Out of the many surprises that E3 provided us with last week, the one that got me excited the most was the long-awaited reveal of the Mad Max video game. Known about for almost four years, the Mad Max game remained elusive when it came to people actually acknowledging its existence let alone giving us some minor details about it.
As a longtime fan of the Mad Max series, I saw the movies when I was a kid (perhaps too young to be honest), I was thrilled to see the trailer debut at Sony’s E3 press conference and know that within the next eight months, give or take sudden delays of course, we’ll have a Mad Max video game on the next-gen consoles.
Now as some of you may know already, I sadly didn’t attend E3 this year so I don’t have the full low-down on the game since it was shown in a behind closed doors presentation at the show. Though from what I was able to gleam from outlets such as Gamespot, it seems like the foundation of what Avalanche is doing with the Mad Max game sounds fun and is in line with the series on the action side of things. Surprisingly things may not be totally perfect with the game, even at this early juncture, due to several notable omissions – the biggest of which pertains to where the game is set and the background of the road warrior that is Max Rockatansky.
According to those in the games press who managed to see the Mad Max demo at E3, one of the big things to take note of pertained to Max’s voice. Now to hardcore fans of the series it may be tough for someone to match the performance of Mel Gibson since he built the character throughout the course of three films and made it his own. Even more, given how we’ve yet to see any footage of the new Mad Max film, Fury Road, which stars Tom Hardy it’s once again difficult to gauge what that performance will be like. Yet performance and acting issues aside, the noteworthy thing about the Mad Max game is that Max isn’t even Australian. Instead, he’s been given the now expected tough-as-nails American accent gamers have come to know too frequently this generation.
It may seem like I’m being a fickle fanboy at this point since I’m getting up in arms over a voice change, one of which I haven’t even heard for myself yet. But besides that element of Max as a character, Avalanche has also opted to change other elements of the series, one of which is that the game isn’t set in Australia anymore. So in a way Avalanche is taking away all, if not the most pertinent, elements that distinguished the Mad Max property from others on the market and in turn they’re turning it into something that may not end up being that memorable.
Again, I’ll admit that it may sound like I’m going into one of those full-on angry internet nerd tirades in which I’m arguing the validity of something such as getting rid of Superman’s outside underwear, a move which I agreed with by the way. But underwear debates are neither here nor there since this is all about the essence of the Mad Max franchise and what it means to stay true to a property.
Speaking of the changes Avalanche is doing for the game, studio Founder Christofer Sundberg said that the team is treating the Mad Max game as an original IP rather than looking at it as a licensed game. Now in some respects that mantra can be looked upon in a positive light since it could mean that a level of creative freedom is being sought after as opposed to getting too bogged down into delivering fan-service – a thing which has brought down other licensed video games. Though by taking away the accent of Max, and in effect the personality and uniqueness of his character, as well as discarding the originality of an Australian wasteland it seems like the approach Avalanche is taking is completely counter-intuitive.
Based on the games we’ve received this generation the prospect of experiencing a post-apocalyptic sandbox/open-world game with an Australian cast and things that are unique to that locale would’ve been something I think gamers would’ve welcomed with open arms. Sure, in the grand scheme of things the setting of the characters may be a minor element compared to how fun the gameplay is, but at this point I think most of us are tired of the gruff tough guy voice that has made characters like Marcus Fenix seem like a parody of themselves due to how banal and simply uninspired it is.
I don’t doubt that Avalanche will deliver a fun gameplay experience in Mad Max since they’ve proven they have a knack for blowing stuff up and creating fun scenarios as seen in the Just Cause series and the slightly underrated Renegade Ops. From what I read of the E3 previews the physics based vehicular combat ought to be a defining element of the game as will the hook weapon. So while the gameplay may be sound in its execution and premise, the rest of the game may feel like a half entity since it’s been assimilated into something it wasn’t originally.
It may be easy for some people to say, “Well how important is the setting in a wasteland action movie/game?” That’s certainly a good question to ask since some experiences can easily allow things to be swapped out without losing the essence of the franchise. In the case of Mad Max the locale was a defining element that was integral to the films since it created a vibe that wasn’t the norm for movie audiences back in the late 1970s/early-to-mid 1980s. Besides the personality the actors gave in their performances, it was the sheer beauty of the landscape of the Mad Max films which provided a feeling that it was something more than just another action flick since we weren’t witness a character driving through yet another urban metropolis we already saw dozens of times before.
While there may have been a slight feeling that the world of Mad Max is not connected to one particular place and is merely meant to represent the world at large, the ending of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome did end with a glimpse of a destroyed Sydney. So yeah, Mad Max and Australia are certainly bound together when it comes to the theatrical lore/universe at large.
The exact reasons as to why Avalanche decided to go with these changes for Mad Max are somewhat befuddling given the fandom that surrounds the property and how important the existing details are to the world. There is the distinct possibility that Avalanche may have been familiar with the Mad Max films growing up yet they were dubbed in Swedish given how the studio is based in Sweden. Therefore instead of hearing the voice of Mel Gibson and the Aussie accents found in the rest of the cast, they were greeted with voices and accents that were more familiar to them.
Now such a thing may ring true for Mad Max fans across the world in places such as South America and Asia, and in a way it isn’t that big of a deal in the video game industry for games to be localized for their specific markets, such as Kratos getting a German accent in the form of a new voice actor. But at the end of the day the defining factors of the Mad Max series has always been the voice/portrayal of Max and the setting of Australia.
By discarding the key elements of Max as a character and the world he lives in I’m honestly worried about how Avalanche is approaching the world of the series and what their interpretation will be. Will the game simply have a more tame style that won’t consist of enemies wearing leather chaps or having weird tribal looking masks hanging above their heads? Could it be possible that Avalanche is simply going for a style not too far removed from Borderlands, minus the aliens and cartoon style visuals? It’s obviously too early to tell, or fully know, what Avalanche is doing with their interpretation of Mad Max, but at this point it’s obvious that they’re not sticking with the traditional approach that people love.
All together the changes made in the Mad Max game are certainly disappointing as it reeks of the stuff done to appease consumers, or more particularly a larger consumer base that vaguely recollects the Mad Max franchise. By no means am I asking for Avalanche to load the game with dozens of Easter eggs or be authentic to the core by hiring some of the actors from the movies such as Bruce Spence, though Americanizing the game in a sense and getting rid of its core in favor of one that has a homogenous appearance is disconcerting to say the least.
I’m not going to picket the Mad Max game nor will I try to rally others to do such a thing as its instead a simple case of disappointment over what’s being done to a series that managed to become successful because it was so different from everything else. Now with these changes in place there’s really not much to set Mad Max apart aside from a few potential back-of-the box USPs and the nostalgia from longtime fans of the series.
With a thing as simple as the voice of a character, and in some ways the tone of the game at hand, perhaps Avalanche will listen to the very focal fanbase and give us the Mad Max that we deserve and not a slight bastardization that ruins any chance of us having the ultimate road warrior experience.