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Mad Max preview: Bringing Just Cause's insanity to the wilds

An over-the-top open world makes this the perfect return for Avalanche.

Commandeering vehicles is nothing new in open world games. Heck, the genre was in many ways founded by a game called Grand Theft Auto, so getting behind the wheel to zip around an extended map is the oldest trick in the book. And yet it's hard to form much of an attachment to a particular vehicle when everything with a gas pedal is for the taking. In Just Cause 2 developer Avalanche's upcoming Mad Max game you'll be able to drive more than 50 vehicles over the course of its open-world adventure, but you'll only become intimately familiar with one: the Magnum Opus.

Max's iconic car, a heavily modded 1974 Ford Falcon XB sedan, is no more and Max needs to craft his new ride. The Magnum Opus may start out a rickety ol' jalopy, but throughout the course of Avalanche's post-apocalyptic open-world adventure, you'll be able to customise it to your liking. You'll be able to modify its chassis, ramming abilities, engine, harpoon, mounted sniper rifle, or even your idiot savant hunchback mechanic Chumbucket, who comes included.

The section of the game Avalanche demoes at E3 tasks Max with getting past a heavily fortified barrier guarded marauders. Using his binoculars, Max can see that the barrier is glowing red, an indicator that our vehicle is not yet strong enough to smash through it. In the real game, you'll have to explore the wasteland, fight foes, and loot gear to eventually upgrade your ride, but for demo purposes Avalanche cheats and pumps points into the Magnum Opus' vast upgrade tree.

Cover image for YouTube videoMad Max Game Teaser Trailer - E3 2013 - Xbox One

With that out of the way, the question becomes how to infiltrate the outpost. Max could attempt to mow the thugs over, he could hop out of his car and make use of that nifty sawed-off shotgun, or he could snipe them from a distance. Avalanche opts for the latter, Max finding a spot on the high-ground to perch and switching places with Chumbucket, so he can man the makeshift sniper rifle in the back. Thankfully, all the enemies are standing next to explosive barrels, which actually makes some sense in this bizarre world because they're actually guarding the gasoline.

Hanging back and sniping will only work some of the time, and more regularly you'll engage marauders in random encounters across the wasteland. Much of the combat is vehicular-based with all manner of jerry-rigged jalopies hot on your tail. There's a slow-motion mechanic when you drive up real close to a foe and use your shotgun. It's unclear if this is a limited use ability or if it recharges over time, but it certainly looks great. Frequently foes will hop on board the Magnum Opus and you'll have to manually shoot them off or ram them into vehicles before they can gouge your eye out with a bowie knife.

One of your best modes of defence is your harpoon gun, a returning favourite from Just Cause 2. With this comically cool weapon, you're able to attach any two things: simply latch it on to two enemy vehicles and watch them spin out of control together. If it's anything like it was in Just Cause 2, I'm sure it will have far more inventive uses that we've not thought of yet. At the very least, expect to see some unlucky folks getting hogtied to jeeps.

Mad Max doesn't follow any of the films, but is instead based on an original story.

You will occasionally need to go outside of your car, and this leads to exceedingly violent melee combat. You'll be able to use knives, bricks, your shotgun, and in one memorable case, an electric prod that we see Max impale some poor sap on before it explodes. There's even some stealth as Max sneaks up behind a sniper and snuffs the life out of him.

The build I see is pre-alpha, but running on a PlayStation 4. A few of the animations are still ropey, but on the whole Mad Max looks great, even if that doesn't come through in screenshots. The greyish brown Australian outback is a dreary place comprised primarily of sand and rocks, but the sand looks great, especially as it blows around the environment, sometimes obscuring your vision during certain off-road encounters. The rocks aren't bad either, and chunks of them will often break off as your war machine smashes about. Elsewhere, the incredible draw distance alleviates one of the biggest bugbears of this generation where environmental assets distractedly load right in front of your very eyes.

Based on Avalanche's 14-minute E3 presentation, Mad Max looks like it captures the sort of savage freedom that the films teased. It remains to be seen what other sorts of environments the game will have (will we see Thunderdome? Or possibly beyond Thunderdome, even?), and we've only seen a brief hint of the combat, but what Avalanche has shown so far looks like the best bits of Just Cause 2 and Jak 3 rolled into one. Plus it's got one pretty sweet ride.