There's one thing that you need to know about Mad Max straight off the bat: Fear not. It's not a movie tie-in. In fact Avalanche have gone to great pains to separate the game from the film reboot coming next year. The curse of the licensed game tie-in is well documented, but Avalanche and Warner Bros. are keen to avoid any potential pitfalls with this one (hence why Max now sports a slight Australian accent following the outcry at E3) and, after catching a look at the game in action at Gamescom this year, it's easy to see why.
Avalanche have proven their pedigree when it comes to open world games. Just Cause 2 was an absolute leviathan of a game, packed full of points of interest and enormously entertaining systems. But whereas Rico Rodriguez's stunt-filled sandboxes have leaned towards anarchic fun, there's something a little (dare I say it) grittier about Mad Max. And that's not just because the post-apocalyptic, dystopian world in which it's set is a sand and dirt-filled wasteland.
The Pursuit Special -- that heavily modified Ford Falcon XB GT Coupe -- is gone, and Max has been left for dead in the desert when we find him at the start of the demo we witnessed at Gamescom this year. He needs a new set of wheels, and thus the Magnum Opus comes to the fore.
We're told that there'll be over fifty different types of vehicles in the game , but none will really become quite as important as the Opus, which will take centre stage as the signature car for this particular game. There's customisation, of course, and Max will be able to create thousands of combinations for a single vehicle let alone fifty, from the chassis to the suspension to the engine to the mounted weapons, be they ranged or ramming.
Of course, with resources scarce in the desert wastes, there's very much a system of mutual backscratching before anything can really get done. If you want something, chances are someone else will want something from you first. Some structures have survived and become bastions for little pockets of humanity, known as Strongholds. The Leaders of these outposts all have unique skills or items of a certain variety to offer Max, but he'll need to do them a favour first.
One particular Leader, presiding over a rabble holed up in a nearby lighthouse, wants a 12-cylinder hot rod that some bandits have locked up in a nearby encampment. Max, accompanied by his manic (and quite possibly insane) mechanic Chumbucket, sets off to liberate the hot rod and its impressive engine.
Scouting out the terrain is of crucial importance, and so Max comes to a halt atop a ridge a little way away from the camp, trading places with Chumbucket and setting up a long-range sniper rifle. Given the nature of Mad Max's world, the scarcity of gasoline and crude oil for one thing, it actually makes sense for armed folk to be standing next to explosive barrels and guarding them with their lives. Unfortunately for them, it also means that a well-aimed shot can take out a cluster of enemies instantly, which Max does.
There's still the matter of the guard tower off in the distance, though, and with an obscured view, Max opts for a more direct approach to take out the marksman within. One of the very best toys from Avalanche's Just Cause series makes an appearance here, with the grappling hook (this time on the end of a harpoon gun) coming in particularly handy. A short drive to the base of the tower, and well aimed shot, and a fresh burst of speed in the opposite direction, and the tower comes crashing down, bringing the hapless sniper along with it. Having alerted the remaining bandits, Max steps out of the car to deliver a spot of sawn-off deliverance and some crunching melee moves that look as if Avalanche have taken a leaf out of Rocksteady's manual.
Chumbucket takes the wheel of the Magnum Opus and Max jumps into the hot rod after the car has been secured, but it's not long before they bump into a few marauding ne'er-do-wells out in amongst the dunes, and here we get to see a little of the game's much-touted vehicular combat, which allows Max to target specific areas of the cars being driven by his antagonists. The harpoon gun comes in handy again, as we see Max target the wheels of his enemies, and pull them off. Playing around with the harpoon is likely to be a lot of fun, and Max strings two cars together and drives off into the scorching sunset as his enemies rip themselves apart.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not Avalanche can make this dry, dusty world feel engaging for the span of a massive, open-ended game. Panau was a gigantic setting that offer snow-capped peaks as well as sandy beaches, dense jungle, and urban cityscapes. There was huge variety to the terrain in Just Cause 2, and Avalanche leveraged that to great effect with enormous government constructs, bases, and missile silos. We're going to need something a little more than running errands for Stronghold Leaders. Bethesda managed to cultivate a real sense of life in a lifeless world when it came to Fallout 3, peppering the Capital Wasteland with just enough to keep us engaged whilst never breaking the immersion of a post-nuclear age.
Avalanche's take on it is 'all in good time'. There's much, much more to see, we're told, and the game's release date has been pencilled in for the end of next year. The vehicular combat, that welcome, exaggerated method of picking off bits and pieces from an enemy car, suggests that Avalanche are on the right path when it comes to the road warrior aspect of Mad Max, but we'll have to wait and see about the rest of it.