The first thing you need to know about the upcoming crazy max game from Warner Bros. Interactive is that it is not directly related to the recent relaunch of George Miller’s movie franchise, Mad Max: Fury Road. While both the movie and game have been mired in lengthy, complicated development and rights battles over the past three decades, their final forms were developed on parallel tracks, without much direct collaboration on the story.
That means you’re unlikely to see Imperator Furiosa, Immortan Joe, or any of the other breakout characters from the critical and commercial darling playing in movie theaters right now. Instead, the game is mainly focused on Max himself, who wants to rebuild his interceptor by searching for spare parts he found in a vast desert landscape. It’s all an attempt to reach a “place of stillness” where he can finally quiet the voices in his head.
“The crazy max The universe is one of those universes that you can keep building on,” Magnus Nedfors, director of design at Avalanche Studios, told Ars. New stories, new characters, new possibilities. Like many great adventures, many stories take place in the worlds and you don’t see the same characters everywhere.”
Nedfors said the Avalanche team was inspired to take that universe and put together a game in the style of Just cause. That doesn’t necessarily mean riding planes or shooting guys while they’re floating on a parachute, but it does mean the same kind of freewheel, go anywhere that allows players to choose their next move. “The Avalanche way of making games, we like building open world games, free roaming, letting the player loose to have fun in the game world,” said Nedfors. “That’s what the whole studio breathes and loves.”
Indeed, during a recent playable demo that took place during the middle of the game, the open world map was dotted with icons denoting individual side missions: sniper nests to take out, convoys to overtake, abandoned settlements to salvage scrap material, and so on. But even after half an hour or so of gameplay, I was worried that the desert environments would get a little tiring and monotonous.
The game’s art director, Martin Bergquist, tried to allay my fears by saying there’s plenty of visual variety available, even in a low-water world. “When you start digging, [real world] deserts have a lot of variety,” he said. “You start looking around the different areas around the world, you have the sand dunes and the great rocky deserts, and you also have this designed area in our world that is a dry sea floor. We have a nice mix of different areas. They give you different silhouettes, different feelings of materials and colors. I think there are many variations in the word ‘desert’.”
Stay in the car
Exploring that desert crazy max consists of two main parts: driving and running around on foot. The driving sections were much more intriguing during our demo, with high-speed combat that feels like a crisper, more impactful version of Twisted metal. There’s something intensely satisfying about driving your car around slowly, in line with the path of a vehicle traveling roughly parallel, then revving hard and using a turbo boost to launch directly into their sides, sending them into a tailspin.
However, car combat isn’t just about critical hits. A tap of a face button can unleash lateral attacks while running alongside enemy vehicles, and you can launch harpoon grenades from afar, for example. Then there’s the harpoon gun, which lets you attach to nearby cars and accelerate directly at them without having to aim precisely. You can also use the harpoon to rip the wheel off an enemy vehicle while chasing them, sending them into a spin-out and allowing them to overtake you.
All this fighting takes its toll on Max’s car, but the blackfinger mechanic riding alongside Max can fix everything in a jiffy if you just drive away from the combat zone. This is crazy max‘s version of regenerating health, and it takes a bit of the thrill out of knowing that any damage can simply be quickly rectified with a few turns of a virtual key. It’s also a bit strange that Max can just upgrade his car with scrap parts and a menu interface that works at any point in the middle of the desert – no car shop or specialized tools needed. Of course, this game isn’t supposed to be realistic, but these little things took me out of the experience.
Outside the car, the game feels a lot clumsier. Combat seems to come straight out of Rocksteady’s Arkham series, where Max slides between groups of enemies as you tap the punch buttons in time with the blows. However, the animation is a bit choppy and the timing overall feels a bit off. Max also had a few guns at this point in the demo, but since there’s a shortage of ammo, they’ll probably only pop up when the situation is extremely dire.
During the demo, I mostly decided to stay in my car and occasionally take out an attacker on foot by ramming them at full speed or occasionally using the onboard harpoon to grab them and launch them into the air to throw, ragdoll style. The only exception was an enemy fortress, where I was forced to get out of the car and wander through on foot. Here I took out the occasional sack of enemies while looking for six giant fuel tanks to blow up in simple scouting puzzles.
All the while I found myself wishing I was riding around on those open dunes again, weaving through convoys and setting up ramming corners like a pirate sailing on a sea of sand. Hopefully, the final experience will lean heavily towards this gameplay when the game launches on Windows, Linux, PS4, and Xbox One on September 1.