Preview | Mad Max should be witnessed
It isn’t uncommon for movie tie-ins and licensed titles to have a bad reputation in the video game industry, so it is fairly easy for one to be skeptical when one comes around. People shouldn’t have to worry about that with Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max. The talented team has taken their gigantic sandbox expertise and adapted it to the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max, a world that they have made their own.
Taking place in a post-apocalyptic Australia, the game isn’t based on any one movie in the franchise, though a developer on hand felt like the game most resembled Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. The model of Max isn’t based on either Mel Gibson or Tom Hardy, but closely resembles Joel from The Last of Us in appearance. Regardless, he still has his trademark leg brace and his awesome shotgun in tow for the wild ride the game takes players on.
The game has a slight learning curve for the controls, but not one that would be unnatural after getting the hang of things. Even though the game does have a main story, Max is free to move around to whichever point the player chooses, given many side quests to take on as well as the main missions. The demo at E3 had two missions to choose from, one that was based more on the driving mechanics, while the other one more of a story based mission that involved heavy hand-to-hand combat. Even though there were clear missions in the demo, we were encouraged to explore however we felt rather than stick to the mission.
For the demo, the vehicle mission was selected, starting Max out at an enemy raider encampment. The hand-to-hand combat works very much like the Batman Arkham series, which isn’t too surprising since this game is also published by Warner Bros. Players will have a bit of free-flow combat with the ability to counter and parry enemy attacks, though one big difference here is that the health system does not allow for Max to gain health from enemies after defeating them. The reason behind this is that the developers at Avalanche took a careful approach on using elements from the film franchise. Water is a scarce resource, and Max is equipped with a canteen that can be filled when he comes across water, the main source of his vitality. If players want to heal, they have to use these resources that they can scavenge from across the land.
Another element that will be in the game that players will have to maintain is their fuel. Fans of the film franchise will definitely know that gasoline is a valuable resource and is often used for trade, so that was worked into the game as well. Max can actually find fuel tanks and store them in the back of his car in the situation that he does run out of fuel. The fuel tank can also be used as an explosive weapon, as Max can ignite the tank at any time and throw it to make a rather devastating explosion. Aside from water and fuel, Max can also gather scraps to use to upgrade his vehicle, upgrading parts like the engine, the tires, and even the armor. Some upgrades will be locked behind missions, so it is best to complete various missions to unlock these rewards.
Getting back to the mission in the demo, Max is told of a convoy that he has to track and destroy. Finishing the convoy tracking mission would unlock a new engine upgrade, so it was definitely a good motivator. After having a chance to play through the fantastic Batman: Arkham Knight, it was clear to see that the chase sequences in Mad Max may have borrowed from the other, but it’s possible it might be vice versa. The convoy was well armored, as well as protected by several reinforcement vehicles that had their own assortment of weapons. Driving through the wasteland during these chase sequences is both fast and energetic, and the intensity almost feels better over time.
The vehicle controls are somewhat different than the standard fare, but once players get used to it, they’ll be boosting, ramming enemy vehicles, and using their weapons like a pro. A “warboy-like” character named Chumbucket rides in the back of the car while Max drives, and he essentially handles the weapons like the harpoon. This harpoon is useful for removing enemy armor, or can even be used on enemies themselves. During the demo, I actually managed to harpoon a guy out of his seat and drove with him dragging behind…and then proceeded to back up over him to be sure. The targeting system for the weapons works rather well as time slows down and the targets become highlighted, giving the player quite a bit of control.
Another harpoon-type weapon is the thunder harpoon, which can be thrown at enemy vehicles to make explosive results. A pretty common video game staple in the form of red barrels will also show up, giving a good target to attack with various weapons, like Max’s shotgun, which he will fire out of his window. Another weapon that is very useful is the flamethrower, which will engulf any targets on the side of the vehicle in glorious flames. The game feels like vehicular combat at its best, giving the player a ton of options and control, and it just looks badass while doing it. Customizing Max’s “Magnum Opus” for just the right situation would help as well, as Avalanche wanted to give players incentive for completing missions. Getting the part from the convoy just to add to the vehicle gives a fairly satisfactory feeling, one that may make the game last quite some time in the long haul.
Mad Max continues to show what potential can be found in a licensed franchise as long as enough time is spent on it and enough care is given by the developers. Avalanche clearly has the dedication and tenacity to give this franchise the tribute it deserves and hopefully the final product delivers just as much as the demo did. Mad Max comes out on September 1st for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, and preordering it should net the extra car body “The Ripper”.