Avalanche Studios had us on the edge of our seat with the Mad Max demo. We detail everything you need to know in this exclusive preview.
Civilisation lies in ruin, a vast and barren wasteland. A column of thick smoke rises to the north while oil refineries burn unremittingly into the night sky. Welcome to Gastown, the bleak setting for Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max. It’s a world ruled by a man named Scrotus.
Mad Max is a game that starts with a bang. As Frank Rooke says, “Mad Max has a narrative arc but it gets you off track immediately.” There’s simply so much going on. You try to follow the story but inevitably your curiosity is peeked by some distant object and you set off on your own little side-quest. Mad Max is one of the most intriguing sandbox environments we’ve seen in a long time.
Avalanche Studios is well versed in the sandbox genre, with games like Just Cause, which gets its reputation from constantly making you wonder what’ll happen if you perform a certain action. There’s a sense of experimentation and exploration about it. But even Just Cause’s sandbox world seems to pale in comparison to the vastness and ambition of Mad Max’s world.
The fact that Avalanche Studios haven’t just opted to straight up rip-off the Assassin’s Creed formula, and instead is delivering something new, is worthy of applause. Mad Max takes the original trilogy and the upcoming reboot as its source material but reworks it to create something new. Wherever you go in Gastown something is bound to happen. This leads to you constantly discovering new things to do.
The game begins with you driving a rusty old car out of an exploding ship. There’s a freakish hunchback in the backseat yelling at you in a piercing high pitch. Before long you’re firing the car’s harpoon at watchtowers and listening to the inhabitants cry out in terror as they come tumbling to the ground. Then you’ll be stealing all sorts of vehicles and scrap and hauling it all back to your storage space. Next thing you know you’re involved in a destruction derby. Basically, in Mad Max you have a total riot. And the best of it occurs in the car.
Mad Max’s Magnum Opus makes open world driving a riot
The Mad Max series has always been obsessed with loud roaring engines, so it’s no surprise that Avalanche Studios is keeping the focus there. The storyline begins with Max having his Interceptor robbed. That royally peeves Max. The story then focuses on him and Chumbucket, his mechanical genius of a friend, building a new Magnum Opus.
As you build your new vehicle you’ll be privilege to a horde of customisation options. As Frank Rooke, game director, says, “For us, it’s just having fun with that kind of concept, saying, ‘You had something incredible with the Interceptor, but now go out and make something even more incredible with your Magnum Opus. ‘”
Your mechanic partner Chumbucket will help with his encyclopaedic knowledge of cars. “Chumbucket worships vehicles,” says Rooke. “He worships anything mechanical.”
The mechanical options are realistic, meaning you’ll need to keep physics in mind. As you customise your car you’ll need to be aware of the affect your customisation options are having. Upgrading one element of the car can adversely affect another element. A powerful engine might give explosive power but it’s also going to mess up your handling. Mechanical artistry in Mad Max requires a little bit of forethought.
A look at the customisable parts of Mad Max’s Magnum Opus
Ramming Grill: Your ramming grill lets you beat the crap out of other cars but too heavy a grill will slow your motor down.
Armour: Enemies will try to tear your Magnum Opus to shreds. Armour protects but again slows your stallion to a canter rather than a gallop.
Engine: If you’ve got your car decked out with heavy armour and weapons you need a beast of an engine to get it kicking.
Exhaust: Your exhaust helps you get the most out of your engine. For high speed you need a fat exhaust.
Tired: If your beast gets too hulky you’ll need fat tired to keep it road-bound. Get some slicks and you’ll hit a sick high speed.
Suspension: Upgrading your suspension is essential when it comes to off-road carnage.
Boost: Sometimes you want to slam the pedal to the metal. When you need to chase your enemy down you’ll want a powerful boost.
Rims: Put some spikes on your wheels and you’ll tear through your enemies cars like a katana through butter.
Boarder Spikes: Defensive spikes will protect you from enemies who want to blow our car up.
Sniper Rifle: your sniper-rifle lets you dispatch scum before they get too close to your precious Magnum Opus.
Harpoon: Rip enemy drivers through their windshields with your harpoon. Definitely one of the most fun weapons.
Thunderpoon: The unfortunately names “Thunder-poon” stuffs a missile on the end of the harpoon.
Side Burners: Wheel-mounted grinders will burn holes in enemy vehicles.
Repair Speed: you want your beast healthy. Slap some cash on your repair speed to make sure your girl stays in mint condition.
Body: Pure aesthetic. You want a hotrod or a classic? Up to you.
Colour: For that personal visual style.
Hood ornament: The mark of individuality, choose a flashy hood ornament to show off.
Unlike in most open world games, driving isn’t just a fun addition. Mad Max delivers a fully realised driving experience. “It’s up to you to do activities in the open world, do missions for different people so that you can build your car to fit your own play style,” says Rooke.
The cars in Mad Max have all been designed with painstaking accuracy. The physics are absolutely spot-on, with heavily armoured vehicles being slower, and lighter vehicles packing a dazzling top speed but also being easy to destroy. The majority of car chases in open world games end up being a nightmare to control, but Avalanche has put the work in to ensure that all Mad Max’s driving is an absolute blast. The car-based combat is a real adrenaline rush. You’ll feel genuine satisfaction as you watch your enemies car explode in the rear-view mirror.
Because Mad Max is set in a post-apocalyptic world where ammo is in sparse supply, the mono-a-mono fighting usually revolves around melee combat. The melee ends up feeling a lot like the action in Batman, with a rhythm of attack and parry being the main mechanic at play. Max, though, is a lot happier in the driving seat than he is with hand to hand combat. He doesn’t have any super powers and his ninja-style athleticism leaves much to be desired. That means you’ll often need to lure your enemies into traps rather than facing them head-on. And when you do use your ammo you’ll need to do so wisely as Max can’t move while he’s firing his shotgun.
The result is a very real and gritty sense of combat. You’re no super-powered cape crusader but a regular (if bulky) guy. You can however develop your fighting style as you play, learning new moves to use to execute your enemies. But most of the time you’ll need to be smart and opportunistic, using the environment as your weapon. Thankfully, the areas are constructed of all manner of scrap— whatever happened to be lying around after the apocalypse—so there’s always something nearby that you can use as an environmental weapon.
The first mission in the demo, for instance, takes place in a rusty oil rig which is full of Scrotus’ cronies. The rig is accessible via a gate surrounded by giant flamethrowers that are always on. Snipers stand atop watchtowers, and guards wait below. You can slam your car into the guards and mush them to death, and then use your harpoon on thunderpoon to take down the snipers in the watchtowers. As for the flamethrowers, they’re fuelled by tanks. Blow up the tanks and the flamethrowers will go out.
Once you’ve broken into the camp action turns mostly to melee and you’ll need to watch out for all manner of boobytraps. You’ll soon come across a mini-boss. Win that and you claim the camp and its horde of scrap.
What’s most impressive about these areas is the amount of imagination that’s gone into them. There are areas of Mad Max which feel completely new and nothing like anything you’ve played before. According to Rooke there are 200 locations. Clearly Avalanche have pulled out all the stops to create a truly exceptional game. And there’s a real sense that all these environments have been crafted with tender loving care.
If the demo is anything to go on, then there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Mad Max. A sandbox game with a difference, it aims to deliver an explosive and often chaotic thrill-house of a game. We can’t wait till later in the year to get our hands on the final product.