The much ballyhooed 2015 Mad Max video game, a sorta-but-not-really movie tie in for Mad Max: Fury Road, by (not so) famed developer Avalanche Studios, makers of Just Cause 2, is utterly and totally ripped off from Id Software’s disappointing 2011 game Rage.
Before you get all persnickety about that whole “ripped off” thing, let me explain that I do not consider this to, of necessity, be an insult. To quote one of our foremost modern intellectuals, myself:
“‘Good artists borrow; great artists steal.’ In other words, the only defense against accusations of ripping something off is to make something so good, the point is moot. Quality justifies its own existence.” — Daddy Warpig
Quality justifies its own existence. Absolutely true. So, two questions become pertinent:
1. Did Mad Max really rip off Rage?
2. If it did, is it such a great video game that the entire point is moot?
I pre-ordered Rage, back in the day, and never finished the game. I always wanted to, but never quite got back to it—there was always something better to play. Then, just last week, Bethesda released two trailers for the sequel, imaginatively titled Rage 2, and I thought, “Eh. Might as well finish the first before the second comes out.” So I did, and what I discovered was astounding:
Rage is a hybrid shooting/driving open world game, set entirely in a desert badlands: rocky canyons, blasted and dusty open ground, and nary a green, growing thing anywhere. The wastes are dotted with the remnants of pre-cataclysm industrial complexes: catwalks, giant containers, blasted buildings. Oh, and there’s also a landlocked cargo ship in one area, cut in two by some catastrophe, its cargo containers spilling out.
Bad guys in combat-modded cars drive around the wasteland, shooting the crap out of anything passing through their territory, including (and primarily) you. Fortunately, you can return the favor. Run them off the road, shoot them with guns, shoot them with rockets: it’s a Car Wars world out there, and you’re in the gunner’s seat. (At least after the first driving mission, when you actually get some bullets.) There’s even combat towers you can ram to bring down, cutting the bandits’ fire support.
There’s also mutants, massive mutants, massive and resistant-to-bullets mutants, super-massive mutants, and a bunch of human enemies. You can enjoy scenic mission hubs (cheerfully decorated in stereotypical post-apocalypse chic) at which you can pick up missions from quest givers, said missions usually requiring you to drive to some location, disembark, and journey through a mostly-linear series of corridors, dispatching enemies with extreme prejudice.
Rage has a crafting system, naturally, various combat mods for the several cars you can acquire, multiple games of chance, and meteor storms which drop loot. You can take on several gangs in their home bases, killing ever tougher opponents until you face the gang boss and straight beat him down. There’s non-combat races, combat races, and a gladiatorial TV show which lets you shoot mutants for dollars. There’s even a mission which requires you to blow up a great big door before you can progress to the next area.
If you’ve played Mad Max, most of those elements will sound hauntingly familiar. Almost exactly. Here’s the difference, however: Everything Mad Max did right, Rage did mostly wrong.
Rage is a disjointed experience. The driving isn’t quite good enough, the overworld too cramped (being a series of narrow corridors, instead of Mad Max’s expansive vistas), and the shift from hub world traversal, to wastelands driving, to corridor-centric FPS-ing is jarring and inelegant. The game feels like a bunch of almost-completed parts, hastily thrown into a box with only a token effort to make them fit together, then sold as-is. Mad Max, on the other hand, felt like it had been hand-crafted for maximum enjoyability. (Up until that one race in the final boss area that most people don’t get past. Screw that race, and the people who designed it.)
More, Rage was, for the most part, a fairly generic post-apocalyptic game with stereotypical dun and drab visuals, lacking the visual or setting flair of Borderlands and Fallout 3 (wingsticks, the one iconic weapon in the game, being excepted). Mad Max, OTOH, had style to spare. (To be fair to Bethesda, they look to be correcting this for the sequel, at least if the trailers are any guide.)
Mad Max also benefitted from being designed for a new generation of consoles, with more memory, faster CPU’s and GPU’s, and more storage space. (Rage shipped on three DVD’s, which is shocking considering how short and shallow the game really is.) Just on visuals alone, the designers of Mad Max used the improved hardware to good effect. Plus, the beefier hardware allowed Mad Max to add several other gameplay elements (like dudes on foot in the wastelands, guys who could jump onto your car from the next, fantastic and impressive lightning-filled sand storms, and so forth) and have bigger and more visually impressive areas than Rage.
Mad Max is truly an excellent game, well-polished and well-designed. The missions are mostly great, the characters memorable (which Rage’s are not), and the guy who hangs out to repair your car is a hoot. In a straight-up comparison, Mad Max wins hands down.
So was Mad Max ripped off? To a certain extent, almost certainly. It was John Carmack’s last game at Id, and scored only lukewarm sales. Most gamers considered it a disappointment. Anybody working in games development would know Carmack—he straight-up invented the First Person Shooter genre—and would have been familiar with Rage. Frankly, I’ve heard of worse ideas than “This game could have been great, but wasn’t, so let’s make something very similar but do it right.” And the developers of Mad Max did it right.
Which is why, despite having duplicated so many elements from Rage, Mad Max is remembered as a great game and not a lifeless copy. It is a quality game, and quality justifies its own existence.