The pale skinned War Boy ran at me, oblivious and uncaring to the fact that I was sitting behind the wheel of the heavily reinforced armored vehicle that just laid waste to his own souped-up car. We had just clashed–he and another vehicular cohort of his against my ride (dubbed the Magnum Opus)–and I had easily prevailed after quickly ramming one car into scrap and using the Magnum Opus’ on-board harpoon to rip the back wheel off the other to render it immobile. But still the War Boy ran at me. I considered simply running him over, but that seemed too, well, easy, too boring a way of finally getting passage to Valhalla. So I fired my harpoon, a weapon usually reserved for ripping sections off enemy cars, thudding it into the War Boy’s chest. I quickly retracted the harpoon, sending the War Boy flying far behind me.
Being in the Wasteland isn’t all about killing crazies, though. Once during my hour of playing Avalanche Studio’s Mad Max, I ran across a small group of people, bedraggled and begging for water. I approached the leader, but I was still unfamiliar with the game’s controls–I fired off my shotgun instead of lending aid. The leader dropped dead, and the other two survivors started to flee, terrified of what I had just done. I ran after them, hoping to offer water, but the game wouldn’t allow me to help. After only a few feet of chase, the other two collapsed, crawling away as best as they could. Such is life in the Wasteland.
The Mad Max films have always showcased a contrast between all-out action and casual horror at what has become of humanity after society’s collapse, and the game treads similar ground. But don’t expect any direct ties between the films (especially the recent Fury Road) and the game. Just like the films, which feature only the barest of connective tissue between them, this game exists on its own. There is Max, there is the Wasteland, and there is a whole load of insanity in the world’s few survivors. And that’s about as deep as the narrative cohesiveness between the films and the game goes.
Viewers of Fury Road will have some visual touchpoints, however. The pale skinned War Boys, for instance, are in the game, as are the areas around the film’s (mostly unseen) Gas Town. The design of the world and its vehicles, too, easily evoke the chrome and leather and spikes of the Mad Max universe (though in the short time I played, nothing came close to the mind-bending visual of Fury Road’s Doof Warrior). Publisher Warner Bros Interactive’s production and general manager Peter Wyse says people who have seen Fury Road will find the game “familiar”, and says the rapturous critical success of the recent film spells only positives for the game.
“We’re excited because it establishes the universe that we have set as the backdrop for our game. We took tons of inspiration from the world and characters that (film director) George Miller created. We hope that when people who have seen the movie play our game they are in a setting that feels familiar, yet also crafted for the game experience,” he said.
One thing from the film that won’t be a major part of the game will be the Interceptor, Max’s trusty Ford Falcon GT Coupe. Despite the Interceptor’s iconic status within the films, the car will be the first thing you lose in the game.
“It is really the impetus for the game and the gameâ€™s narrative. Max and his vehicle are almost symbiotic and we thought that it would be an interesting journey for the player to have to understand how important a vehicle is in this world by having them build and customize a vehicle of their own design,” Wyse said.
That vehicle will be your Magnum Opus, a ride you’ll build from scratch and upgrade using parts scavenged from around the Wasteland. The Wasteland itself is large and open, and is broken up into several “areas” that each contain forts to be taken over, sniper nests to be destroyed, vehicle convoys to demolish, and many other side activities. Each activity lowers the threat level in an area, gradually making it safer for you to travel around the open world.
If you think the structure of this world sounds somewhat familiar to games such as or then you’d be right. What’s also very familiar is Mad Max’s melee combat, which features a system of attacks and parries similar to the aforementioned games. In my brief time playing Mad Max, I infiltrated two heavily armed camps. I started on the perimeter, taking out snipers camped out on platforms from long range, before using the harpoon on the Magnum Opus to rip down the camp’s heavy steel gates. Once inside, the combat fell into a familiar pattern–I was surrounded by multiple enemies, and I’d attack until that telltale indicator flashed above a foe’s head telling me that I needed to parry. Occasionally, another prompt would appear to tell me I could execute a finishing move, or that Max had reached a “frenzied” state in which his attacks would become more brutal. But for the most part, it was attack, attack, parry, attack, attack, parry. Rinse and repeat.
But as in the films, it’s when Max gets on the road that things take a turn for the better. Car combat in the Magnum Opus is fun, frenetic, and fast, providing a sharp contrast to the more common beats of melee fighting. The Magnum Opus feels great to drive–responsive, agile, and seemingly unable to be rolled, it’s a great match for the sand and stone of the Wasteland, as well as the other armored vehicles you’ll find roaming within it.
Your surest way of damage dealing is also the most fun–the head-on collision. Using nitrous to build up speed just before impact can take off most of an enemy vehicle’s health, and it was a blast to line up enemies in a direct line ahead of me so I could ram them at top speed. You’ll also be able to sideswipe cars alongside you, but outside of a head-on crash, firing off the harpoon to get closer to enemy vehicles or rip off entire pieces (such as armor or wheels) was the best way I found to take out foes. While the Magnum Opus I was driving for the demo was already levelled up significantly (making it feel like it was close to indestructible), it was still hugely enjoyable to go at top speed along the Wasteland trying to chase down a whole convoy of enemy vehicles. In one convoy chase, I sideswiped one car off a cliff, rammed another into submission, shot out the fuel cannisters on a third, before using the harpoon to pull off the armored front grill of the convoy lead to make it easier to crush. The car combat in Mad Max felt liberating, and I can’t wait to play more.
Warner’s Wyse says the mix between on-foot melee and car combat in the final game will be about 50-50, and even within the short time I had to play, I found plenty of fights and events to get involved in. But with seemingly so much to do, will the Wasteland in Mad Max still feel like the desolate, soul-crushing vastness the films portray? What balance will there be between the demands of a modern, content-heavy action game and the unique, bleak tone of the source material?
It turns out that the team at Avalanche did at one stage dial back on the number of “things” available for players to do in the world. “In fact, yes, there was a point where we decided that weâ€™d hit the right balance,” Wyse said. “At that point we focused on eliminating some of the encounters and camps so that we could make the remaining ones as polished and unique as possible.”