Mad Max was once a household name that needed very little introduction. Starting life as a small budget film that was vastly more successful than anyone could have imagined, spawning 2 sequels (one of which pitted Max against the evil mass of hair that adorned Tina Turners head) and launched Mel Gibson's career as a somewhat average actor who happened to hate women rights and jewish people. Or something to that effect.
In 1990, at the height of the franchises success, a game was released on the NES to coincide with Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, and while I cant honestly say I had the honour (or not) of playing it, as with any movie-game tie in, it didn't do extremely well.
Years later, with as much silence as the stories wasteland of the films could offer, the series got another sequel that offered a technological and budgetary kick up the butt, along with a brand new leading man in the shape of Tom Hardy, leading to what is easily one of the best cinematic experiences this year.
Looking to buck the trend of movie-game tie ins, Warner Brothers and Avalanche studios have been busy, beavering away on the aptly titled ‘Mad Max’ a game which was in production just long enough for most of the team behind it to be fairly unaware of the new movie.
After being lucky enough to visit Avalanche Studios in Sweden and actually get hands on with the game, I can safely say it looks to have the stones it needs to stand on its own as a great title regardless of the lofty expectations the name may hand down. Ditching Hardy, Fury Road and anything else that would stop it from standing on its own two feet and going full force into a brutal, apocalyptic, action adventure game.
In a nutshell, you’re thrown into the dusty boots of Max long after the world has decayed and his mind followed suit. In search of somewhere quite to rest his bones, along the way Max captures the eye of some War Boys and is quickly set upon, losing his precious car and everything he owns.
Left for dead, you’re task is to rebuild, gear up and head straight for the War Boys leader, Scrotus. (Diehard Max fans will be happy to hear that this offers a lose tie to Fury Road as Scrotus, is apparently one of Immortan Joe’s many offspring)
The first thing I noticed when I grabbed my controller was just how stunning the game looked. For a vast wasteland I was surprised at just how much there was to see and so much to explore, without voiding that feeling of loss and emptiness that a barren wasteland would expectedly deliver. The sea has long since dried up, leaving rusted ships perched precariously on young cliff sides, decorated with delicate, dried out coral. Dilapidated shanty towns are dotted about, offering shelter and some semblance of a safe place for those who haven't already been eaten alive, gone mad or joined gangs. Dust storms blow in from time to time, offering an almost American Beauty style experience as the sand dances on the winds current course.
This unforgivingly dark yet gorgeous world transfers to the audio that’ll dance around your ear canals too and given that Avalanche usually deliver over the top, bombastic music for the Just Cause series, offering up a sparse yet emotionally charged collection of tracks for Mad Max is no small feat.
Once I peeled my eyes from the screen and decided to press on, I was surprised to find that the gameplay itself offered a fast and fluid system, much like that of Shadow of Mordor and to a lesser extent Batman: Arkham Origins. When confronted with a skull that needs swift crushing, you’ll use the familiar punch, harder punch and counter system to full effect. Thrown in however are a few small game changers that offer some big pay offs. Firstly, fighting here really is brutal, it doesn't just sound bone crushing, you will literally see Max break arms backwards, twist ankles and more. If your foe has a weapon, max will happily snap their arm before using it against them, going full force and slicing them up should it be adorned with a blade.
If you have any shivs in your pocket, Max can finish things off with a good few jabs to the ribs before ramming it into their eye socket and this is all without mentioning Fury Mode which essentially turns Max into rage incarnate, tearing through War Boys like pieces of meat that the desert so severely lacks.
After a chance encounter with Chum Bucket, a half decent black thumb who offers to help you build a new motor which he passionately hails the ‘Magnum Opus’ you’ll eventually get thrown into car battles. now, the concept of combat within a car had me a little nervous. After all, the tank-mobile style of battle that Rocksteady built into Batman Arkham Knight was fun for a time but quickly overstayed it’s welcome and simply stuck out like a sore thumb.
Thankfully, it seems Avalanche took a much more well balanced approach, making in car combat a much more drawn out and tense affair, as opposed to an overpowered fountain of explosions and rocket launchers.
As you upgrade the opus, choosing from the plethora of available additions, you can bulk it out with spiked rims, exhausts for the sides that spray fire and more rusty poles and sharp pointy things than your average acupuncture clinic. When caught in a fray you can ram other vehicles, cover them in flames or fire some well placed shots from your trusty sawn off shotgun, should you have the shells available, as you whittle their health away. Chum Bucket will happily sit in the back throughout the whole affair, ready to throw a Thunder Poon (that’s a harpoon with a grenade on the end to you and me) or more excitingly, fire a harpoon gun and rip off tyres, doors and even pull the driver right from his seat!
With this physics based combat crafted so well, each fight feels unique and thanks to your ever thinning supply of petrol, you’ll need to think twice before running head first into a War Boys convoy, otherwise you could end up broken down with nothing but the worlds worst Green Flag employees around to ‘help you out’.
This balance of supplies and constant eye on survival is key within the game, not only will you need to keep searching for petrol, but fresh water and food are high on the list too. Should you find fresh water, your canteen can keep some on hand, albeit a short amount but food is a whole different matter. Scrounging such tasty delights as half eaten tins of dog food and everyones favourite, maggots, you’ll need to keep your stomach full if you want your health bar to remain in any reasonable shape.
After almost a day of solid play, it was clear that a lot of time and care had gone into making a game that not only plays great, but one that sticks in your mind and claws at that compulsive need most gamers have to explore. The roaring engines accented with tight explosions and a sparse yet stunning soundtrack all topped off with brutal action adventure, make for an amazing experience.
Here’s hoping the final package can deliver a story just as authentic and enjoyable as the game itself. Then a sequel. Of course.