If there is one titular strand of DNA that is undoubtedly integral and vital to the entire make-up of a Mad Max movie – it is epic and death-defying displays of car chases and bouts of vehicular combat all across a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland. George Miller is a certified genius and mastermind when it comes to devising extraordinary shots and chase sequences with the utmost minimal usage of CGI. One does not need to look farther than the opening chase scene between the MPF and the Night Rider at the beginning of the first Mad Max movie, or the climatic chase scene of Max driving a big rig with Lord Humungus’ dogs of war systematically bringing down its defenses and boarding it like desert pirates during Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.
From the same director who brought you Babe: Pig in the City and Happy Feet, Miller is without equal in conceptualizing and filming vehicular action scenes. This is a treasured tradition he upholds (and certainly does not disappoint) in Mad Max: Fury Road, which premiered on May 15th, 2015, and has been hailed as a critically acclaimed, instant summer blockbuster.
In honor of the franchise’s grand legacy and the premiere of Mad Max: Fury Road, we list here the top five vehicular combat video games that would make George Miller proud.
Twisted Metal series
No list of vehicular combat games would be complete, or even worthy of recognition, without its most famous and iconic progenitor – the Twisted Metal series. The first Twisted Metal game was a miraculous, strange, and alien form of video game that was radically different from the cartoony kart racing games that were generally the norm. Players were introduced to something completely new – an all-out carnage-filled demolition derby that was bloody, over-the-top, and features a hilariously straight-forward and B-rated plot.
The secret key to the franchise’s success was that it was undoubtedly self-aware of what they were creating, and the fact they embrace the games’ indelible absurdity makes for an all the more fun experience. In successive games, the bar was raised to outdo itself as if on a dare – very much like the development philosophy behind the Mortal Kombat series. For example, in Twisted Metal 2, how mindblowing was it when you discovered that you could collapse the Eiffel Tower into a makeshift bridge?
Similar to the bizarre, larger-than-life, crazed characters that populate the world of the Mad Max franchise (heck – characters like Max Rockatansky, Toecutter, Wez, Lord Humungus, Aunty Entity, Imperator Furiosa, Immortan Joe, or Nux could all easily be swapped into the world of Twisted Metal and would fit in) the soul of the Twisted Metal games lies within its wildly outlandish characters and their respective vehicles – characters as well in their own right.
These characters would duel to the death with every form of weapon imaginable along with insane special attacks unique to each character. For example, early special attacks of the infamous ice cream truck killer clown, Sweet Tooth, involved hurling napalm cones at enemies. In later incarnations, such as Twisted Metal: Black, Sweet Tooth now had the special ability to transform into a towering, hulking behemoth called “Sweet Bot” that launches a salvo of homing missiles at his prey.
These displays of unrepentant acts of absurdity and carnage was what made the games so fun and iconic. Now, if we could only subtly drop a request to George Miller to include an homage to Sweet Tooth or Axel in the next Mad Max movie…
Pursuit Force & Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice
I am willing to bet my left arm (just Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa), that this wonderful PSP series was influenced by the Mad Max franchise. It has always been established as canon that before Max Rockatansky was the legendary Road Warrior, he worked on the MPF (or the Main Pursuit Force) as their lead patrolman and enforcer. Upon closer examination of the game’s storyline, it is undeniable to ignore the clear references and influences of the original Mad Max movie has on the game. Each one features similar motifs of the breakdown of society, the proliferation and rule of vehicular gangs, and the need for a new breed of dark, grim, and arguably merciless police unit necessary to keep the peace.
In Pursuit Force, released in the US in September 2006, a fictional American city called Capital City has been overrun by crime necessitating the implementation of a new, elite police unit called the Pursuit Force. As the team’s finest cop, you have to take down each of the five main gangs (the mafiosos of the Capelli Family, the paramilitary Warlords, the crime-hardened, psychotic, jailbreaks – the Convicts, the tech-savvy, all-female thieves’ guild – the Vixens, and the Yakuza gang – Killer 66) on foot, car, motorcycle, or police chopper through a variety of missions. It is noteworthy to mention that the characters and vehicles utilized by the Convicts share the same ramshackled, cobbled-together, cannibalized, insane punk-rock imagery of Lord Humungus’ dogs of war or Immortan Joe’s War Boys.
Pursuit Force is a surprisingly addicting, high-octane, supercharged vehicular combat game that deserves more praise and attention. The story’s setting, its denizens, scripting and dialogue convincingly puts you in the middle of a ’80s loose-cannon-cop-gone-wild cop movie archetype with a dash of ostentatious flair similar to Mad Max, The Warriors, and Escape from New York. Unlike other common vehicular combat elements that generally rely on outfitting vehicles with James Bond-like gadgets and weaponry, Pursuit Force‘s combat system is unique and refreshing in that it not only allows you to have shoot-outs with enemies while driving, BUT allows player to leap from vehicle to vehicle and violently commandeer it with everything from pistols, machine guns, and shotguns just like a War Boy.
It seems the developers of Pursuit Force forgot to include gunpowder-laden lances into your law enforcer toolkit…
Players both have a physical and a vehicle health bar; thus, commandeering enemy vehicles becomes necessary when your ride takes too much damage from gunfire or environmental damage. However, you will soon find yourself performing Spartan leaps left and right, holding onto the bonnet of enemy vehicles, shooting enemies point blank, throwing their carcasses out, and swinging yourself into the driver’s seat to continue the chase with reckless abandon. The game even allows you to perform slow-motion, bullet-time enemy ambushes where time slows down and you can shoot enemies out of vehicles mid-air so long as your Justice meter is full. There are subtle nuances to be appreciated such as button commands allowing a player to strafe, bob, and weave to avoid gunfire while holding onto the hood of a car or boat as you attempt to steal it.
The vehicular combat and intense high-speed chases of the game never feels stale or tiresome in that the game switches up gameplay styles by having you capture and kill criminals on foot, cars, motorcycles, and via police chopper. Furthermore, there is wide variety of mission types to change up pacing including escort missions, escape missions, and pursuit missions. In the 2008 sequel, Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice, along with new gangs, the ante is driven up with new vehicles (jet skis, hovercrafts, and motorcycles with side cars) in addition to boss battles where you fight gang leaders atop their special vehicles such as a firetruck, a hovercraft, a tank, a flying fortress, and a train.
If you need games filled with pure carmegeddon to hold you over until the much anticipated Mad Max video game comes out in September, then the Pursuit Force games is an absolute must-play.
In 1996, a top-down, isometric, vehicular combat racing game called Death Rally was released for Microsoft to much acclaim and fanfare. Common to most video games of this genre, the plot was straight-forward and simple: race, destroy, win, survive, upgrade, and become the top dog in the racing world. In Death Rally, you play as a newcomer and runt of the litter stacked with a small amount of cash and a somewhat pitiful excuse for a vehicle called the Vagabond (which is based off of a VW Beetle). However, with superior driving skills and capital accrued from prize money, players can acquire new weapons and new vehicles to ascend the ranks until you can face the king of all racers, the Adversary, and defeat him in a one-on-one race. Notwithstanding, the simple plot doesn’t necessarily matter – this game is full of addicting, mindless action and fun in either its race mode or deathmatch mode.
A wonderful array of weapons and tools became available to the player on the road to victory including chain guns, shotguns, landmines, rocket launchers, and rocket fuel power-ups. The game also features a robust RPG-like car customization system where you can bolster a car’s defenses, handling, or speed.
In the years hence, Death Rally has undergone a number of improvements and revamps with a 2009 freeware re-release, a full 2011 remake for iOS, and an iOS port to the PC in the following year. The Death Rally remake was also met with positive reviews. Its updated graphics make the game a beautiful sight and gameplay continues to be fast-paced and frenetic. In true Mad Max fashion, destroying and damaging enemy vehicles in race and deathmatches allows you to “scavenge” and upgrade your car’s kit for deadlier firepower, precision, and handling. The remake also allows for novel approaches to multiplayer modes such as the addition of a “game channel” function that creates an exclusive private space for you and your friends to interact and play in.
The games are also full of hidden surprises. In both versions, the game allows for a unique mechanic in which you are able to bribe mechanics to sabotage other cars before a race. Doing so will later inflict a random amount of damage to enemy vehicles giving you an early edge – although, you are not able to sabotage the Adversary.
In the original, Duke Nukem is a potential opponent you can race against. Furthermore, in the iOS remake, a special Duke Nukem Forever patch update added a new gameplay mode called “Duke Match,” as well as a new specially skinned Monster Truck.
Exclusively for the iOS and PC remake versions, new characters such as Barry Wheeler from Alan Wake, John Gore from Minigore, and Mighty Eagle from Angry Birds all make an appearance as potential opponents. Talk about the ultimate disgrace being defeated in a demolition derby by an Angry Bird, am I right?
The next game on our list is Spy Hunter (the 2002 sequel and remake of the original 1983 game) released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, and PC. It was a beloved vehicular arcade shooter game featuring a suped up James Bond-esque spy vehicle with an wide array of weapons and gadgets. While the original game featured a top-down perspective, the sequel/remake changed this to a more standard third person, behind-the-vehicle perspective.
Eat your heart out, Agent 007
Despite many changes and updates, the remake of Spy Hunter retained the quintessential soul of the original game that made it so popular to begin with – fast-paced and intense driving and mercilessly destroying all enemy cars in your path. Here, you play as the lone secret agent, Alec Sects, facing against the dark machinations of an evil organization called the Nostra that intends to achieve world domination by crippling all other forms of power. As part of the elite Spy Hunter program, you must stop the plots of Nostra’s agents all across the world in locations such as Venice, Germany, and the city of Petra. Additional touches that were added to connect this new iteration to the past included plot elements that linked the events of the 1983 as canon and a precursor to this current game’s storyline, as well as adapting the iconic Peter Gunn theme into the soundtrack.
The developers pushed the dynamics of gameplay beyond pure vehicular mayhem by introducing 14 levels with a series of main and secondary objectives to accomplish including escort, escape, and enemy installation demolition missions, or minimizing civilian casualties. Your weapon of the choice, the Interceptor, is outfitted with many tools of mayhem – including machine guns, oil slicks, regular & guided missile launchers, tracker devices, rail guns, and EMPs. Furthermore, depending on the environment, the vehicle can seamlessly change from car to boat, and back, which makes the experience of finding alternate routes throughout maps all the more enjoyable. When your vehicle sustains enough damage, the Interceptor can even transform into a motorcycle or jet ski!
Spy Hunter is pure, unadulterated fun that makes you feel you are living out a spy thriller movie ranging from explosions going off in every direction, plowing through pieces of outdoor scenery such as windows, gates, and outdoor cafes, narrowly dodging and scraping by vehicles while in pursuit (or being pursued), and encountering enemy aircraft – such as military helicopters and Harrier jets raining down fiery death upon you. There are harrowing jumps, tights turns, and scores of enemies by land, air, and sea to keep you on edge and in suspense. All of this is executed beautifully with crisp, tight animation. Furthermore, each stage is intricately designed in a labyrinthine manner to encourage experimentation and replay value.
All in all, Spy Hunter proved itself to being a worthy torchbearer of the Spy Hunter franchise name and an instant classic in its own right. If only Daniel Craig could drive an Interceptor in the next James Bond film, SPECTRE…
Mario Kart 64 / Crash Team Racing
While Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing technically qualify as kart racers as opposed to vehicular combat games, this list would not be replete without them due to the insane chaos and mayhem that is indicative in their DNA. While far less gritty than the other games featured in this listicle, let alone Mad Max: Fury Road, in lieu of more family-friendly, all-ages, cartoony vibe – any person who plays either game will fall prey to their baser desires. Something about these kart games elicits a primal and savage desire to desire to compete, win against, humiliate, and crush your enemies. All the while, these epic battles for eternal glory take place in breathtaking and memorable battlegrounds inspired by each respective franchise – such as Bowser’s Castle, Rainbow Road, Polar Pass, or Sewer Speedway.
In Mario Kart, you implements of destruction include ricocheting green shells, homing red shells, banana peels, fake weapon drop traps, Super Star power ups, turbo mushrooms, lightning bolts, and the infamous spiked blue shell. In Crash Team Racing, your arsenal include homing missiles, bubble shields, invincible face mask power ups, rolling bombs, and explosive crates.
Finally, each game has managed to create perfectly designed multiplayer arena matches with which players can duke it out for vehicular supremacy. Similar to Thunderdome – four players enter, one player leaves. Although far less violent than Mad Max‘s penchant for bone-crushing and flesh-peeling car collisions, hailstorms of arrows and bullets, and raging infernos of ignited petrol – one still feels the same degree of high stakes and tension at play every time you lose a balloon in Mario Kart or a life bar in Crash Team Racing. Especially when targeted by red shells or homing missiles, only the greatest of road warriors use what they have on hand to escape certain doom whether it is executing tight hairpin turns around a wall or dropping a trap, shield, or power up right at the last, crucial moment.
Despite their light-heart tone, these kart racing games have the potential to break friendships. In the ravaged wastelands of the post-apocalypse, only the strong survive. There is no room for friendship – only power, only steel, only gasoline, and battle-ravaged roads on which you thrive.
Which of these vehicular combat games do you like the most? What other games would you recommend? Feel free to comment and share below!