Remember Mad Max? I do, and it's fifteen years older than I am. Today, I checked out the Mad Max booth at E3, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it. We were treated to roughly 20-30 minutes of gameplay footage, showcasing the various elements of the upcoming and long-overdue Mad Max video game.
For those of you who don't know (and shame on you if you if you don't), the Mad Max series of films stars Max Rockatanksy, a psuedo police officer fighting for peace in the post-apocalyptic dystopian outback, who turns into the ultimate antihero, searching for both his humanity and a place to call home. We were told that this will be a standalone experience, despite the upcoming fourth film. According to the developer, they have "updated" the Mad Max universe, so where this game rests in the canon remains uncertain at the moment.
The first thing you should know is that this game is being developed by Avalanche Studios, the developer behind the expansive open-world title Just Cause 2, which has one of the biggest and most beautiful worlds in any game to date. The large expanses of Australian desert stretched for miles, and looked pretty impressive, if a bit monochromatic. What we were shown was a very small section of the map however, and having explored Avalanche's Panau extensively, I have faith that they could even make even the distopian Outback look beautiful.
Though it may seem empty at first glance, the wasteland is dotted with events and resources, including random encounters at every turn. This has become par for the course for any open-world title of course, and an abundance of content will only carry you so far. We were shown three aspects of survival in the wastes: driving, fighting, and shooting. The Mad Max films are known for their epic chases and battles involving multiple cars speeding through the desert. That being said, Avalanche seems to have put a great deal of detail into the driving. The player will be able to customise the Road Warrior's car, the "Magnum Opus". Avalanche assure us that each upgrade (literally) carries some weight to it. For example, adding additional armour to the front adds ramming damage, but also makes the car heavier, which affects the handling of the vehicle. They seem to give the customisation a less linear feel; instead of upgrading on a straightforward tracks, players will have to fine tune the Magnum Opus to their specific play style.
During the demo, Max and his companion "Chumbucket" are assaulting a convoy. Along the way, Max fends off feral gang members with stylish use of his sawn-off shotgiun. For enemy vehicles, the player has quite a few weapons at their disposal. With a little help from Chumbucket, they can the harpoon gun to pull of armour and car parts to debilitate them, including the doors, so as to expose the driver. The player can also shoot fuel tanks, and if all else fails, ramming them seems to get the job done for the jobber junkers.
Beyond cars, Max is also known for his fast reflexes, which are great for getting out of sticky situations when outnumbered. We were treated to a taste of the game's melee combat, complete with brutal finishing moves fitting for such a brutal wasteland. At first glance, it looked reminiscent of Arkham Asylum or Sleeping Dogs, but it's not entirely clear how deep and involving it is. The developer also hinted at some stealth elements, but we weren't shown anything beyond a quick takedown on an unaware enemy. After that, Max took a sniper rifle and allowed Chum to drive. What followed was a pretty standard stationery sniping section complete with plenty of obvious red barrels to shoot. Before these enemies were eliminated however, they managed to call in backup, complete with mortar fire. Things got hectic as Max had to dodge explosions from all around him as Chumbucket quickly repaired his debilitated vehicle.
I'm hoping these gameplay mechanics will come together to deliver the true Mad Max experience. I don't want it to simply be narrowed down to a mindless shooting gallery. This wasteland is harsh and unforgiving. Games like Fallout and Rage have been borrowing from (or ripping off, if you're less generous) this franchise, claiming their settings are "harsh" and "unforgiving" as well, but this is hardly the case when ammunition and valuable supplies are found in abundance to accommodate the player. In these scenarios, the player is ever really made to feel like they are struggling. Max isn't just a ruthless killing machine, either. He's a broken man with a sense of justice and humanity resting deep within. The story needs to show us an antihero struggling to retain that humanity. In addition, we need to see more than just driving and shooting. He's crafty and clever, and I would love to see the player think like Max as well. The car chases and gun battles are great, but I really want those moments like the time Max had no ammo for his shotty and had to bluff the Gyro Captain. I want booby-trapped fuel tanks and misdirection as well as straight-up combat. I don't want this game to go the same route as Aliens: Colonial Marines, which just slapped an Aliens skin on a mindless co-op shooter. I want to truly feel like I am Max Rockatansky, like I'm really surviving in an unforgiving world gone to hell. Time will tell how faithful this game is to the franchise, but this game does look like it was crafted with a modicum of dedication, which is a lot more than can be said of games based on movies. Either way, it's good to finally get a game that let's us play as the Road Warrior that isn't on the NES.
Mad Max is expected to release in 2014 for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.