The first thing that strikes us as we see Mad Max in motion is how beautiful the game world is. Avalanche Studios have nailed the post-apocalyptic setting, in the process designing a fitting game world set around the much-loved anti-hero, Max Rockatansky, better known as Mad Max.
Expansive deserts and parched oceans, filled with ruins and cadavers from a bygone era. Violent day becomes dangerous night whilst weather changes and storms come and go as we journey through a wasteland that seems endless.
It's a massive world and we barely make it halfway across the map during our two and a half hours with Mad Max, one of two massive sandbox titles due out in 2015 from Avalanche Studios, the other being Just Cause 3. Naturally given the subject matter here, the colour palette uses way more rust and brown tones. It's beautiful in a gritty and appropriately dirty kind of way, and the aesthetic goes hand in hand with the story.
Max's well-known ride, the V8 Interceptor, is stolen and Max is left to die in the wilderness. Fate, however, is content to throw Max a bone. He happens upon the disfigured and ingenious mechanic - Chumbucket - who has plans to build the most amazing car that has ever existed, The Magnus Opus. But before the duo can do it they must defeat an evil warlord named Scrotum who holds the wilderness in an iron grip, based in a huge refinery that acts as his evil lair.
Avalanche explains that they wanted to put more emphasis on the storyline compared to the Just Cause series. However, they also point out that ultimately this is an Avalanche game, so story will never take centre stage. That position is reserved for the game world itself and all of its crazy sandbox possibilities. The map opens up and the main story missions you'll come across will feel familiar, as they mirror those of many other games in the same genre - such as Shadow of Mordor.
They range from reducing the threat of an area by, among other things, destroying bases, killing specific characters, and pulling down the scarecrows placed by Scrotum, to the somewhat tiresome fetch missions. Most assignments we got to sample were of the latter variety; it gets dull very quickly and we sincerely hope that the game offers something a little more exciting as the story progresses.
But there is much more than the main and side-quests to engage with in Mad Max, and from what we've seen so far you can chase and defeat dangerous vehicle convoys, compete in deadly car races, or break into various bases where you get to take out thugs and mini-bosses.
The game's fighting system resembles the recent Batman games, albeit with more violent execution, where timing is everything if you want to dispatch wasteland scum by the dozen. And as ammunition for the sawn-off shotgun is a luxury, Max tends to have to trust his fists. Combat is kind of rigid in a way that Rocksteady's Batman games never are. Hopefully this is also something that can be polished up prior to release.
The shining star of the game is the car. Initially a rusty pile of crap, it slowly but surely becomes your own very personal and deadly killing machine. The customisation options at your disposal will affect things like speed, acceleration, armour and handling. Sure, it's not a Gran Turismo level of customisation we are talking about here, but it is sufficiently loaded with options to be both rewarding and interesting to fiddle around with. Avalanche have chosen to spend a lot of time working on car physics, so you have to consider you're options so as to make sure that you're striking the right balance.
If you, for example, opt for the heaviest frame at the front, your car will be front-heavy and thus more difficult to control, and this is something that's really noticeable as we piece together our doomsday cart. It's not easy to escape from the enemies when your car's front end slides out quite easily and constantly understeers.
The Magnum Opus is both easy to use and entertaining, and whether you're aiming its harpoon or shotgun at enemies to kill them or ruin their ride, ramming unfortunate individuals or objects, or even just coasting through the wastelands, it always feels dynamic and fun.
When our day at Avalanche is at an end we're left feeling a little ambivalent. On the one hand Mad Max offers a vast and beautiful world; one that captures the essence of the source material and that's filled with exciting characters and places to visit, that has an interesting storyline and a vehicle that will get your pulse racing. On the other hand the game world feels empty and desolate, and what's there tends to lean on tedious repetition in the shape of quests and side-activities that we have seen far too many times in other similarly-styled games.
How all of these various components fit together is something we're going to have to wait and find out; we'll be able to judge when the game launches on PC, PS4 and Xbox One in September. Until then we're just going to have to hope that Avalanche has enough time to make their post-apocalyptic world one that we'd like to spend our time in.
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