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God Eater 2: Rage Burst Review – Number of the Beast

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It’s taken almost two years for God Eater 2 to lumber across the Pacific and arrive on Western shores. God Eater 2: Rage Burst isn’t even the first in the series, instead it is an enhanced port of the second game (hence the 2). However, to sweeten the deal somewhat Namco have also generously bundled the rather spiffy remaster of the original game – God Eater: Resurrection. To get you up to speed; (Full review here) I’d recommend playing through the series in order too, as 2 is a direct sequel, and relies quite heavily on you already being familiar with the world. Quite a few characters from the first pop up in the sequel and it’s hard to appreciate the games’ myriad of small adjustments and improvements if you jump straight into Rage Burst, but god damn do you miss them when you go back to Resurrection.

Set in the wastes of a post-apocalyptic Japan in which humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction by huge creatures known as Aragami, you play as a member of an elite group of God Eaters known as the Blood faction. Imbued with special Blood Art abilities that they can use to essentially turn the tide of battle, they are tasked with taking on Aragami that ordinary God Eaters aren’t powerful enough to handle.

Much like it’s predecessor, players are tasked with completing a series of missions with three teammates in tow (either AI or other players online), fighting a steady string of increasingly menacing Aragami, while slowly improving your gear and levelling up your abilities to help deal with the ever increasing threat.

Battling beasts in God Eater 2: Rage Burst is far more immediate and accessible than in the Monster Hunter series; attacking and evading your enemy is a simple affair and doesn’t require the same amount of patience or preparation. With simple controls and fairly intuitive systems, melee combat is fast and furious, with an emphasis on evasion and softening up enemies from afar, before dashing right into the middle of the fray in a similar manner ot a warriors game. However, instead of trying to best 100 weak enemies you’re tasked with taking out a handful of huge ones while wielding transforming God arcs that allow players to swiftly switch between melee and ranged weapons with the press of a button, literally taking lumps out of foes with predator mode as your weapon transforms into a giant razor-toothed maw that bites down on Aragami. It’s swift, fun and very cool.

Like all good sequels, Rage Burst refines the parts of it’s predecessor that worked well, while adding some additional flourishes of its own. These include Blood Art abilities, which add additional moves and functions to your existing weapons (with about 400 variants to unlock), and Blood Rage – a system in which you basically bet on yourself to complete challenges during combat, like doing so much damage in a certain amount of time, in order to unlock temporary special skills and buffs for your character. These fun additions keep the combat fresh, while forcing you to change up your tactics while improving your chances of success.

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Once again crafting is essential to success; as before, progress isn’t tied to your character but your weapon, so it’s in your best interest to build the best God Arc you can. Progress works in a similar manner to the original God Eater with parts harvested from successful kills used to build and upgrade your weapon, armour and items. Abandoned God Arcs gained at the end of missions are used to transfer new skills and abilities to your weapon, thus boosting your character’s powers as a result.

God Eater 2: Rage Burst continues the narrative of the first game, set three years after the events of Resurrection, complete with a whole host of new characters as well as plenty of old favourites to boot, once again the games lighter moments create a nice counterpoint to the action and the bleak setting. The gameplay may be quite repetitive but you find yourself powering through to see what is going to happen to the game’s cast of likeable characters.

That being said, Japan’s current obsession with fanservice once again rears its sweaty palms, with most of the game’s female characters, despite being well written and performed, don’t look like monster hunters so much as strippers. For example,the first female character you meet, Nana, sports hot pants and a thin piece of fabric that barely covers her breasts. Thankfully though you can send her out on the hunt in some more suitable clothes.

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Like Resurrection, God Eater 2: Rage Burst has a brilliant sense of style, and the Aragami in particular are wonderfully designed, while the world Namco have constructed is bleak, yet not overwhelming. That said, graphically Rage Burst faces similar problems to it’s prettied up predecessor. On the PS4 at least, it won’t win any awards for its looks as despite the 1080/60 presentation, it is still a port of a three year old PS Vita title (that also had a PSP version). As such, the areas you spend most of your time in feel basic, drab and lifeless (though not in the way the devs were going for).

The one benefit of this though is that it doesn’t tax the hardware at all, resulting in a silky smooth experience, and easily the best way to experience the series thus far. With the Vita all but written off at this point, I hope that the next entry in the series is built entirely with home consoles in mind allowing the game’s marvellous creatures to really come into their own on far superior hardware; but, seeing as it’s still going strong in Japan, this doesn’t seem that likely, sadly.

In short, God Eater 2: Rage Burst is a fantastic alternative to Monster Hunter, that improves upon it’s predecessor in almost every way. It’s simplistic graphics are unlikely to wow anybody, but it’s fantastic creature designs, likeable characters, fast-paced combat, and compelling crafting mechanics make it an experience that you’re going to enjoy.

God Eater 2:Rage Burst was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Bandai Namco | Publisher: Bandai Namco | Genre: Hack ‘n Slash | Platform: PC, PS4, PS Vita | PEGI/ESRB: 12+/T | Release Date: September 2, 2016

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Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

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RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

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Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

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To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

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On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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