Poor Max, he always seems to have such a hard time of things. He survived the apocalypse, the death of his wife and son, a slow slide into madness and he considers a can of dog food to be a gourmet meal. It seems that losing things is his forte in life as the latest game in the franchise, the snappily titled Mad Max, sees Max losing his vehicle, as he seems to do in the majority of the films, and seeking revenge on those that took it from him.
The game starts just as Max has been robbed of his car and possessions and comes across Chumbucket, a deranged hunchbacked mechanic who offers Max a chance to drive the "corporal manifestation of the angel combustion", the Magnum Opus. The car starts off as little more than a drivable chassis but soon, with Chumbucket riding along with you, the car gets additional upgrades to make it more like Max's usual high-octane vehicle.
As a sandbox game, similar to Far Cry and Red Dead Redemption, the game has the usual collection of mission quests, bases to destroy, items to locate and scouting from vantage points. The major difference, however, is the use of the vehicles, with are vital in such a large area, and you have quite a selection to choose from. Not only do you have access to the Magnum Opus, which has the added bonus of Chumbucket riding in the back to man weapons and repair the vehicle when it gets damaged, but you can also capture and use other vehicles – which all have their own characteristics, making it harder to identify the tribes they belong to.
The core currency of the game is scrap, which can be found round the world and can be spent on upgrading the Magnum Opus and Max's equipment and skills. Some items can be bought freely while others have to be obtained as rewards from quests or when Max reaches a minimum level. The other main consumables are ammo and fuel which are much more scarce and can limit how you tackle certain objectives and fight the other inhabitants of the world.
Both in-vehicle and on foot combat are satisfying, meaty affairs. Vehicle combat involves shooting weak points on attackers, pulling parts off with a harpoon and, of course, ramming them. When on foot, Max has a choice of using his gun (if you have the ammo), any melee weapons he comes across or, more commonly, brawling with your attackers. Max has a number of moves to dodge and strike his attackers but the main mechanic is parrying blows, protecting him from harm and giving you bonus damage on your next blows.
One of the most amazing aspects of the game are the graphical vistas which are breathtakingly beautiful. If you find yourself on a high point, the world opens out in front of you to the distance; sunsets are amazing and even the dust storms which ravage the wasteland from time to time look incredible. The lighting has been particularly well done with long shadows appearing as the sun sets, lens flares when you look into the sun and a whole new element of the game being added as night falls and your use of light makes you easier to spot. Unfortunately the character animation isn't quite as spectacular, but this doesn't detract from the overall effect to any great degree.
Where the game does fall down is on the controls on the consoles as they seem to have been designed by someone who hasn't picked up a controller before. Most games follow a fairly standard, left-trigger aim, right-trigger shoot, but Mad Max uses a strange combination of shoulder button and pad button to achieve these actions, which takes some getting used to. Character and vehicle movement also leaves a bit to be desired; on foot Max's jumping feels unsubstantial and isn't very useful (you can only climb objects in specifically marked areas) while the vehicles can feel twitchy and difficult to control.
Mad Max is a wonderful mix of stark, gritty survival adventure in an open world game. It feels like a cross between Far Cry 3 and Borderlands while remaining firmly rooted in the Mad Max world. When you start playing, the game can feel like it's demanding a lot of faith from the player; the story isn't very compelling and the mechanics can feel a bit of a mess to start with but it soon rewards those who stick with it. Whether you're a fan of the films or new to the franchise, when the gangs start taking over the highways, pray he's out there!
• Game reviewed on Xbox One