You’re driving along, looking for scrap to build that one cool part you need to really complete your car, and off on the horizon, you spot a rooster-tail of dust, a sure sign of another vehicle. Your most recent meal was a can of dog food, but that’s preferable to the maggots you fished out of a decaying human corpse last week. You check your gas gauge: You’re low, but the car ahead of you might be carrying a full can.
It also might not be. And if it has any kind of armor or back-up, you could just be about to waste the rest of your meager supplies for nothing. But you’re desperate, and any chance to keep moving for one more day is worth the risk, so you set your jaw, fire off your nitro boosters, and charge ahead. This is completely insane, but that’s how things are now. You are a road warrior, a death-bringer, and you know that the only way to survive is to meet that insanity with your engines roaring like the furious gods of The World Before.
What a lovely day.
Not only is Mad Max one of the most underappreciated games of 2015, but it’s also one of the most surprisingly fun titles I’ve played in a while. Its equivalent last year was Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which used its innovative Nemesis System to heighten the emotional stakes by letting players swear and exact revenge on the exact minion of Sauron who killed them.
Mad Max’s signature feature, appropriately enough, is its car-creation system, which provides a handful of options for your vehicle, the Magnum Opus. You can pick your ride’s body, defense, weapons, and engines, and all of these choices combined affect how fast it drives, how well it handles, and how much abuse it can take. You can make exactly the car that fits your play style and even use pre-set configurations to get you started.
But the best car in the world is nothing without somewhere to drive, and Mad Max’s open-world wasteland is another amazing achievement from developer Avalanche Studios. Just as in Just Cause, the company’s chaotic sandbox franchise, you’re basically free to wander around wherever you want to go and find your own adventures. You can attack convoys, scavenge for supplies, and take over outposts, and the design actually encourages taking breaks from the main story to drive around and gather supplies for the battles ahead.
During your travels, you’ll discover amazing and fun ways to destroy your fellow man and his rides. If you just want to disable another car, you can use the classic option of shooting out its tires with a shotgun, but if that isn’t crazy enough, you can fire the Magnum Opus’ on-board harpoon through the other guy’s windshield and just yank him out of his seat. And if you want to drag him around for a while afterward, Avalanche is certainly not going to tell you that you can’t. That’s between you and that dude.
Yes, the Magnum Opus has a harpoon launcher. And later on, you can fire harpoons that explode. This shit is crazy.
The settings are as grim and beautiful as anything in director George Miller’s source films. They include a huge, dried-up seabed, which has you scouring buried ships for supplies; a more traditional highway complete with ruined billboards and ransacked petrol stations; and the oil-fiery hell of Gastown, which lies under a perpetual black cloud from its dominant refinery outpost. My favorite, however, is the huge, partially buried airport that hosts one of Mad Max’s creepiest missions and exciting chase sequences.
While Mad Max came out to coincide (more or less) with this summer’s brilliant Fury Road, it’s not a straight adaptation. It shares the universe, so you’ll go up against a lot of the film’s War Boys, but it’s hard to tell whether this story takes place before or after the movie, especially since the entire series has always been a bit short on continuity. But you’ll be way too busy incinerating other drivers with the Magnum Opus’ massive twin flamethrowers to draft a timeline.
Avalanche has proven itself capable of crafting a sandbox full of infinite fun without including a wingsuit and infinite parachute; Mad Max proves that. It’s about as close as you’d want to get to scavenging through a post-apocalyptic wasteland for food, water, and gas, and its moment-to-moment encounters never cease to entertain.
I should also mention that the villain’s name is Scabrous Scrotus, and if that doesn’t have you dropping Mad Max into your shopping cart of choice right now, I don’t know what else to tell you because that is just straight-up awesome.