There was a moment when I was playing Mad Max that the true intentions of Warner Bros. Interactive and Avalanche Studios crystallized in front of me. I was driving through a desolate canyon, running out of fuel, one shotgun shell left, with two War Boy vehicles closing in on me.

Starved for supplies and low on health, I had to rely on crafty driving to push one enemy vehicle off my tail and into a canyon wall, while using my harpoon to drag the driver of the other car out of his seat and hurl him clear over my hood — straight into the path of my crushing Magnum Opus.

This is the Mad Max game I could only dream about when I discovered the original movies in my high school years. It's a desolate, somber, rust-encrusted trek through a Wasteland where survival isn't for the fittest or the smartest — just the most ruthless.

Unfortunately, between the action-packed car chases and the occasional character moments that give insight into this post-apocalyptic hell on Earth, Mad Max falls into the trap of most recent open-world games like Assassin's Creed Unity and Shadow of Mordor: repetitive missions, overlong (and underwhelming) quests and a general aimlessness that can eat up hours of time with little progress.

Gameplay

Mad Max, like most recent Warner Bros. Interactive titles, takes most of its inspiration from Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham series. Melee combat has a free-flow feel to it, and any fans of the Arkham trilogy will be able to pick the controls up within moments, as it relies on the same reversal system those titles revolutionized. Vehicular combat, on the other hand, not only differs from what Rocksteady did with the Batmobile, it improves upon it.

Max's car, the Magnum Opus, begins its life as a hunk of junk held together by nothing but duct tape and pure stubborness. However, as you complete missions, collect scraps and upgrade your character, the car can be tweaked and improved until you turn it into a pure death machine, armed with grill spikes and a deadly harpoon gun.

For the first few hours of Mad Max, I felt nothing but dread — Max himself was a fairly vanilla fighter and my Magnum Opus was barely capable of outrunning a mail truck, never mind the horde of War Boys you run across in the Wasteland.

But once I got into the rhythm of the game, picked my upgrades carefully and began to understand how to best maximize my scraps, I soon turned from a bargain-bin Wasterlander into a Road Warrior ready to wreak havoc on anyone who drove into my line of sight.

And that's where Mad Max separates itself from the generic open-world titles that have flooded the market recently. Everything here is upgradable, including the look and decals of your car, as well as your melee fighting moves. You can even customize Max's appearance; I chose to give him what I thought was a scraggly Wasteland beard, though he just wound up looking like he was going to open up a craft brewery in Portland. Still, there are countless small details like that in the game, and it's easy to see that WB and Avalanche dove headfirst with sadistic glee into George Miller's brutal world.

The atmosphere of the Wasteland is so well-realized that you can practically feel the sun beating off your leather jacket and the sand stinging your face as it blows over the dunes. Ammo is scarce, water is a rumor and a drop of fuel is more than enough to start a war over. Sure, the open world isn't a vast, thriving metropolis like Gotham City — but it's engrossing in its desolation, and all of the dangers spread throughout feel real.

Unfortunately, while WB and Avalanche brought a stellar upgrade system, pulse-pounding combat and a dense open world to Mad Max, the mission structure is where the title drags its feet. Like so many open-world titles, the game focuses on main missions, side missions and optional missions that all tend to blur together. You'll spend most of your time clearing out enemy strongholds, looting camp sites, running errands for allies and driving near-endless distances to get from one objective to the next.

In between the big action set pieces and the world building is simply too much repetition. Every enemy territory looks and feels the same and requires the same objectives to be completed before you can move on. Granted, there aren't a whole lot of ways for the Wasteland to look different from territory to territory, but sometimes you can't help but feel deja vu as you travel from one stronghold to the next in order to destroy oil tanks and take down Top Dogs.

Just like in Shadow of Mordor — the story missions and side quests follow one basic formula until you just become numb to the whole thing. Though the Wasteland is more engaging than Tolkien's world, it still suffers from dozens of enemies and strongholds that recycle the same structures, animations and objectives. Thankfully, the upgrade system, action gameplay and overall tone all feel authentic for the Mad Max brand, whereas Shadow of Mordor is probably still making Tolkien spin in his grave.

Graphics

Avalanche did a tremendous job bringing Max and his world to life for this game, and the gorgeous visuals actually have a huge impact on the game itself. The incredible draw distance allows you to spot enemies on the horizon, with one of the most impressive features being the visible glare from sniper scopes alerting you to trouble off in the distance. It's a small graphical detail, but it's one that you have to pay attention to in order to avoid certain death.

Even though the Wasteland is basically miles upon miles of nothingness, it's all brought to life in a surprisingly poetic way. Sand dunes, salt flats, derelict buildings and bridges all work harmoniously to give the environment the type of depth that few games pull off, even when set in bustling cities. Nothing is an afterthought in this harsh world, and everything is essential to the overall mise-en-scène Avalanche set out to deliver. Despite the overall emptiness of the Wasteland, there is a surprising amount of life here.

Max himself is also well-rendered, with details like stubble, oil stains, tattered clothing and peeling sunburn all giving more detail not just to him, but to the overall feeling of the world. Avalanche did its best work on the Magnum Opus, though. It's caked with rust and shows the scars of countless battles — yet it's an imposing sight and truly feels like it could take on the Wasteland alone.

The only drawback of the whole experience is the fact that Mad Max simply isn't Fury Road. While George Miller ramped up the saturation and imbued his cinematic Wasteland with harsh yellows, blues and reds, Avalanche went with much more subdued browns and rust tones. The studio pulls it off, but it's hard not to wish that Mad Max had shrugged off the dour graphical trend of the past few years in favor of looking more like its garish big screen counterpart.

Story

As with any Mad Max adaptation, this game is simply a story of survival. During the course of the game, Max runs across new allies, including Chumbucket, a hunchback with a romantic attachment to the Magnum Opus.

Outside of that, this game isn't as plot-heavy as an Arkham Knight or Assassin's Creed, which feels right for a property like this. It's all about keeping alive and keeping sane in an unforgiving Wasteland.

There's no way you'll ever "win" in a world like Mad Max, but as long as your heart is still beating, you'll be ahead of the game.

Overall

Mad Max is a tale of two games — for fans of the property, this hovers very close to being a dream title. Between the upgrades you can make to the Magnum Opus and the tense vehicular combat, this is the type of experience anyone who just got done with Fury Road should try — if not just to recreate some of the movie's best moments in the game.

But if you're growing weary of the open world formula from Warner Bros. Interactive, Mad Max won't do anything to make you change your mind about the genre's future. There are still far too many missions, too much fat that needs to be cut and too much repetition for any of it to truly coalesce into a tight package.

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