At a glance...

Previewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Release Date
Matt Bailey PlayStation 4 Warner Bros Avalanche Studios 2014

Mad Max preview

It's been over a month since the dust has settled on Europe's biggest gaming event, Gamescom, and we are still reflecting on what we saw there. Time will tell whether the promises of the next generation demonstrated at the show will come to pass over the next few months, but for now we sets out sights beyond 2013 to next year's potential big hitter and recently announced game from Avalanche Studios, Mad Max.

Like Avalanche Studios' Just Cause series, Mad Max is a huge open world game and according to the developers I spoke to, a truly next-gen experience. Players must "fight for every scrap in a brutal world". In the game the titular character, Max, wants to findpeace. He's been left for dead and wants to start a new life. He has a vision in mind though; he wants to build his 'Magnum Opus' - or ‘Great Work’ - which, to anyone familiar with the series, is unsurprisingly a car, one that Max intends to build upon and customise. This car-focussed narrative means that vehicles and car parts are important components of both the story and gameplay.

Max may have picked up a hop on...

Max may have picked up a hop on...

The segment I was shown sees Max chasing down some rare car parts. The leader of the stronghold he is based at has given him a tip about a 'legendary car' with a V12 engine that he has to go out and find. Our journey takes us to a raider camp; there are many of these in the game and he needs to infiltrate this particular one. The car is equipped with a powerful long range sniper rifle and so, parking some distance off, Max takes out one of the scouts in the lookout towers. Ammo is scarce in this world and so missing your target is extremely bad and, more importantly, wasteful. With the scout taken out, it's time to go on the offensive, driving right up to the fortified encampment. Wanting to cause a little destruction and also show off some of the tools at Max's fingertips, the developer shows off the harpoon. Attached to the car, he fires it at the tower, then putting the car into full throttle, pulls the tower down. This wasn't a scripted moment, but a great showcase of the physics systems in action. Fans of Just Cause 2 can attest to the endless hours of fun to be had with the rope tool, and whilst not as over the top as that game, destructive physics definitely seem to be something the team is keen on making part of the core experience. Our stealth broken, Max assaults the base on foot, taking out a still unaware sentry with a stealth takedown, before heading inside. Taking the opportunity of the weapons lying around, Max picks up a 'Thunderstick', a large spear weapon with an explosive treat waiting on the end. As the encampment fully awakens to Max's attack I get a first hand look at the proper combat system which, surprisingly, looks and feels a lot like the melee system in recent "Batman" games, with light and heavy parries, counters, finishing moves and plenty of jumping between the enemies surrounding the player. I'm left wondering whether the two teams - both under the same publisher - have been talking, but either way the combat system looked great and fitted in nicely with the rest of the game. With the new car acquired Max heads back to the stronghold, but he's not safe yet as raiders attack. Almost buried in the ground, in what is a very cool moment, cars burst out of the sand and dust in pursuit. The vehicle combat system employs an almost strategic element to it, with Max trying to avoid colliding with the opposing cars whilst also trying to take out their vehicles. A slow-mo motion targeting system helps with this, guiding the player to hit key points. The physics system can also be used to the player's advantage by knocking cars into the terrain.

Who parked that ship here?

Who parked that ship here?

Max eventually makes it back to the stronghold where people trying to survive in the wastelands have banded together. Max has an uneasy alliance with these people, but for now it's where he calls home and also where he stores his Magnum Opus. Here the player can customise their vehicle using parts and scrap collected in the badlands. There are plenty of customisation options which, according to the developer, lead to millions of combinations. Rather than having a straight up upgrade system where the car always gets better, players will need to make hard choices about the style of play they wish to pursue. It's not about balance; almost every part has its own distinct benefits and disadvantages and it's down to the player to tune it to their playstyle. For example, the ram is great for bashing cars out of the way, but it also slows the car down. Colours also affect gameplay, so the red primer also has fire resistance, useful when dealing with mounted flamethrowers that were spotted in an earlier encounter. With the vehicle upgraded Max sets out on one final journey in the wasteland. A random encounter is spotted, a fuel convoy making its way through the desert, but that's saved for another time. If we had decided to take them on, a cleanup crew would have sifted through the wreckage adding plenty of scrap to use later. A final attack on an area named The Jaw demonstrated yet more vehicle combat using all of the abilities and weapons that had been accrued over the course of the demo to Max's advantage. The game looked visually impressive throughout, from the interesting set piece locations to the clouds of dust emanating from the rear of our vehicle, although those people who are against the heavily brown palette of the wasteland may want to look elsewhere.

My first impressions of Mad Max were extremely positive. Whilst not the over the top actionfest of Just Cause 2, Avalanche Studios have certainly taken some of the core mechanics of what that made that game great and have expertly applied it to an IP that seems like an ideal match. I'm certainly excited to see more of this game and it's a great peek at the sorts of experiences the next generation can offer which, while not groundbreakingly original, look to be a part of a very fun game.

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