On paper, Mad Max is a film franchise that's practically crying out for a video game adaptation. It's set in a post apocalyptic world, its narrative centres on a broken, if capably violent anti-hero, and it's packed to the rafters with gun-play, brutal hand-to-hand combat and automotive mayhem.
It ticks so many boxes with video game audiences that it just isn't funny, so it's understandable that queues for Avalanche's E3 demo were lengthy for the duration of the expo.
Mad Max: Plot & Characters
It's a slight pity, then, that Mad Max feels like it has lost something crucial in its translation from movie to game. The pitch for the story is that Max has joined forces with a character called Chumbucket after the loss of his V8 Interceptor (and dog). The pair of them are scouring the wasteland looking for parts for a car that Max has in mind as his new ride, called the Magnum Opus.
This, naturally, brings them into conflict with tons of insane road-jockeys in a huge open wasteland map and provides myriad opportunities to shoot, shaft and slam enemies (and their vehicles).
While all this sounds like great grist for the video game mill, it might strike fans of the Mad Max films as slightly off-colour. The action is in place, sure, but the idea of Max, the perennial loner teaming up with anyone unless it's under completely under duress doesn't gel with the characters from the films.
Every alliance Max has made since the loss of his wife and kid (and dog) has been strictly short term. The man avoids making human attachments the way most monolithic corporations avoid paying taxes.
Mad Max: Gameplay
Still, if you're prepared to look past this issue, Mad Max looks like it might have quite a lot going for it. At the start of the demo, Avalanche's developers showed how the vehicular combat will work; apart from shunting other cars, Max can pull up alongside them and use his twin-barrelled sawn-off to take out their drivers.
Players can also use Chumbucket, who's sitting in the Magnum Opus's open boot, to deploy a harpoon gun. Successfully target the axles of any other cars, and the player can flip them over and drag them behind Max's car.
The game's off-road action is equally impressive. In the short demo we witnessed, Max used his sawn-off at close quarters as the deciding factor in a couple of melee attacks, and a makeshift sniper rifle to take out enemies at a distance. It's fairly standard third-person open world stuff, but it's done very well - as one would expect from the studio that gave the world the Just Cause games.
Mad Max: Customisation
The objective in the demo we witnessed involved Max and Chumbucket collecting enough parts to ram through a makeshift gate in the wasteland called The Jaw, which was blocking passage through a canyon. In the interests of saving time, the Avalanche developers cheated and added the necessary items to Max's inventory instantly so we could see the effects customisation had on the Magnum Opus.
Unlike other vehicular-based games in which players simply bolt accoutrements to their cars without paying any penalties, Mad Max demands that players balance the Magnum Opus. Stick a massive grill on the front of the car, for example, and you'd better have a decent set of shocks to add as well, or the suspension will be thrown out of kilter and the car's overall manoeuvrability will suffer.
Mad Max: Verdict
Mad Max looks the part: the wasteland environment looks like a dust-strewn hellhole filled with remnants of the civilisation lost in fire, and Max himself is decked out in biker leathers and he even has a hinged metal brace strapped to his left leg.
The gameplay and automobile customisation look great, but ultimately this game will live and die on its plot and characters and right now, we're holding out hope Avalanche gets things right in time for launch, as their demo didn't entirely convince us they're taking Mr Rockatansky in the right direction.
Mad Max release date: 2014
Mad Max price: £54.99 (on PS4 from Amazon)