Mad Max ReviewPrice:
PC, Xbox One, PS4
I feel a little bit sorry for Avalanche Studios' Mad Max. George Miller's astonishing reboot in the form of Fury Road proved to be one of the finest films in years, while in the gaming sphere, 2015 has seen the release of two phenomenal open world games - The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. I know being stuck between a rock and a hard place is just another day at the Thunderdome for Max Rockatansky. But even by his standards, that's a lot of pressure to perform.
Hence it's not entirely surprising that Warner Bros have approached the release of Mad Max with all the self-assurance of a penguin on a tightrope - handing out only a handful of review copies prior to release day. It's a shame because at the end of it all, Avalanche's take on the Australian vigilante is not without its moments. The wasteland Max wanders is superbly realised, and there's some fantastic vehicular action to be had within its expansive borders. Yet there's no denying that it isn't a particularly great game either - relying heavily on an open-world framework which has been outclassed twice in just the last few months.
Though technically a film tie-in, the events of Mad Max are unrelated to those depicted in Fury Road. They are initially similar, however, as an encounter with a War party led by the delightfully named Scabrous Scrotus results in the destruction of Max' beloved Interceptor. During his futile attempt to retrieve it, Max teams up with Chumbucket, a hunchback wrench-jockey who talks about cars as if they were a religion, and treats them like an art-form. Because of his love for anything with four wheels and a gearbox, Chumbucket offers to build Max a new car, the Magnum Opus, on the condition that Max helps him source the necessary parts.
The Magnum Opus serves as the focal point for the game, more-so even than Max himself. The vast majority of the central storyline relates to recovering parts for it, and most of the items you collect during your travels - scrap, bodywork and various other components - are largely used to upgrade this car to end all cars.
It's a smart way of engendering a bond within the player between man and motor vehicle, and Avalanche clearly understand Mad Max as an ode to the combustion engine, the screeching tyre and the belching exhaust. Even in its initial, rusty state, the Magnum Opus is a fearsome machine, its grunting V6 engine is complemented by a nitro boost that propels the car forward, hissing like a basket of angry snakes. As you progress, it can be upgraded with a growling V8, stronger armour, and a variety of nasty-looking defences such as boarder spikes, rim-razors, even small flamethrowers.
Mad Max is undoubtedly at its best when Max is behind the wheel, not least because the driving is vastly improved over the wonky handling of Just Cause 2. But the joy is as much about the road ahead as it is the car Max sits in. The Wasteland is another tremendous example of environment design from Avalanche, appropriately barren but never boring. The regular yellows and browns of sand and rock are frequently broken up with the crumbling remnants of civilisation, be it a fortified lighthouse balanced on a precarious outcrop in the middle of a desert, or the upturned hull of a massive cargo ship. Then there are more unique areas, like blindingly white salt-flats dotted with crusty white pillars, or the immense black rubbish tip that leads to Gastown, always visible on the horizon, billowing hellish clouds of fire and soot.