E3 2015: Mad Max is Brutal Fun, but Needs More Time in the Oven

The Mad Max IP is experiencing quite the revival. Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth entry in the film franchise, launched in May critical acclaim. Developed by original director George Miller, the film delivered brutal action, breathtaking CG effects and a cast of talented actors. Suffice it to say, Avalanche Studios has their work cut out for them. They’re developing Mad Max, a game that has no relation to Fury Road, but will still face intense scrutiny thanks to its excellent film counterpart. I went hands-on with the game at E3 2015 and found that Mad Max can deliver some thrilling action, but still needs some more development time.

It’s best to think of Mad Max like Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor. Like Mordor, Mad Max is the amalgamation of two different franchises. While Mordor was a combination of Batman and Assassin’s Creed, Mad Max is a combination of Batman and Burnout. It’s a smart combination; the Batman games have always delivered stellar combat and Burnout is well known for its fast and brutal racing. However smart this combination is it really doesn’t matter unless it works in-game, though.

Mad Max 01

There were two different demos I played; vehicular combat and melee combat. I began with the vehicle demo. Let’s get this out of the way, there was nothing in the demo as exciting as the vehicular combat in Fury Road. That’s not to say a set-piece similar to the film can’t show up in the final game, but the demo didn’t have it.

The demo was all about retrieving a special part for Max’s Magnum Opus. To get the part, he had to track down and destroy an enemy convoy. I quickly raced towards my objective and came face-to-face with numerous enemies in vehicles guarding the heavily armored objective. Much like Burnout, I had to bump, ram and push cars off the road to destroy them. When approaching the leader car, there were numerous options on how to take him down. I ended up using my harpoon dart to tear off the back of the vehicle, and then used my shotgun to light up his fuel tank and cause an explosion.

The vehicular combat was satisfying, and I was informed by Warner Bros. that it makes up a sizable chunk of the game. The rest is made up of hand-to-hand combat, which does not feel nearly as polished as the vehicular combat.

Mad Max 02

In the second demo I was tasked with capturing an outpost from a group, which I could tackle in any way I saw fit. At first, I attempted a rush-in approach and ram the watchtowers. I missed, and found my first issue with melee combat. The watchtowers bombarded me with mortars. I immediately got out of the trapped car to run, but was unable to escape because the recovery time is so slow. I’d get knocked down, get back up slowly and then quickly get knocked down again. My patience was grew thin as there was no way to recover quickly and escape from harm. After what seemed like forever, I was finally able to retreat a safe distance.

I was more successful my second time, managing to destroy the watchtowers with a well-placed sniper-shot. After tearing down the entrance with my hook shot, I was forced to proceed on foot and fight a few war boys. Melee combat is nearly identical to the combat of the Batman Arkham games. The X button is for attacking, and Y is for countering. Countering is time-sensitive, and players who counter at the right time have the chance to perform a takedown by tapping A. These brutal finishers are what gives Mad Max its M-rating and they’re awesome to watch. Max can also pick up weapons off the ground to use in combat.

Mad Max 03

Though combat is lifted from the Batman Arkham games, Avalanche Studios has yet to perfect the formula. Mad Max’s melee combat lacks the fluidity seen in the Arkham games, and there appeared to be a lack of precision. I’d slightly move the analog stick and Max would start sprinting past where I wanted to position him. This made it surprisingly difficult to pick up items off the floor. The biggest crime of all is the camera, which is pulled in pretty tight to Max, allowing enemies to quickly attack from behind without warning. It feels cheap, and can easily be fixed by just pulling the camera back a little further.

Mad Max feels like a game coming together, but not quite there just yet. The vehicular combat reminded me strongly of Burnout, a franchise we haven’t seen in years. It’s fast, fun and feels balanced. Melee combat, on the other hand, needs some more time in the oven. Mad Max’s release is getting alarmingly close, but I have no doubt that the fine men and women at Avalanche Studios will be able to pull together and release a game worthy of the Mad Max title.

Mad Max is out September 1 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.