoomed past. Rage 2's combat is filled with amazing, emergent mini-stories like this, and learning how to string those stories together with your weapons like combos is incredibly satisfying.
Near the last third of Rage 2, I had gathered all of the game's weapons and powers, and was strolling into enemy encampments as a nearly invincible killing machine, showering foes in fiery wrath. Where Doom delights in challenging players with lopsided odds, Rage 2 reverses that paradigm, making you the all-powerful killer. The real fun comes with how you approach taking out your foes. If you're a person with a startling deficit of imagination, you might settle for mowing down every foe with your shotgun. Boring. A real artist of death and mayhem will style things up a bit. Why not throw down a gravity vortex that sucks all your foes to a singular spot and then toss a grenade into the vortex with them as you walk on by? Not bad. Or, you could use your Shatter ability (think Star Wars' Force Push) to throw those foes into one of your barriers that you've upgraded to disintegrate enemies on touch for an impromptu barbecue. Or, if you really want to get fancy, you can run around the camp, peppering foes with rounds from your Firestorm Revolver, and doing a nifty Thanos snap to set all of them on fire.
There's an uncommon kind of bloody harmony amongst all the weapons and powers that's hard to appreciate if you get distracted by the game's failings. The sheer swift, stylish nature of sliding into a foe, blasting them into the sky with the shotgun, and then Shatter-pushing them literally miles into the sky for them to fall back down to a splattery grave is so cool. When everything is coming together, I feel like John freakin' Wick, effortlessly painting entertaining scenes of masterful mayhem.
I've put 15 hours into Rage 2, which is hilarious to me because it's main path takes you less than five. It speaks to just how great and unique the combat system is that I willingly spent (and continue to spend) time pursuing foes in such an uninteresting, barren world. The most tragic thing about Rage 2 is that deep down at its core, there's an incredible loop of action gameplay that just belongs in a different game. If Rage 2, for example, was a story-driven linear shooter à la Titanfall 2 or Wolfenstein, it'd be so much more appealing as a cohesive work of art. Instead, it feels like I'm playing one great game jammed into another mediocre-at-best one.
Rage 2 is a sequel that I imagine few people asked for. Strangely enough, given the tepid reception the game's got, I find myself hoping for yet another one, one that throws away the uninspired open world and goes all in on that phenomenal combat system.
The Sonic the Hedgehog movie has more twists and turns than a mobius strip. After teases and recoils to Sonic's design, the trailer finally came out last month. It...wasn't great. The reaction was so bad that director Jeff Fowler promised to fix the hedgehog's design as a result of that feedback. Well, now the movie is seeing a delay, likely because of those fixes, into February of 2020.
The news, once again, comes courtesy of Jeff Fowler.
When it was announced that the studio was fixing the design, a lot of people raised the valid concern that doing so would be a terrible strain on the VFX artists that would be tasked with fixing what was undoubtedly a higher creative team's decision to have Sonic look more human-like. That meant a lot more work (and inevitably crunch) to get the move out in time for its November release date. As alluded to in the tweet, the studio seems aware of this and doesn't want to be tarred with the poor reputation.
So we're going to have to wait a little bit longer to see the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, but it being on Valentine's Day specifically setting all my irony sensors off that were excited to see the movie in the first place. I'm still cool with it.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier took to Twitter today with some powerful tweets, allegedly confirming the title of Infinity Ward's 2019 installment of the Call of Duty franchise as "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare." We're dangerously close to E3, so this reveal was probably due to hit in a few weeks.
I can confirm this is true, and that it's hilarious. The first one was "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" so obviously the fourth one is "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare." Video games are absurd https://t.co/Ghb1m2srC4— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) May 24, 2019
While the name may not make a whole lot of sense right now, Schreier also dropped some more information in a followup tweet - that the game is allegedly a "soft reboot".
"Soft reboot"— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) May 24, 2019
What if Red Dead Redemption II was done in the style of The Magnificent Seven? YouTuber USNIM has a channel dedicated to creating film-inspired trailers out of popular video games, and Red Dead Redemption II is the most recent to receive the Hollywood treatment.
The trailer, inspired by the 2016 blockbuster The Magnificent Seven, perfectly captures tone of the film through scenes and dialogue from the game. USNIM also gave Red Dead Redemption II a Logan-inspired trailer that is a bit more melancholic, showing a different side to the game. Both look like they would make great movies.
It's no secret that fans have been clamoring for an N64 Classic to follow Nintendo's popular NES and SNES Classic consoles. However, YouTuber Madmorda has skipped the 64-bit console and jumped right to the following generation with a "GameCube Classic."
The miniaturized console actually uses a Wii motherboard, since it's smaller than the GameCube's and has backward compatibility. Madmorda then trimmed the motherboard down to the size of a GameBoy Color cartridge, which she details on her blog. The four controller ports are compatible with GameCube controllers through a headphone jack adapter, but the console is also compatible with the Wii U and Switch GameCube adapter through a USB port. There's also a USB port for game data, serving as the memory card. For the console's shell, Madmorda found an old gummy candy case in the shape of a GameCube.
The project took around nine months, and the work to fit all of the necessary components into this tiny gummy case is insane. Even the Wii motherboard wasn't small enough to neatly fit in the case, so Madmorda had to cut parts of it and reassemble it like Frankenstein's monster.
The final product definitely seems worth the work, however. The tiny console can play any GameCube game without lag, has a working power button, and features an orange LED light showing when the console's powered on. Nintendo, take notes.
In horror, mystery and uncertainty are useful tools. However, when properly deployed, knowledge and context have even more power to transform simple scares into pure terror. Imagine you’re walking through a haunted house. Doors spring open every few steps, each one hiding a faceless corpse, and in the background you can vaguely hear the singing of a creepy voice. That’s pretty scary. Now imagine that all of those faceless corpses are replaced by the bodies of your friends and family, and the creepy singing is the voice of your first-grade teacher. Suddenly, your personal investment makes predictable horror elements compelling and chilling. This is a lesson Layers of Fear 2 never learns. It may excel at jolting you with quick scares, but the narrative and stakes are so obscure that real horror can’t take root.
This first-person experience sends players through a linear series of corridors and rooms that are ostensibly in a luxury ocean liner – but the aesthetic doesn’t hold its form for long. That’s not a bad thing; like the original Layers of Fear, a big highlight of this sequel is how it toys with your perception of your surroundings. Sometimes you’re in a forest, sometimes you’re in a house, and sometimes you’re in a dreamscape. Doors slam behind you, and when you turn around to check, new hallways appear where blank walls were before. This instability is exciting and the visuals can be striking, producing a few well-designed moments that I won’t spoil here, along with plenty of jump scares.Click here to watch embedded media
If you’re content with the shallow thrills that come from unexpected loud noises and quick flashes of disturbing images, then Layers of Fear 2 might be satisfying. If you want an oppressive atmosphere and creeping dread, those things never quite develop. You control an actor aboard the ship to star in a film, but your unraveling sanity blurs the line between reality and imagination. This setup raises questions I was eager to have answered, but the answers don’t enrich the tension. Instead, you scour the environment for collectibles like drawings and notes, and use those to assemble a fuzzy outline of a narrative – a process that doesn’t arm you with the relevant information at the right times.
Stories don’t always need to be explicitly communicated. Some games benefit from an ambiguous delivery, but Layers of Fear 2 isn’t one of them. It feels like a six-hour trailer for a real game, teasing significance with vague foreshadowing and ominous dialogue like, “There shall be a vast shout. And then, a vaster silence.” But those threads don’t converge in a compelling way, so at moments that seemed important, I was often left wondering what was happening and why. Players can eventually find those answers through new game+ and thorough exploration, but nothing kills a scary moment like relying on after-the-fact clarification to explain why the moment should have felt scarier than it did.
Click image thumbnails to view larger version
Beyond that narrative disconnect, Layers of Fear 2 also has some gameplay issues that are far more aggravating than fun. While you’re usually walking and poking around, a half-formed monster chases you at multiple points. These sequences are exercises in learning through failure; you can expect to die several times as you flee, and when you finally escape, it’s with a sense of resignation rather than victory. I was also frustrated by the conclusion, which factors in your actions to determine which of three endings you get. However, when you are making significant choices (or what you are even choosing) is poorly communicated, so the final scenes feel arbitrary – not like the end of a path you’ve decided to travel.
Watching people react to fright can be funny, and the original Layers of Fear found an audience among streamers because of its abundance of jump scares. This sequel has many similar moments, and they are more interesting and paced less aggressively, so players aren’t desensitized so quickly. At the same time, Layers of Fear 2 shares its predecessor’s narrative shortcomings; it drops multiple clues that hint at a unifying story, but the bungled delivery and atmosphere prevented me from connecting to anything beyond the surface scares.
Summary: Layers of Fear 2 may excel at jolting you with quick scares, but the narrative and stakes are so obscure that real horror can’t take root.
Concept: The past and present converge as an actor explores a ship that isn’t bound by the rules of reality
Graphics: Though many rooms and hallways look similar, several areas are gorgeously foreboding
Sound: Creepy effects help the jump-scares land, and the few key voice performers (including "Candyman" star Tony Todd) do good work
Playability: Navigating the world is simple, but environmental interactions (like opening doors) can be inconsistent – which is a problem if you’re being chased by a monster
Entertainment: Surprising moments succeed at sending occasional shivers down your spine, but the game doesn’t bring you deep enough into its world to inspire fear