I didn’t want Mad Max to start with. I didn’t ask for it, and I certainly didn’t really care too much about what the gameplay would be like. Fair enough, there was a movie coming that looked interesting but I just imagined a dead 80s franchise being milked while it became relevant again. Then I played Mad Max and I soon realised this could be the one game that I wouldn’t be able to live without.
It’s a bold statement in a year that has Fallout 4 on the cards and the similar stylings of Batman: Arkham Knight arguably in pole position as Game of the Year right now, next to Life is Strange. But something about the short time I’d spent with Mad Max gripped me and took me to a place of customisation and driving intensity in arid areas I’d never have imagined.
To start with, it’s worth pointing out that whilst you are the titular Max Rockatansky, you are not any of the movie versions of him. He’s his own character and rather autonomous so you can slot in to playing as him better. The black V8 Interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon in real life) is absent thanks to theft by marauders, but this only furthers the plot and the gameplay dynamics. Swedish developers Avalanche Studios have basically been given the keys and asked to come up with their own thing. So this is not a tie-in of any kind – Box one ticked.
Gaming is very spoilt with dystopian post-apocalyptic madness, which has probably got something to do with the movies and fictions game designers had growing up in the 1980s. So it’s with a sense of irony that the films probably inspired the games we love (Fallout being a prime example) that then inspired this game. But Mad Max’s world is extraordinary.
Everything that’s crazy about the movie world is here. You have the crazy side characters and seemingly endless insane cults and gangs ready to wreak havoc upon you in inventive ways. You have the vast and inescapable desert and the occasional hard rock. You have the intense weather from the films, dramatic and violent storms blowing sand everywhere or crackling with electricity.
In the play-through I had a companion from the studio to help me get to grips with the game and the controls quickly, communicating through a headset, but that became absolutely pointless as a storm hit. The storms are not scripted events and have varying degrees of severity. It was loud and obnoxious like an old TV used to sound at 3am when you fell asleep to it and all that was on was static. The only thing I heard my companion say was “you need shelter,” and she was right.
Three cars had come out of nowhere and started attacking me and trying to ram me. It had nothing to do with the mission to reach a stronghold in search of a legendary V8 engine. No, the actual mission had become incredibly mute and unimportant compared to the three guys throwing fiery explosive javelins at me. The cars had come from out of nowhere, just like the storm, and destroying them presented other problems. My own javelins were doing their job but the wreck of the car was now scrap metal which got caught up in the winds and was now smashing in to my face.
My visibility was zero and I did what only a professional coward would, and drove away really fast. Anywhere, just away from the remaining pack of cars. This presented its own problems in the shape of large immoveable rocks that only a 4×4 would dare attempt. I crashed, weakening my own car even more before seeing how far out from my original waypoint I was on the in game map. The road was much closer than I realised and as soon as I relocated it, I put the foot down on my upgraded V6 powered car and lost my assailants in the dust. I reached the stronghold which was under attack, but as a cutscene played and the storm relented, I suddenly realised how open my jaw was and how much fun I had just had. – Box two ticked.
All of this is made possible by some excellent gameplay features. The open world is a huge expanse of post-apocalyptic wasteland that is split in to regions. The story mode will take you across all of this but you will need a lot to survive. Our demo was a mission that was just under half way through the game, and so our character, our Max, was suitably levelled up for us. You can customise your Max in any way (looks, clothing, weapons) but what is more fun is the car, the Magnum Opus. Driving in this game is incredibly responsive and you can do a great number of things to your car to personalise your experience, and that personalisation feels key to what Avalanche are attempting to do here.
You can upgrade your engine parts, wheels, chassis, etc, by using scrap metal that you collect throughout the world. You’ll find old car wrecks and there’s bits and pieces that you can find after you’ve destroyed other vehicles. This scrap is then used to purchase these upgrades but in some cases, you need to find them first. A new car chassis will be in the desert for you to find and the rewards for exploration and discoveries like this translate directly to what you can do with your car.
You have a companion called Chumbucket, on your journey who sits in the back of your car and is the man who fires your main weaponry. Your harpoon is the standard weapon but there are also the Thunderpoons (the explosive bolts), a sniper rifle for distance shots, your own shotgun and the option to either quick fire or aim yourself. All of which you purchase with your scrap metal. So you can go quite balanced, very weapon heavy, quick armoured speed, whatever you want. Your car customisation can add a ram at the front, different hood ornaments, the cool wheels with spikes, flame throwers on the side of your car, your own colour schemes… There’s an incredible amount and the team at Avalanche have taken inspiration from Forza Motorsport of all places in how to personalise a vehicle.
The game should see you try to reunite Max with his fabled car whilst also looking to end his madness, but one of the things to stress here is that you are Max. So therefore YOU are the mad one and you can be as mad and as crazy as you want. The game is a veritable sandbox (desert pun unintended) that allows you to play how you want, to whatever goal you want and with whatever setup you want. Even in my demo, no two journalists had the same experience and we all had our own stories. I’d talked the day before with another journalist who thought the harpoon was overpowered because you can just tear the wheels off enemy vehicles with it and then mow everyone down in a Carmageddon-esque frenzy. But that was their story and unless I did exactly the same as them, my own story would be unique – Box three ticked.
The game did blind side me as to how much playability there was from what is essentially a core concept of a bonkers bloke driving a car around and destroying everything that attempts to destroy him. But after I played it I realised that the story I was taking away was my own, not Max’s. And although there is the main quest with a story and plot, this doesn’t interfere with your experience and how you go about attaining that. Where other games after a while do get a bit repetitive, and I can imagine that hunting for scrap could possibly get a bit repetitive if you’re that way inclined, Mad Max kept me interested, gripped and excited for what I was about to do next with reckless abandon. So now that I don’t have Mad Max, I want it even more. Roll on September.
Mad Max is due for release on September 1st 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.