Mad Max takes Avalanche Studios in a new direction: focusing strongly on vehicular combat and exploration of a vast post-apocalyptic wasteland, the developers successfully translate the bleak and unrelenting vision of George Miller's iconic series into a challenging action title. From a technological perspective, Mad Max also impresses with the studio's use of complex lighting and extensive post-processing to bring the wasteland to life. Physically-based lighting and clustered shading allow for a large number of simultaneous light sources without heavily impacting on performance, while materials such as sand, metals, and fabrics are accurately rendered with a suitably run-down aesthetic.
In terms of multi-platform comparisons, both console versions of Mad Max operate natively at full 1080p, with the Xbox One game matching the PS4 in the resolution stakes pixel-for-pixel - a pleasant surprise considering the resolution differential in many top-tier games. Edge-smoothing looks impressive, most likely handled by a custom anti-aliasing algorithm (Avalanche has a history of experimenting with its own techniques in this area). While the details on the actual AA implementation remain unknown right now, the technique in play here works well in tackling jaggies when exploring the vast wasteland, with rocky canyons and sand tunes appearing suitable smooth. That said, sub-pixel details aren't handled quite as successfully and shimmering across small objects and more intricate structures is noticeable when exploring outposts scattered across the post-apocalyptic landscape.
An initial gaze across the rest of the game's graphically rich visuals reveals a welcome level of parity across both consoles, with the same core art and effects work deployed equally in almost every area between the two formats. Texture filtering, depth of field, motion blur, and shadow quality all match up nicely to the point where differences you may see in our media are mostly a product of a dynamic time of time system, where slightly variances in shadow position and lighting occur depending on how quickly we complete certain missions.
So far we are looking at a match between the two consoles in pretty much every area, although in a few scenes some unexpected differences do crop up. The appearance of lower resolution normal maps on some parts of Max's character model on the PS4 is a curious anomaly, with tears in his shirt and dog tags appearing sharper on Xbox One. The lighting in the opening cut-scene scene also appears harsher and more washed out on PS4. When gameplay finally begins, the lighting model equalises, suggesting that the initial difference in the opening scene is nothing more than a small platform-specific anomaly. Likewise the normal map/texture issue on PS4 also seems like a small technical glitch, as this aspect of the game appears consistently identical everywhere else.
Avalanche Studios is on cue to deliver a technically solid multi-platform release with both consoles receiving the same core level of visual quality. Impressively, the decision to target native 1080p on Xbox One also comes without any repercussions in terms of performance. In fact, frame-rates are slightly more stable on the Microsoft platform during gameplay, suggesting that the developers have taken great care in optimising the game. 30fps is the target on both platforms and for the most part we are looking at frame-rates locked at that level for the duration on both systems, with very little in the way of disruptions to distract from the experience.
Ramming into other vehicles or blowing them up during combat on the roads plays out smoothly, and often we see no interruptions from the desired 30fps target, bar perhaps the odd single frame drop or solitary tear. Similarly, fist-fights against multiple enemies also come across as smooth and fluid. Indeed, across a multitude of different scenarios Mad Max frequently offers up a solid 30fps experience with no tangible impact on gameplay.
Performance also holds up well when the engine is pushed. Even storming a heavily armed outpost head-on and letting all hell break loose doesn't impact performance. In this scenario, defences are triggered and Max is soon surrounded by multiple explosions and other alpha effects - and while all this chaos is going on, frame-rates hold strongly to the 30fps target. In fact, Xbox One handles this scene flawlessly without skipping a beat, while on PS4 we see some sporadic drops down to 28fps along with a handful of torn frames. The minor dip in performance results in a small degree of judder if you pay attention closely to the screen, but it's easy to miss completely and gameplay is basically unaffected.
In another scene, a massive sandstorm hits the environment while we explore a different outpost, filling the screen with particle effects and debris, but once again the engine tackles the demands placed upon it without struggling. Xbox One gets encounters a small frame-rate drop as Max is hit by some debris, while the PS4 achieves a 30fps lock for most of the scene. Towards the end we see an unusual drop down to 26fps on Sony's console causing heavy judder to appear before the game quickly resumes the normal operation at 30fps.
These rare drops down to the mid-twenties actually occur on both platforms at seemingly random moments throughout the game, and are pretty distracting when they do occur due to the heavy stutter. We encountered the issue once on each platform during several hours of play, but were unable to repeat the loss in performance after it had subsided. The engine can clearly handle demanding graphical segments of gameplay with relative ease, so these blips in an otherwise near faultless 30fps presentation are something of an anomaly. Thankfully, impacts upon fluidity such as this are rare and not indicative of how the game runs across an extended length of time.
A firm level of stability also extends to the game's cut-scenes, with the more demanding action sequences achieving a near completely solid 30fps, bar the very occasional dropped or torn frame cropping up. The PS4 commands a very minor advantage here with fewer subtle dips in performance, but in practice the difference is so small that both essentially provide an almost identical experience. Curiously, despite the solid 30fps metrics achieved for the duration of most cinematics throughout Mad Max, there are times when judder does creep in even though frame-rates appear solid. Our initial thoughts were that uneven frame-pacing could be causing the issue, but a close look at the frame-time graph shows that not to be the case. Instead it appears that the camera-work in combination with how characters and objects move across the screen causes these rare interruptions to fluidity. Thankfully, few scenes appear to exhibit the problem, so this is more of a minor annoyance than anything else.
From what we've sampled so far, Mad Max is a solid multi-platform release across both consoles. Frame-rates appear stable under stressful conditions, while the level of graphical accomplishment appears practically identical, with the Xbox One not only achieving a native 1080p presentation but also delivering slightly better performance overall. Of course, we'll be taking a closer look at the game in our upcoming Face-Off, but for now the Xbox One game nudges slightly ahead in performance terms, though in practice there's really not much to separate the two versions at all, with both serving up an excellent experience.
Instead, it falls to the PC game to potentially bring about some dramatic differences. Initial impressions are positive, revealing that 1080p60 is definitely on the cards at maximum settings without requiring the latest cutting-edge GPUs. Tantalisingly, this also opens up the possibility of gameplay at ultra high resolutions beyond the current full-HD standard seen on console - something we'll be investigating in the final Face-Off.