Returning to Mad Max, one of the most atmospheric open worlds on PC

At first glance the Great White looks like any other post-apocalyptic wasteland. An expanse of barren desert littered with the remains of the old world. But then you realise that, before the bombs fell, it was once the floor of an ocean. You see the rusted carcasses of boats buried in the sand and ragtag settlements built around containers spilled from cargo ships long ago. 

What used to be a seawall is now an impenetrable fort with an intimidating, fire-spewing gate blocking access to the Dead Barrens beyond. And your faithful mechanic Chumbucket’s temple is a vast, upturned cargo ship. It’s a unique take on the world of Mad Max, and wonderfully evocative.

Eventually you break through the gate and journey into the Dead Barrens, which was once the coastline of that forgotten ocean. Here you find the ruins of small coastal towns and the fallen turbines of a wind farm—a last attempt to avert the oil crisis that triggered the world’s collapse. Head north and you’ll reach the Dunes, an area swallowed up by sand. It’s mostly an empty desert roamed by ruthless bandits, then you see something like the tip of a spire poking out of the dunes, giving you an idea of just how deep it is. There’s a surprising amount of variety in this wasted land. 

As you drive from the Great White through the Dead Barrens and up to the Dunes, a picture forms in your mind of what this landscape would have looked like before the world went to shit. There’s a consistency to its design that isn’t obvious, but emerges the longer you spend there. It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into the map’s structure. The developers have thought about where things should be relative to one another, rather than just stuffing it full of cool imagery.

It’s one of the prettiest, most atmospheric open worlds on PC, and is confident enough to make its own mark on established Mad Max lore. There are some references for series fans, like the remains of a war rig in a collapsed tunnel and a battle in a thunderdome, but otherwise it’s a new world. And I like how vague it is about where it’s set. The right-hand drive cars and Aussie accents suggest we’re in Australia. Then you see a sign for Gallup, a city in New Mexico, and clues that this might be somewhere in the former USA. 

But Mad Max has always been inconsistent. The Road Warrior is a legend of the wasteland, and each film is a story about him told around a campfire with exaggerations and embellishments. A trend the game continues, suggesting developer Avalanche understand the movies beyond its visuals. And that’s why it’s such a success. It captures the tone, the haunting landscapes, and mythical aspect of the character perfectly. This makes it feel like a legitimate part of the Mad Max world, and not just a spinoff made to coincide with the Fury Road.