Mad Max was a nice surprise when I saw the reveal trailer pop up at the Sony E3 press conference. As a long term fan of the series, I recognised what it was well in advance of the name being unveiled, but wondered how many others identified with the franchise. It has certainly been out of the limelight for a while and even I was unaware that a remake of the film is on the way, with Tom Hardy in the lead role rather than the now a-bit-too-mad-for-marketing Mel Gibson. Although very suitable for the videogame “treatment”, up until now there has not been a game set in the Mad Max universe. As a result gamers may be less familiar with the series, but it has undoubtedly had an influence on a number of gaming franchises, with a recent and poignant example being ID’s Rage.
• Developer: Avalanche Studios
• Publisher: Warner Brothers Game Studios
• Previewed on: Xbox One
• Also Coming To: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
• Release Date: 2014
I was one of the lucky few to get some hands-on time with the game at E3, as there were four Xbox One’s setup with the game to play behind close doors and this just happened to be the best place to conduct an interview with Avalanche team member, Frank Rooke, Creative Director on Mad Max.
After the interview, I tried my luck and to my very pleasant surprise was told that I was okay to have a quick go and dived in for a taste of the vehicle based combat and a very quick play with the on foot combat too. The amount of the game I got to see was benefited by my quick take down of the target vehicle, seen in the publicly displayed playthrough that was demonstrated on the E3 showfloor. I think this was aided by the vehicle being constructed of a few small red barrels and one larger one – which could only be described as a Big Red Barrel – I felt at home. Which may have explained why I was told that I had taken the truck down and collected the part I needed “faster than anyone else had throughout the three days of the show.” My playthrough was eventually interrupted by Jeff Gertsmann from Giant Bomb, who is a journalist and podcaster I respect and admire. I had already greeted him earlier in the week so the chance to exchange pleasantries as he jumped into my seat was something that I did with a smile on my face – but that was also down to the fun I had with the game and ending my playthrough by exploding a hapless punk with a thunderstick.
Avalanche Studios know how to make a fun open world game, but when questioning the developers of Just Cause, they really don’t have a good answer for why no one has made a Mad Max game before but said; “We are happy that it is finally being done and couldn’t be more thrilled to be the ones doing it.” I asked the burning question, if it was a deliberate move to distance themselves from the likeness of Mel Gibson and the film franchise – Frank responded, that this was “…very intentional. We are striving to make a standalone experience. So, we are not replaying any sort of aspects or recreating the Max that we see in the old films. Nor are we doing the same for the upcoming film starring Tom Hardy. We are looking to make a standalone title, but one that is very much inspired by the Mad Max universe.”
I asked what made this franchise a good fit for Avalanche and what made him a character that they were attracted to – “Well, the open world aspect of it — combining it with the perfect protagonist of Max — and he has this great car. So we have this large environment and this car, so we are going to make the most of using his vehicle.” As mentioned in the E3 show floor presentation, Mad Max’s Interceptor will be an integral part of the story or rather it won’t, as Max has lost his classic Interceptor. “So, we are letting the player build that perfect iconic Wasteland vehicle. With lots of customisation options for the player, not just for the way it looks, but also how it handles, the way it works in combat situations. So it’s a big investment for the player. Really, no two cars will look the same because it is going to be that deep. There are all kinds of body shapes you can use, all kinds of stylization options; the engines, the tyres, the stuff you put on it – it is going to change the way it looks, but a lot of that [affects] what happens when you are using it and so it will derive from what the players want in the game. Not just the way they want it to look, but also how they want it to play.”
I noted that we also saw some brutal, bloody melee combat in the game and asked whether this would be upgradable too: “You can upgrade the car, but you can also upgrade Max. He has abilities and he has a lot of gear that he can use; his shotgun can evolve, various aspects of his gear, knife, etc – all that stuff can increase his ability as a fighter.” We saw the shotgun being used in vehicle and foot based combat and I asked if all the weapons in the game can be used in both circumstances: “Mostly on the shotgun. That is such an iconic element of Max. There is the Wasteland, there is Max and of course his shotgun. maybe you could also say his leathers and all that stuff, but we really wanted to make and exploit the shotgun – so you can use it on ground and you can use it on the car. But not a lot of other weapons can be done like that, but that is not to say that other weapons may not evolve to that as we are not quite finished yet.”
During the presentation we also see Max park his car and jump in the back to use his slightly makeshift sniper rifle: “The player doesn’t carry the sniper gun around with them because it is attached to the car. It is a big hunk-of-chunk of metal. So you don’t walk around with this thing. So, it is part of the strategy. I need to use my car, position it right and then use that Sniper gun.” They have added a number of new items to the universe that were not seen in the films, but still seem in keeping with the Mad Max universe with the aforementioned Thunderstick being one of them. This is basically an explosive tied to a spike that detonates on impact. This low tech brutality seems exactly in keeping with what I would expect from Max and results in a satisfying bloody mess of anyone you make your up close and personal delivery to.
At one point in the presentation we see the world map and how this pulls out into an expansive looking set of territories. I asked just how big this was: “It is big. If you are familiar with Avalanche games then [you are aware that we are known] for large environments – but we are still in this pre-alpha stage and so our world is still in flux based on what we are trying to accomplish with gameplay. Our goal is mainly about making sure the player has a lot of choices, so that our game has density to it. That is the most important thing to us, not necessarily just size for the sake of size.”
I am glad I got the chance to play as the driving shown in the presentation appeared a little floaty – but I am pleased to report that in practice it handles much better than observation alone would indicate. Driving on the road is easier going then elsewhere but traveling over rough terrain works well and seems less likely to cause you to trash your vehicle beyond repair, as was often the case in Just Cause. It also wasn’t clear from the demo as to how the in-car combat would function, but I played through a section where I fended off multiple hostile wasteland gang members attacking from vehicles and took down a number of enemy vehicles.
When repelling boarders to your car, you draw out your iconic shotgun and iconic-ally shoot them in the face — while this happens, control of the vehicle switches to an auto-piloting allowing you to concentrate on aiming. The same happens when targeting a vehicle with either your shotgun or the harpooning weapon that you can use to remove the wheels from vehicles. The auto-pilot only kicks in for the short amount of time necessary to get the job done and appears to work well – as I was busy shooting at the time, I am not sure but this could be handled by your trusty, shallow end of the mutated gene pool sidekick, Chumbucket – who was along for the ride.
Incidentally, I took down the target vehicle as quickly as I did by eliminating the accompanying vehicles with a combination of ramming as well as shooting and then dealt with the lead vehicle by getting up close, shooting the side of the truck thereby exploding its BIG RED BARREL, which resulted in a trail of fire spilling from the rear of the vehicle. I then used the harpoon weapon to remove the right rear wheel of the car which bought it to a sudden and abrupt stop. So sudden that I had to turn my car around and drive back to the wreck to pick up my reward of a rare car part that the mission had tasked me with retrieving.
I got much less time with the on-foot combat, but had just enough time to melee a few people, shoot one with my shotgun and then, after a brief fumble in which I dropped the Thunderstick on the floor, managed to pick it up again and jab it into an enemy who soon disappeared in a cloud of blood. It was perhaps not enough time to draw any definite conclusions, even considering this is just a preview, but it gave me enough of a taste to know I want to be heading out into the Wasteland again as soon as I can.
When further pressed on how many hours of gameplay would be involved in the game, Frank was a bit coy about giving a straight answer given that the game is still in an early stage. He did say that: “Fans of Avalanche games will know roughly what to expect” and when I commented that this translated into an expectation of a forty to fifty hour game experience by the time you had completed main quests and spent time messing around off the beaten path, Frank responded that he was “…confident it would be a competitive time.”
I look forward to the chance to build my own Interceptor and cut the path of my own road warrior’s tale of destruction and revenge as soon as I have the opportunity to do so sometime in 2014, on next-gen, current gen consoles and on the PC.