I detected nary an Australian accent from the characters in the new Mad Max game that made its surprise debut at E3 earlier this week. There will be no Australian voices, one of the game’s creators told me. OK. At least Max’s steering wheel’s on the right. What else have they got here?
The new Mad Max comes from Avalanche Studios, the creators of Just Cause. This is a team that specialises in vast open-world games that are designed to let players let loose. From the 12-minute demo shown of the game in a theatre at E3, it seems that that’s what we’ll be getting. The game is open and appears to be huge. It’s set in a massive desert wasteland. It’s focused on driving and car combat and lots of close-up killing of people in aggressively gruesome ways.
The publicity strategy for this game appears to be to have reporters like me tell you rather than show you what this game’s about. You can’t see the demo I and other attendees saw. You can see three released screenshots, but they don’t really convey what the game looked like.
A huge desert.
And a car. I don’t know what you call it (paging Jalopnik!), but it’s sort of a muscle car with the back punched out to function more like the bed of a pickup truck. The camera hangs back so you can see how much bright, sandy desert there is to drive through. In deeper sand, the tires make ruts and push the sand aside. The sand blows in the air when the car jams a tight turn.
Max drives the car. His mechanic, a guy called Chumbucket, stands in the back with a harpoon gun in his grip. Enemy cars speed on by and start side-swiping and harassing our hero and sidekick.
The car is called the Magnum Opus. You upgrade it throughout the game. That’s one of the selling points. It got blurbed on-screen in the theatre demo: BUILD YOUR OWN ICONIC CAR.
You can upgrade the wheels, the engine, and the frame of the car so you can better ram other cars with it. You can change the handling, the performance, the vehicle weight, and the weaponry.
The game is full of car combat. Max’s car will be smashing into enemy bandits’ cars. It’s all physics, one of the game’s creators told E3 attendees during the demos. There aren’t canned animations, he’d say. There will be consequences to fenders, consequences determined by how one car hits another, by how fast Max’s car is going or could go, by what kind of battering ram he has on there.
From the back of the car, Chumbucket can aim his harpoon gun at enemy cars and fish off out tires (the player controlled this). A bad guy could jump onto Max’s car and Max could take out his shotgun and shoot the guy off (the player controlled this, too). As the Magnum Opus bounces over the dunes, Chumbucket gets rocked around a lot. It’s not easy to stand up in the back of a car, not even in a video game.
In the desert, you can loot and scavenge, grab car parts and go on side quests. You can jump out of your car at any time.
On wheels, Mad Max might well be a more spartan version of iconic car combat series Twisted Metal by way of Just Cause, though so far we’re just talking about a single-player game. Crazy cars vs. crazy cars. No word on multiplayer.
When Max is on foot, that’s when we get what looks like a super-violent character action game. Max may have a shotgun, but it seems to just be used for close kills. He swings a “thunderstick” that electrifies the enemy he stabs in the chest. He punches. He can use a knife. In the demo trailer’s blurbs, the creators promise BRUTAL MELEE FIGHTING. They add: ONLY THE SAVAGE SURVIVE. E3 attendees were shown Max infiltrating a ramshackle enemy base, killing a lot of guards and then, in the interest of time, queue reel of Max badassedly murdering a bunch more. Quick cuts. Slow-mo. Violence porn, as these types of video games do.
There was one unexplained aspect of the demo. In the corner of the screen there was a meter with the words Rest, Eat and Drink. That suggests some sort of survival aspect for the game, but the developers weren’t divulging details.
Forgetting all the all-caps hype blurbs, the real selling points of the game will be the Mad Max setting and Avalanche’s hands on the wheel of this thing. Games do post-apocalypse all the time, but not quite in the brightly dusty and hard-edged way the Mad Max films did. As for Avalanche, the Just Cause games have felt more like platforms or playgrounds than games you sit and play through for some story. They’re about the enablement of virtual world mayhem, of figuring out that, hey, if the physics of the game are going to let me grapple myself from this speeding jeep I’m surfing to that helicopter that’s buzzing by, then I’m going to do that and then glide through the air before catching a boat and zipping onward. These Avalanche people clearly revel in making the physically implausible virtually possible.
My worry for just about any non-gaming series that is turned into a video game is that the need to make things interactive puts game creators down a path to making their gaming version of a thing like Mad Max more violent than the movie or book or whatever else ever was. And in so doing, I worry that they lose the atmosphere. Mad Max was already fiction on the edge, so there’s less risk here and a smart focus on wasteland car combat should prevent the game from just being a close-up murder-fest.
Hopefully, we’ll see more soon. Hopefully, you’ll at least see what I saw soon. The game is set for a 2014 release on Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
This preview is partially based on a live hands-off 12-minute developer playthrough of the game that was shown in a theatre at E3.