Few games at E3 tickled that spot in our brains that make us jump up and down like little kids, shouting “I WANNA PLAY THAT NOW” like Mad Max. Mad Max isn’t exactly a household name anymore, but with a new movie in the works and what looks to be an absolutely phenomenal game, it will be again very soon. Avalanche Studios has taken a long dormant franchise (one that hasn’t seen a game release since 1990) and put together one of the most heart pounding, gut wrenching, visceral and overall amazing experiences we had a chance to see at E3.
This is a completely modern take on Mad Max, not tied to any past iteration of the franchise with a totally unique and original story. The wasteland and the world will still be familiar with long time fans of the series, but the rest is completely new so you won’t have to worry about Mel Gibson staggering through the game and calling you sugar tits whenever you make a mistake. Max is dropped into the wasteland, and from there you have a big, dirty open world to explore and smash up. Unfortunately for Max, the game opens with him losing the Interceptor (his car), and it isn’t the sort of problem he can solve by looking in his coat pockets for misplaced keys. Life in a post apocalyptic desert wasteland sort of requires a vehicle to get from place to place, so the loss of the Interceptor pretty much designates Max as future roadkill. Max enlists the assistance of friend and mechanic Chumbucket to help him build a car called the Magnum Opus that will be bigger, better, and deadlier. It falls to you to build this new and improved vehicle, or watch the desert wasteland claim Max as its latest victim.
The gameplay is driven by car combat, which looks intense and fast paced. Enemy vehicles can be rammed, shot at, and blown up, and foes will jump on and cling to your car, requiring you to lean out the window and remove them with your trusty shotgun. Part of the demo at E3 shows Max searching for a harpoon canon for his car because all the normal methods for killing people was getting boring apparently. Max wants to get into Gastown, but that is problematic as it is surrounded by a huge defensive area complete with a massive gate known as “The Jaw.” Luckily, this gate has one known weakness: harpoon canons (although, I think most things have that weakness). In order to get this harpoon and open up a new area of the map, you will need to track down a convoy of enemy vehicles and ask really nicely to borrow their cannon, and you’ll promise to give it back in one piece and not use it in any way that voids the warranty. Nah, this is Avalanche Studios, a group of individuals that pride themselves on over the top, brutal violence, so even trying to borrow a stapler from a co-worker is a scenario that they would imagine would require no fewer than five cracked skulls. Mad Max is no exception to this trend, and the studio made sure it was known that a focal point of Mad Max was its “dynamic, immersive, physical vehicle combat.”
And from what we’ve seen, the combat is all of that and more. Combat looks fluid and stupidly fun, with incredible variety offered even within one weapon. Will you use your harpoon gun to peel off the armor from your enemy’s car, leaving its sides more vulnerable to a direct assault, or will you aim for the tires, pull one off and leave their car crippled? While car combat looks to be the biggest draw of Mad Max, there will also be plenty of hand to hand encounters which are every bit as brutal. You can use your fists, knives, melee weapons, or Max’s iconic shotgun. The E3 demo showed off the impressive sounding thunder stick, which is even more impressive once Max hurls it right into the torso of an enemy, which leaves in several more pieces than he arrived. You can also take enemies by surprise if you’re the stealthy type, and while the action in this game seems to be more focused on high octane, adrenaline filled direct encounters, the stealth attacks are just as effective.
The world in Mad Max is open and huge, with the focus on just trying to survive and getting from place to place. The game doesn’t want to push you in one specific direction, and how you decide to do things is totally up to the player. There is no right or wrong way to complete a task, so long as the task gets done. Well, I suppose there are plenty of wrong ways to do things, but all those ways end with Max’s premature death. Stick to the paths if you want a greater chance of avoiding enemy ambushes, or go off road because you just bought the latest and biggest tires, want to shave a couple of minutes off of your travel time, and aren’t content unless your hood is covered in the blood of your enemies. Survival is not a given, with the wasteland populated by numerous dangers, enemies, and traps that all are looking for the best way to separate Max from his belongings (and Max’s head from his body). Scavenging is crucial in the game, and while cars and murder vehicles might be high in supply, all of your other required resources are not, making it crucial that you look through each area to find what you need.
Big open worlds are great, but Mad Max at least wants to give you some sense of direction, and a map on screen will show you much of what you need to know. Landmarks, activities, and camps show up as different colors on the map, letting you know where to go and not forcing you to wander aimlessly until you accidentally trigger the next mission. Still, Avalanche Studio isn’t giving it all away, as the world is filled with countless random encounters that will not show up on your map, giving you the sense that danger and death could be around any turn. Like past Avalanche Studio titles, a big open world really means a BIG HOLY HELL HOW CAN I EXPLORE ALL OF THIS world. They’ve only showed off the wasteland so far, but there are numerous locked areas that will stretch out to the far corners of the map, meaning that true explorers out there will probably have another world to get lost in once Mad Max finally releases.
The customizability here is huge, at least in terms of how you want your car to look and operate. Nearly every facet of the Magnum Opus is customizable from its weapons to upgrades to weight to suspension, leaving you with a vehicle that is truly your own. Scavenging for items allows you to craft new and unique weapons for Max and for your vehicle, giving you a definite sense of progression and a reason to look for loot. Upgrades actually cause the handling and performance of your vehicle to change and improve, allowing you to transform your car from a bumbling, barely functional jalopy to a car that is a blast to drive and fight in. Upgrades have actual, real effects on your car, and perhaps not always the kind you’d like. Sure, you can still the biggest, baddest, scariest grill you can find that sends barriers running home to their mommy barriers, but all that weight would effect the suspension, leaving your car harder to maneuver. These sorts of trade offs need to be made, making the best optimization of the Magnum Opus up to the individual player.
Mad Max is the kind of game that we absolutely cannot wait to get our hands on. It might not have been one of the biggest names going into E3 or even coming out, but this is definitely one of the games we were most excited about. While we only were able to see a demo for now, even at this early stage it looks like an incredibly promising experience. Brutal combat, a big open world, and Avalanche Studios at the helm? This seems like a can’t miss venture, and one that we’ll eagerly be looking forward to. Mad Max has a tentative release of sometime next year for the PS3, Ps4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. Whenever its release date, it is way too far away.