Saturday, 7 March 2015

Mad Max: Blood & Gasoline

Mad Max

Mad Max is a broken man. Over the course of George Miller’s film trilogy, tragedy forged Max into a hard, but hollow shell. In many ways, his detachment from the increasing chaos around him made him into the legendary survivor that audiences know. He’s an opportunistic user, and if his actions benefit anyone else it’s purely a collateral effect.

“The insides of Max are a wasteland, and he’s living in a wasteland,” says Odd Ahlgren, the game’s director of narrative design. “It’s like a mirror image of himself. It’s the complete demise of everything that he knew. And now it’s turned into this completely chaotic, super-violent, desperate world – and that’s what’s going on inside of him as well. It’s a constant struggle.”

Between Avalanche Studios’ open-world game and Miller’s upcoming film Mad Max: Fury Road, the franchise is undergoing a revival. As we learned during a two-day visit in Avalanche’s Stockholm, Sweden, office – which included hours of hands-on time – that doesn’t mean that he’s going soft. The game provides its own take on the character and the Wasteland. It’s respectful to the franchise that fans love, while leaving plenty of room for the Just Cause studio to do what it does best: create open-world mayhem.


Keeping with tradition, the game opens as Max’s life takes a turn for the even worse. He’s on foot in the Great White, which initially seems like a vast expanse of blinding nothingness. Someone has taken his beloved Interceptor, the V8-powered, black car he famously drove in Mad Max and The Road Warrior, and he’s been left for dead. Along the way, he’s found a companion, an Australian cattle dog like the one seen in the second film.

“Max has some degree of trust with this dog – it has a nose and it has the ability to find things, maybe even find water,” says game director Frank Rooke. “He’s done Max good, even if they’ve only known each other for maybe a day at the most.”

The dog wanders off, and Max hears its helpless yelps. Following its cries, Max sees that its foot is caught in a bear trap. It’s good for the dog that Max came when he did. An odd, hunchbacked man who set the trap is preparing to eat the helpless pup. Considering what we’ve seen that passes for food in the Mad Max universe, it’s understandable why dog meat sounds delicious. Max firmly insists the man should reconsider, and the pair begins talking.

Max learns that the would-be dog eater is named Chumbucket, and he’s a blackfinger – a skilled mechanic with an unnatural understanding of engines. Chum takes his fondness of cars to an extreme level, worshipping them with religious fervor. He sees Max not as a pathetic desert wanderer, but as an angel sent by the god Combustion who can help Chum realize his ultimate goal of creating his masterwork, the Magnum Opus. Max sees an opportunity to get what he wants: a car fast enough to get out of this hell and into the Plains of Silence, a place Max thinks can deliver the peace he’s after.

Their relationship is essentially transactional, even though Chum becomes a constant presence for Max. “He doesn’t want Chumbucket around, he only uses him,” Ahlgren says. “He never becomes friends with Chumbucket. Down the line, we meet other characters that he is more or less forced to become emotionally tied to, and of course that doesn’t turn out good, because he’s like an Ouroboros – one of those snakes that keeps biting its own tail. It’s just a neverending story of not wanting to have any human relation and not daring to, and then having a human relation and then everybody dies and he has to go kill somebody and it just starts over again.”

Through the rest of the game’s opening, Max manages to piss off some Wastelanders who take offense at Max blowing up their outpost. To be fair, while scouting the place Max had to watch as the road scum dismantled his beloved Interceptor.

Mad Max


Max’s actions have stirred up trouble among a gang of motorized maniacs. They don’t need much provocation to begin with, so his little outpost stunt has unhinged them further. Here, our guided demo begins, which Rooke says begins about 30 percent into the campaign. The gang blows up Chumbucket’s rusty shipturned-garage, and Max gets a nice look at Stankgum as they barely escape the destruction. He’s a knife-licking weirdo who’s a major player in the hierarchy that rules this world. Chum says to follow a few stragglers, and Max does. The pair drives off in a long U shape, which gives players a chance to see the scope of the devastation. The rotted hull of the garage is dotted with flowering explosions punctuated with dull thuds.

Chum clings onto the car’s roll cage in back, leaning during moments of acceleration, rocking as the car bumps over rough patches, and ecstatically pounding on the roof during moments of big air. He’s a handy companion to the player, even if Max isn’t particularly fond of his presence. Max isn’t much of a talker, and Chum serves as a way for Avalanche to get more dialogue in the game. He’s also the closest thing Max has to a GPS, calling out points of interest such as cars approaching from behind, distant camps that can be scavenged, and landmarks – all in his Igor-like voice.

Without a garage, Chumbucket’s plans are on indefinite hold – unless, of course, he can forge an uneasy peace with the leader of a nearby stronghold. “The only thing that you can trade with someone – there’s no monetary system at all – is with your skills,” Ahlgren says. “Chumbucket has survived because of his godlike skills with engines. Everything in this world is driven by engines, so people will need him every now and then, so they don’t kill him. He has built a little bit of a reputation for himself, even though he’s a bit of a bizarre hermit at the beginning of this game, people know of him and he’s done a little bit of work for everyone in the past.”

The closest stronghold can be seen in the distance – the fortified remains of a lighthouse. Chumbucket is helpful at calling out the occasional location in the distance, but his misaligned eyes can only see so much. Pulling up the map provides few clues; just a large landmass with what appears to be a few key locations sketched on them. Max will have to do this manually. He approaches a small hotair balloon, which Avalanche calls a vantage outpost, hops into the basket, and yanks on a cord to ascend. From there, players can swap to his binoculars to scout points of interest. Hovering over white dots superimposed on the landscape reveals what they are and puts them on the map, similar to State of Decay’s tower system. In addition to spying stationary items like totemic scarecrows and scavenging locations, we see patrol cars roaming far in the distance, blurred by the shimmering heat from the unrelenting sun.

Before climbing back in his car, Max pauses to scour the area for resources. He finds a bit of scrap, as well as a jerry can filled with gas – both of which are valuable items to have in the Wasteland. Max’s car is adequately fueled, so he puts the gas in the back cage for safe keeping. It can be used later to top off his tank or as an improvised explosive.

Driving closer to the lighthouse, we see one of the scarecrows. These have been placed throughout the Wasteland’s various regions as a way of terrorizing the locals and showing the power of Gasland’s ruler, Scrotus Scabrous. Removing these structures helps diminish his influence, and that’s exactly what Max does. With the press of a button, time slows and players can aim Chum’s harpoon at a target. The effect is generous, giving players plenty of time to dial in their shots. Once it’s ready, another button press fires off the projectile and time returns to normal. Max’s car remains in motion, and it’s a smooth transition as the harpoon hits its target and pulls it down. A cooldown period begins as Chumbucket reels his weapon back in, but they’ve moved past the target by then. Looking back, we see a few icons that indicate scrap pickups, but we’re trying to keep a schedule. We have warlords to meet, after all.

George Miller's Involvement

Mad Max isn’t affiliated with the upcoming Mad Max: Fury Road, but series creator George Miller worked with Avalanche to ensure that it was as authentic to the franchise as possible. They definitely had leeway with their version of Max himself, though they’re working within Miller’s parameters. For instance, take solace that Aussie actor Bren Foster has taken the role of Max in the game.

“George Miller was very involved in the game,” says Peter Wyse, senior vice president of production and development at Warner Bros. Interactive. “The Wasteland is based on the rules that George Miller laid out for us over the course of lots of time working together. Also, the characters from the main story were created by George and the crew at KMM [the production company Kennedy Miller Mitchell]. This included Corey [Barlog], who was very involved in the creation of the story and working with Avalanche early on to get them steeped in the ways of the Wasteland.

“At a certain point in development, with our story and main characters solidified, and the rules of the Wasteland baked into our DNA, we wanted to let Avalanche really focus on bringing the open world to life in all the crazy, emergent ways that Avalanche does that. This was the same time that George was filming the movie. From that point, George did not stay involved with us day-to-day, but we keep him and KMM aware of what’s going on with the game.”

Miller kept the source of humanity’s downfall fairly vague in the original films, referencing in The Road Warrior two warring tribes and hints at a nuclear war. Avalanche took a subtly different approach in creating its timeline and version of the apocalypse.

Mad Max


We continue our trek toward the stronghold, and eventually we reach it. It doesn’t appear that its inhabitants are particularly excited to see us. They draw crossbows (firearms remain scarce), and Chumbucket makes his case for them lowering the drawbridge and giving us access. The leader, Jeet, doesn’t seem interested in Chum’s credentials; he’s more keen on learning if Max has any medical training. After a few tense moments, we roll into the base.

To call it a stronghold is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s barely populated, and many of the people within its crumbling walls are sick. Meeting Jeet, it’s clear why he’s so desperate for someone with medical training.

“Jeet and his tribe are very tweaked out,” Ahlgren says. “We don’t say it straight out that they’re tweakers, but they have this very tweaky mentality. He suffers from these extreme head pains, and he has learned that he can control them by causing himself pain in other parts of his body.” He gets intense headaches, but he eases the pain by twisting shards of metal embedded in his body.

After learning that Max is heading to the Silent Plains, Jeet tosses a wet blanket on the plan. Max needs to go through Gasland, and you don’t simply stroll into Gasland. Max first must do some recon, and Chum says he can build a sniper rifle to help. The trigger mechanism and a few chunks of scrap are fortunately within a quick run through the lighthouse. Chum builds the gun – which he calls the longshot – with typical enthusiasm. Like the harpoon, the longshot is part of the car; Max doesn’t crawl on his belly and dial in shots. As fans know, he’s most comfortable when he’s at the wheel or close to his vehicle.

Max fires off a few shots at some nearby barrels to dial in the weapon, and then they’re off. Players can enter the sniper mode by selecting the weapon using the d-pad and then pressing a button. Chum doesn’t use this one; instead, Max swaps places with Chum and fires from the back of the vehicle.

We head to Dead Barren’s Pass, which is the center of Scrotus’ power, as well as what passes for civilization in this place. You can’t miss this massive oil refinery off to the north. Its constantly smoking stacks are a dead giveaway during the day, and at night its fires provide a beacon. The refinery converts crude oil to gas, providing a steady source of fuel to Scrotus’ faction, the War Boys. “We want resources to be scarce but we also want a car game, we want to drive a lot and so on,” says senior game designer Emil Kraftling. “So gas can’t be super scarce, because otherwise it would be a walking game instead of a driving game.”

Like many in the Wasteland, the War Boys have little to lose. “Most of the War Boys are suffering already from different types of cancer, and they’re more or less dying,” Ahlgren says. “They’re between 15 and 20 years old. They know that they’re not going to make it to 30 – and it’s not just violence that’s going to take them.”

Sticking to the road, Chum points out that the barely defined stretch of asphalt is a trade route for Scrotus’ oil convoys. The path is then highlighted with a red-and-white striped pattern on the minimap to denote its importance. Max will want to return to these places later. For now, he moves away from Gasland and creeps toward an enemy outpost.

Max pulls out his longshot and pulls off a clean shot on a sniper. Moments after firing the weapon, he’s rear-ended by a truck. He slides back into the driver’s seat, and races forward. Chum latches a harpoon into the bumper of one fleeing vehicle, and Max hits the nitro to perform a special smashing maneuver. He closes the distance almost instantly and drives through the wreckage in a crash that would have been right at home in the first movie. A raider jumps from a car onto the Magnum Opus’ roof, spear in hand. Before he can plunge his weapon into the windshield, Max shakes from side to side, knocking the interloper off. A shotgun blast to the fuel tank of the third vehicle removes it from the equation in an impressive blast.

Even though he came out victorious, Max’s car is in dire shape. Flames are licking the side of the supercharger, and its body looks battered. Coming to a stop, Max tells Chumbucket to fix it. He scampers onto the hood, fire extinguisher in hand. After knocking the flames down, he slowly refills the car’s health meter by banging on various parts, using a socket wrench, and perhaps even performing a little blackfinger magic. As the story progresses, Chum will become better at his job. Acquiring goggles, a headlamp, and additional tools make him an even more efficient mechanic.

The Wasteland

Avalanche wouldn’t say how big the in-game Wasteland is compared to the studios’ other games like Just Cause 2. During my hands-on time, going from stronghold to stronghold took a considerable amount of time – it wasn’t like a quick trip to the supermarket.

Game director Frank Rooke also pointed out that the borders of the map are soft. You’re free to head beyond the defined territories into an area called the Big Nothing. The name is a bit misleading, because it’s filled with massive sandstorms that fling debris and occasionally some rare auto parts toward Max and his car. You can try dodging it, but ultimately there’s no food or water to sustain you. Rooke says there are special items you can harpoon, but it’s extremely dangerous to try.

My colleague Tim Turi decided to brave the zone; and he lasted about eight seconds before he was fatally struck by lightning.

Mad Max


The car battle has attracted more War Boys, and Max wisely chooses to retreat. Max is mad, but he’s not suicidal. He’s not getting away clean, however. Another truck approaches, filled with four boarders. Max gets out of the car and prepares for hand-to-hand combat. Meanwhile, Chum happily continues his work. The combat is based on rhythmic button presses, countering attacks, and rolling away from smashing attacks. It’s similar to what you might see in Rocksteady’s Arkham series, if Batman wasn’t averse to stabbing faces. Max punches, kicks, and uses his shiv until the enemy taunts and vehicle noises go silent, replaced by the ratcheting of Chum’s wrench.

Chum has one more trick in his arsenal: The Thunderpoon. The weapon is as powerful as it is silly to pronounce. “The Thunderpoon is an offshoot of the harpoon,” Rooke says. “You’ve attached an explosive cap to the harpoon spear. That’s the ammo that you’re collecting when you fire it. You put this thing on it and use it like a rocket launcher.”

Getting close to the outpost, Max yanks the front gate open with the harpoon and roars inside. His mission is to destroy two oil pumps. A war crier hangs from a sling above the camp – reminiscent of the mechanic from The Road Warrior. If he isn’t eliminated early in the battle, he provides a rallying bonus to fighters. There are plenty of them already, they don’t need any help. Even though Max only has four shotgun shells at this point, it’s worth the ammo.

After clearing a few open areas, Max finds a fuel can, lights it, and places it near a door. The improvised explosive blows it open and he continues. He does the same to the oil pumps, which fill the area with gorgeous explosions that temporarily highlight the immediate vicinity. Max returns to the Magnum Opus and heads back out. Scrotus’ influence is reduced, and wastelanders can move into this area as a place of refuge.

Max pauses to eat some Dinki-Di dog food and fill his canteen from a spigot. Food instantly refills his health bar, while the water in a canteen is a portable way to replenish it. “Also, if you look around you’ll see birds circling around,” Rooke says. “That cues the player that there’s a body that’s decomposing. Maggots are a primary source of protein in this world. It’s kind of gross, but it’s something for the player to use as food. There are also rodents and things for the player to eat.”

A War Boy grabs Max from behind, but Max breaks free and in one fluid gesture stabs him in the top of his skull. This isn’t the Max we’ve seen in the movies, which is what Avalanche is aiming for. “We’re not hung onto this past that we’ve seen in the movies,” Rooke says. “We’re kind of redefining exactly what Mad Max is, though at the core, the heart of Max and George Miller’s vision is definitely there. But we’ve reset a bit. The Max that we’re dealing with is very flawed, but he’s also had a lot of military training. He’s a trained warrior, a trained fighter, and a trained survivor.”

We now skip ahead in the campaign to the point where Max heads to Gastown. He’s forced to dodge blasts of fire as defenders try to take his vehicle out. He’ll need it if he hopes to complete his next task: winning the race that will finally give him the Big Chief V8. Max talks to a guy covered in Christmas lights, trailed by a lackey carrying a generator. The man calls Max “Lighty boy,” in reference to the lights that Max tracked down for him. Rooke says at this point in the game, about 50 percent in, Max has worked with this flamboyantly lit announcer to earn the right to participate in the race.

The stakes are significant: Stankgum is the beloved race champion. Before he has time to react, Max is handcuffed to the Magnum Opus, as some of Gastown’s finest slam an explosive device with an oven-timer mechanism into Chum’s usual spot. Would we expect anything less? Even something as simple as a race has dramatic consequences in the Wasteland.


Frank Rooke is a great road companion, but I am thirsty to do some exploration on my own. For several unguided hours, it is just me against this inhospitable world. It reminds me of the moment where Max was strapped to a spooked horse in Beyond Thunderdome, only I’m not in any danger of dying from exposure or running into a bunch of boring kids.

Once I get a sense of the controls, I immediately do what any sane person would do behind the wheel of a car in a vast wasteland: doughnuts. I slam the wheel to the right and press hard on the gas (or trigger button). Sure enough, the car whips around in a tight circle, leaving an impressive cloud of dust and carving out a circular rut in the sand. After that, I let the Magnum Opus go forward and slam on the nitrous. I recently rewatched The Road Warrior for the umpteenth time, and the boost’s signature whine is dead on. The car’s back end waggles a bit until the tires have enough traction to ride arrow straight. It isn’t annoying; it is just one more thing that sells the impression that I am in control of a savage road beast.

The Great White isn’t a boring salt flat, which makes my first driving session memorable. The terrain is littered with sand and pebbles, and there are plenty of berms to launch off. It’s only a matter of time before an enemy takes notice of my idiocy. In this case, it’s a Roadkill driver at the wheel of a VW Bug clone. I chase after it, edging closer and closer. Suddenly, it slams on the brakes and does a beautiful 180-degree turn. I would applaud him, but I am too busy falling off the previously unseen edge of a cliff like a postapocalyptic Wile E. Coyote.

Fortunately, the penalty for dying is minimal. I restart at the nearest outpost, which isn’t far from my freefall. Rooke says that the save system is quite generous. Even if you die immediately after picking up a chunk of scrap or other collectable object, you won’t lose that item. You may have to drive a bit to get exactly where you were, but I am having such a great time tooling around like a maniac that I don’t see that as too troublesome. Those vantage outposts serve as fast-travel points in the world in the event that you want to speed things up a bit.

As it turns out, I’m not far from one. Even though Gasland is within sight, fuel is just scarce enough to make it important. Hopping into the balloon’s basket, I see that it has its own gas gauge. Scanning the horizon, the smears and distortion effects on Max’s binocular lenses is a nice reminder that wiping things down with a rag is as close to clean as this world gets. Even though scouting from a vantage point is similar across the Wasteland, many of them have a twist to keep it interesting. This balloon is completely out of fuel, so I have to track down a jerry can to fill up its tank. Another seems normal until I try going skyward; it is tethered down by a series of cables. A few strategically placed shots from the Magnum Opus’ harpoon solves that problem. The same philosophy of mixing it up extends to strongholds, enemy camps, and other challenges.

Your Own Magnum Opus

During my hands-on time with the game, I was given access to a fairly comprehensive suite of vehicle options. Everything was stock when I started (except for the high-level harpoon), but I wanted to explore what the Magnum Opus was capable of. You can access the garage at any point by popping into a menu, and start tinkering. Game director Frank Rooke says they originally wanted players to visit garages and strongholds to do so, but gameplay ultimately prevailed.

The car is filled with customization possibilities, including different types of tires, engines, armor, ramming grills, defensive spikes, exhaust systems, and more, each with its own upgrade path. I use the scrap that I’ve been collecting to upgrade the engine. That’s the obvious choice after all, right? The car does indeed go faster, but the rest of the car can’t quite keep up. It is a squirrelly ride, which could be an instant death sentence in combat. I go back in, this time paying closer attention to the stat bars to the side of the screen, that provide an at-a-glance idea of your top speed, acceleration, armor, traction, and other valuable information. Yes, the engine is faster, but it comes at the cost of handling. From that point on, I realize that higherlevel upgrades aren’t an automatic path to success. Rooke says that’s by design.

“We didn’t want it to be this sort of, ‘This equates to this exactly,’” he says. “Because you start to lose that tinkering aspect, the thing of kind of dialing it in. For players who are not or don’t want to be super in tune with that aspect of the car, don’t think that it’s going to be the end of the world. You’ve got goals, like, ‘I want to do more damage, and then I put a bigger grill on my car.’ ‘I want my car to go faster, so I’m going to put a bigger engine in.’ There are those high-level things that they can grasp. If you want to get deeper into the feel of the car and really feel like it’s your own car and how it handles and that sort of stuff, you can start tinkering with the balance [of parts]. But in fun ways; we’re not trying to be a sim or anything like that.”

Mad Max


I head to a scavenging outpost, which is one of the nine points that my trip to the vantage outpost uncovered. Players who investigate these spots have a good shot at finding ammo, food, and other less common items. This one is filled with enemies – including one who calls me “Raggedy man.” I didn’t like that nickname when Auntie gave it to Max in Beyond Thunderdome, and I definitely don’t like it now. Infuriated, I impale the goon with a harpoon and drag his limp body behind as I run over his remaining friends.

The longshot looked pretty cool during the hands-off demo, but I don’t use it much. Instead, I find myself relying – some might say over relying – on the harpoon. When upgraded it allows players to do a variety of devious things, such as yanking off enemy tires (effectively taking the crippled car out of play), pulling people from the driver’s seat, or simply impaling anyone on foot. One of the highlights comes when I am pulling a guy behind me and step on the brakes. He is propelled forward, and smacks into a spike-covered War Boy car. He sticks. Later, I latch onto a car’s tire and his buddy drives between me and the car. The second driver plows into the cable, yanking the other car’s tire free. Thanks, I guess. Chumbucket is a great asset during battle, as he calls out enemy weaknesses and warns of unseen attackers.

This contrast of crazed drivers versus mankind’s inherent vulnerability is something that fascinates Rooke. “There’s the rusty metal of the car, and then there’s this fleshy person inside,” he says.” Those are the two elements of these battles. We wanted that feeling of these two things playing together that do not belong together when things are smashing and crashing into each other.”

Harpooning bloodthirsty maniacs is its own reward, but there’s an added perk: Players can drive any enemy car that they come across, provided it hasn’t yet exploded. Chum won’t come with you (the Magnum Opus is like his child, and you can’t leave those unattended), and you don’t have access to the harpoon or longshot, but it’s a good way to appreciate how good you have it. I hop into an unassuming sedan, and decide to go for a drive.

Sure, the engine sounds like a flute, and it drives like crap, but it steers and moves. I spy a mysterious figure far off in the distance. Getting closer, I can see that it is a statue of a robed figure, with outstretched arms and no head. I circle around it to get a better look, and inadvertently stir up a hornet’s nest – an entrenched, flamethrowing, sniper-protected hornet’s nest. Turning tail, someone targets my tire and I find myself trying to escape on three wheels and a rim. That kind of embarrassment doesn’t happen in the Magnum Opus.

“It’s great seeing a tire pop on an enemy vehicle when you’re causing it, or a sniper could potentially miss your car and hit their car, so it’s cool seeing their tire pop for no reason,” Rooke says. “But having [the Magnum Opus] start breaking down and limping along in the middle of a fight, where a bunch of other cars are ramming into you is just not equating to fun. Your car takes damage, but more in a natural way.”

Limping away, I see exactly where he’s coming from. I hop out of the wreck-to-be, fire my flare into the air, and Chum delivers the Magnum Opus right to me. I pause long enough to smash into the sedan a few times before heading on to some more structured action. It’s time to meet Gutgash.

The Benefits Of Scrapping Last-Gen

Mad Max was originally announced for current- and last-gen systems. During its production, however, Avalanche made the decision to leave the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions by the wayside. That choice has given the team freedom to expand upon ideas that were originally in place.

Design director Magnus Nedfors says that current consoles offer more than just nicer-looking visuals. Gameplay and environmental effects are closely linked in Mad Max, as players quickly discover. Enemy convoys can be seen from far away by the massive dust clouds they generate on what remains of the roads – a much better option than merely placing an icon on the minimap.

“The level of fidelity we’ve been able to achieve not just with the cinematics – which I’m really proud of – the whole world is singing visually,” says lead lighting artist Carl Ross. “It feels like we’re not just going for that higher-res sort of thing, but the way we’re thinking about it is the way that everything’s connected in the world, and that’s kind of a [current-gen] way of thinking as well. Not just making everything look higher-res, but how is everything linked together in the world.”

Game director Frank Rooke offers a practical example: “You’re traveling out in your vehicle and the dust travels off that way, and you see the flag’s also doing that and then the lantern is also doing that. You may not consciously say, ‘Oh, cool, everything is working in unison,’ but I think it helps you feel that everything is connected and it is working as you would expect it to work, and there’s a nice feeling to it.”

The draw distance is impressive, but that’s not the least of it. According to Ross and studio sound director Magnus Lindberg, the game loads sounds and light sources from two virtual kilometers away from the player. Closer to Max, I appreciated how long the footprints stick around. As someone who is directionally challenged, I used them often to backtrack my way out of outposts and other large, complex structures.

Mad Max


Gutgash, like Jeet, is in command of one of the Wasteland’s strongholds. Apparently, he has a better sense of what’s going on than his tweaked-out counterpart. “He’s an older guy, so he’s probably been around since the world fell,” Odd Ahlgren says. “Most of the people in his camp are younger. He’s realized that in order to give people hope, they have to cling to something. He’s started to tell them that the water will someday come back. It first withdrew in disgust from the world, and one day when we’re worthy it will come back.”

Sure enough, Gutgash and his small group of followers are living in the broken remains of a ship. Gutgash is a bald man with a crutch and a massive beard. He’s gruff at first, but it’s clear that he’s doing his best to keep his friends/followers alive as long as possible. It’s going to be tough, considering the state of his stronghold.

It’s largely barren, but there are ghostly indicators that hint at its potential. Possible upgrades are available, including water storage for unlimited canteen refills, a scrap crew to generate scrap even when the game is off, an armory for refilling ammo, and a survey crew to mark scavenging locations in the territory on Max’s map.

Something else stands out as being particularly disgusting, even in this hellhole. “The thing about maggots – and this is just getting underneath the hood of our world – there are maggot farms, and they actually have people lose a limb and then they farm the maggots,” Rooke says. “That’s just a way that they grow the food. If you notice, there’s no green, so there’s no vegetation. There’s absolutely no vegetation, and very little life. Food is extremely scarce. Water is scarce, too. So we’ve created means of generating food.” It’s probably better not to ask whether the limbs are donated.

Talking to Gutgash, I learn that the day of reckoning is coming soon, and they need to be prepared. He’s convinced his followers that being prepared means armoring up the ship to make it seaworthy. Privately, Gutgash says the armor is to protect his stronghold from an inevitable War Boy attack. He wants Max to find a source of armor, and not just anything will do. He puts a mark on the map where he says Max can find pristine sheets of steel.

On my way out, I take a wrong turn on the exit and see a woman and child in a cage. At first I think it’s some kind of cannibalistic scheme, but then the kid starts coughing and moaning. I know that working with Gutgash will not only pay off for me, but it will improve the overall quality of life for everyone who lives here. Max doesn’t care.

I head to the position, which is a series of tunnels northeast of Gutgash’s ship. During the drive, I gain a better appreciation for how much visual variety the artists have put into the game. Based on the initial trailer and assumptions about the franchise, I expected to tool around in a vast, featureless desert. There’s much more going on in the Wasteland.


Car-combat games have a long tradition of multiplayer, but Avalanche isn’t going down that route. The studio is focused on creating a solid single-player experience. That said, you’re not in total isolation. “We don’t have multiplayer, but we do have Opus Wars,” says game director Frank Rooke. “There’s a great way for players to show off their vehicle, their Magnum Opus, relative to a friend’s vehicle. We want to make sure that whatever car you make, it’s something that you can brag about, because there are so many different ways for you to create your car.” Rooke didn’t provide specifics, but he says Opus Wars is built into the game – so it sounds a bit more ambitious than comparing rides on a website.

Mad Max


Senior producer John Fuller says the game’s concept artist took inspiration from an unlikely source: fantasy art. “He was very keen to get striking colors and breathtaking vistas with dramatic sunsets and skylines and that sort of stuff – dramatic and eye-catching silhouettes for rock formations and cliffs and mantles,” Fuller says. “He has been inspired by fantasy, which wouldn’t necessarily be an automatic source for a Mad Max title, but it was important for us to create a rich, immersive Wasteland that captures your eye all the time.”

The dried-up seabed I’m exploring gave the team a chance to surprise players. In one region, for example, the terrain is filled with weird stone structures that burp sulfurous gas. “We’ve seen all of those interesting locations from underwater volcanic activities – that’s a thing that exists in our world,” Nedfors says. “If you took away the water, how would that look? That’s kind of the thought behind that area. It creates a possibility for us to do something different visually that still is a wasteland.”

Regardless of the visual variety, the Wasteland is a grim place to live. Though the terrain changed as I crossed into new territory, there were always roving packs of road ragers to contend with. If you upgrade your car’s speed, you can outrun them and avoid conflict. That seems like a tactic that misses the entire point, and I go out of my way to leave a wake of smoking metal behind.

I drive the Magnum Opus to the tunnels, which are set into the walls of sea caves with strange coral formations. Exploring the area, I learn they’re the remains of a subway tunnel system. I have to carefully navigate the narrow passageways to avoid explosive traps and obstacles. Ultimately I push a subway car through. It’s not just a car – it’s built out of the shiny steel that Gutgash wants. We’re not alone, as Chumbucket delicately puts it: “Oh no, the crazies are here!” Those crazies are Buzzards, a menacing group of fighters wearing the closest I’ve seen to uniforms – down to their matching gas masks. They aren’t especially great fighters, and I take them down without too much effort.

During my hands-on time, the majority of my adventuring took place behind the wheel. Moments like taking out strongholds required me to hop out and deal with problems on foot, but Max is synonymous with cars. It’s only appropriate that I spent a lot of time driving.

Finally we see actual light at the end of the tunnel, and Max gives the subway car one final push. It plunges down the broken bridge, collapsing on the ground below. I follow, and after a rough landing, get out of the car. Max marks the site with a flare gun, so Gutgash’s buddies know where to scavenge.

The remainder of Gutgash’s mission chain involves finding a sign to keep his followers inspired (it is, quite literally, a metal sign) and finally keeping a group of War Boys from laying siege to the newly reinforced ship. Max doesn’t really care about keeping those people safe, though. Helping them will get the wheels turning on a moneymaking machine, which will churn out a reliable source of scrap and other resources – which will help Max earn that Big Chief V8 and, with any luck, a way out of the Wasteland.