E3 2015: Avalanche’s Mad Max Magnum Opus
I'll tell you what; you haven't lived until you've harpooned a War Boy from his car, and flung him across the wastelands at hundreds of miles per hour. You just haven't. It's science. I would know, as I spent the better part of my time with Avalanche Studios' Mad Max testing out that very experiment. It's all in the initial plunge; the one that sticks right in the War Boy's chest. You nail that shot, and you can feel the life force exiting the body almost as fast as it flings past Max's car.
It's been quite a year for the Mad Max franchise, which is especially interesting given it's a license that's been virtually dormant since 1985. Mad Max: Fury Road, while not bashing down box office records, has been a critical darling that's garnered a major cult following, and put the post-apocalyptic series back on the map just in time for Avalanche Studios to deliver an open-world action game set in the same desperate universe. Though Avalanche's Mad Max has little to do with Fury Road beyond the titular star and sandy, hopeless Australian wastelands, it's one of the only other licensed properties in any form arriving while the irons are still relatively hot. And no, we don't mean the ones holding Immortan Joe's breeders captive.
The E3 demo focused primarily on Max's car, the Magnum Opus. In Mad Max, you'll be able to customize the car to your personal style, using both crafting skills and by picking up rare and lootable items in the game world. In what limited capacity the customization was available in the demo, I was able to put stronger defenses on the exterior while also getting some more wastes-appropriate tires added. A game without a crafting/customization option these days is almost unheard of, and Mad Max doesn't appear to be doing anything crazy or new in that aspect. It's a nice touch, and I'm sure there are going to be plenty of online guides to building the best Magnum Opus possible. It doesn't matter how deep or innovative the car building is if the car driving isn't fun. You know, on account of Mad Max relying so heavily on car combat and exploration.
Don't worry; the driving is fun, frantic and action-packed. Obviously the demo was built around showing off some great car instances, so I had no trouble finding trouble once I hit the road. I mean, technically there are no roads, but you know I mean. The object of desire in the demo was a caravan traveling around with some goods Max needed. In the wastes, want and need are the same thing because survival of the fittest and all that jazz. Before you can attack the caravan however, you've got to track it down. In Mad Max's wasteland, you can drive all over, and encounter different bandit groups wherever you may roam. When hunting a specific group, at least in this demo, you'll get a target approximation on the map for the area the caravan might be seen. Once you head there, it's up to you to find the motorcade by the following the trail of dust clouds.
It's pretty awesome just sitting in the Magnum Opus and taking in all the wide-open emptiness surrounding you. There's a lot of ground to cover in Mad Max, and the horizon is littered with points of interest that likely hold riches (read: gas, water and parts) you'll want to collect. Unfortunately, they also likely hold a lot of guys who want to make you dead. At least that's the feeling I got from the War Boys guarding the convoy's main truck. These guys are out for Max's blood, and while no one is screaming about being shiny or asking to be witnessed (thankfully. Can you imagine more than a dozen hours of that dialogue repeating ad nauseum without getting tired of those quotes?), they still want to put the pointy ends of sticks into your belly and run you off the road.
As I mentioned earlier, you do have a harpoon at your disposal, as well as Max's signature shotgun (from the older films) and some other tricks, too, but it's all about that harpoon. On the back of the Magnum Opus rides your AI buddy, Chumbucket (just go with it), who will man the gun while you aim and call for him to fire it. You'll first need to strip the enemy cars of some armor, or just go straight for the tires if you've got some patience and good aim, but once the drivers become targetable, it's like someone opened a joy center in your brain you didn't know existed. Avalanche could ship this unfinished game out tomorrow, and I'd probably get hours and hours of fun out of just yanking helpless War Boys through their windshields.
Mad Max is not going to be very much like Mad Max: Fury Road. For some, that's a bit of a disappointment, as the film was such a remarkable action adventure with some great characters and themes it's going to be hard to top. Trying to replicate that kind of focused, singular vision into an open world video game is almost impossible. Even to compare it to the original three films would be unfair, as those too are perfectly honed experiences where everything happening has a distinct purpose and intended result. You can't do that in an open world game where almost anything can happen. Like me, if you've just been waiting for a chance to live in that world as Max, and tour the wastelands dispatching your own brand of justice to the vile denizens ruling the sands, Avalanche's game appears ready and willing to deliver.
Mad Max will be available on Sept. 1 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.