A wise man once said, “Hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”
That man is “Mad” Max Rockatansky, and he’s got a point. Before Mad Max: Fury Road rocked theaters earlier this year, nobody knew what to expect. Director George Miller is 70 years old. He hasn’t made an action movie since Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome 1985. Sure, everyone hoped that the movie would be good, but that didn’t seem like a good idea. It would be so easy for fans to end up disappointed.
They weren’t. Mad Max: Fury Road ended up being one of the greatest action movies ever made. While the upcoming video game spin-off, Mad Max, isn’t quite as good, it seems like it could be similar: something that’s surprisingly better than it should be, and something that hopefully takes the world by storm.
Technically, Mad Max isn’t a spin-off. The game is set in the same world as the feature films, but the story is brand new. Avalanche Studios’ E3 demo didn’t delve too much into the plot, but Fury Road’s influence is clear from the beginning. Like Fury Road, Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic desertscape is crawling with savage, pale-skinned soldiers called War Boys. Like in the movie, Max’s iconic car, the Pursuit Special, is missing. And like in all four feature films, the second that Max hits the road, chaos ensues.
Warner Bros.’ E3 demo let players choose between two scenarios: one that focused on Max’s physical abilities, and one that focused on vehicular combat. Since this is Mad Max, Game Rant’s editors chose the latter. That was the right choice; the game’s fine when Max is on foot, but really shines when he’s behind the wheel.
The “Magnum Opus” quest is named after Max’s in-game car, a fully customizable war machine that’s outfitted with all kinds of nasty weapons. The Magnum Opus’ main attack is a basic ram, which hurts enemy vehicles and can knock them into rocks or off cliffs for added damage. There’s more than that, though. While driving, Max’s War Boy ally Chumbucket can fire rockets at opposing cars. Fire shoots from jets underneath the car’s chassis. The car’s best weapon is a Just Cause-like tow cable, which attaches to objects like cars, armored gates, or stray War Boys and drags them around the battlefield.
There’s a video making the rounds that mashes up Mario Kart and Fury Road, and honestly, that’s kind of what Mad Max’s car combat feels like. With all of the ways to disable enemy vehicles, fights often devolve into glorious, destructive madness – and yet the action’s never hard to follow. The Magnum Opus handles about as well as a post-apocalyptic junk heap should, but once the controls click, it’s not a problem at all. Ramming and disabling enemy cars is easy; the vehicles all feel like they’ve got real weight behind them, and the screechy, crunching sound effects really sell the idea that these are rickety death machines on wheels.
Hand-to-hand combat isn’t quite as interesting. It’s basically Arkham or Shadow of Mordor with guns; parry when prompted, alternate between light and heavy attacks for combos, and punctuate with a well-timed shotgun blast. It works and it’s fine, but it’s not the highlight.
Structurally, the game feels a lot like Shadow of Mordor, too. The demo’s main mission, in which Max disables and loots one of Lord Scrotus’ convoys, only takes about ten minutes to finish; from there, players are welcome to explore Mad Max’s open world. The desert is divided into territories, and each one is headed by a Warlord. Max travels the world, weakening these rulers by raiding their camps and convoys, and tearing down their totems. Max can also attack the warlords’ strongholds themselves; these are combat-heavy encounters, and going in without preparing is an easy way to die. Trust us. We tried it.
There are also story missions and lots of extra loot to find. The Magnum Opus is fully customizable, and almost every combat encounter leaves behind car parts that Max can use to pimp his ride. Some of these upgrades are practical, like better engines or tires, and some – like hood ornaments – are completely aesthetic. Either way, players should tweak the Magnum Opus as much as they like; Avalanche wants players to grow attached to their cars, just like Max himself.
The hallmark of a truly great open world game is how much fun the world itself is to explore. Thanks to the Magnum Opus, Mad Max’s wasteland is a blast. It was too easy to spend the twenty minute demo just cruising around, tormenting War Boys and causing general mayhem. Of the thirty or so people in our demo session, only three finished the mission objectives. For some, the combat was too hard; others were simply having too much fun to bother.
There’s a risk that Mad Max will fly under the radar; it comes out the same day as Metal Gear Solid 5, and it’s not the only post-apocalyptic open world title coming out this fall, either (see: Fallout 4). That’d be a shame. If the E3 demo is anything to go by, this could be one of the rare (although increasingly common) licensed titles that does its inspiration right. To Valhalla, indeed.
Mad Max races into stores on September 1, 2015. It’s headed to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.