If GamesCom teaches us anything about entertainment conventions, it's that whatever is shown a couple of months prior at E3 will look better when it turns up in Germany.
Obvious in many ways given the extra time a developer has to work on its product, Mad Max is yet another entry into E3's 'come look at me' canon that seemed significantly better second time out. Slightly confused in LA, Avalanche's post-Just Cause adventure is everything you'd assume it would be, just set in the very familiar, to some, Wasteland.
Warner Bros. has been keen to push the driving elements of Mad Max despite continually reminding you that The Interceptor - Max's iconic car - has been stolen, forcing you to make your own. While in many ways it's a good mechanic (no pun intended) to have, stripping away an element that's so key to the franchise is still a little weird. 'Here's Wolverine… but he's got no claws'. What it does allow, though, is for the customisation of a new vehicle, one that you can kit out in anyway you see fit.
Boasting the kind of options you'd expect to see in something like Need for Speed, there's a certain novelty in adding a huge bumper to the rather grandly-named Magnum Opus for the purpose of smashing through a massive enemy gate. It goes further than that, too, as you can fiddle with the car's suspension, tyres, engine, and everything you'd expect, with each change having an impact of the vehicle. Given that Avalanche is promising 'millions' of combinations - and to be fair, even at this stage there is a decent amount of options - means the studio has every chance of fulfilling its promise.
It's still the core game where the most questions are raised, however. Visually, Mad Max looks tremendous, mostly due to the sheer daunting size of the Wasteland. The developer's history, and what has been shown on-screen, is all the evidence needed to assume if you can see it, you can reach it – the sheer carnage that happens in-between will undoubtedly be down to the user. The issue, then, is exactly what you can do within this massive environment. For the purpose of GamesCom, it revolved around simply trying to obtain parts in order to get on the good side of a nearby gang leader. To say it was a side-mission of sorts wouldn't be doing it a disservice.
There was a sense of variety as Max sniped away one enemy, pulled another off a tower with his car's mechanical hook before smashing a few in the face with his hands, and the developer's inclusion of random weapons that are handily lying around the place is interesting: in this case, the object to be found could only be described as an exploding stick. Launched into one enemy's stomach - who duly blows up – the same item is also needed to blast your way through a nearby gate. You don't have to go that way – this being an open world experience and all – but it's teasing that there should be some manner of choice in how you want to play.
It's all very satisfying, if not entirely new, and a speeding chase back to HQ to show off the much-touted car combat is far better than the slightly boring demo at E3. Here, it does seem more interesting and diverse, with cars often exploding after a fair whack and the aforementioned hook being used to hurl vehicles out your way. It may not be revolutionary, but it certainly is entertaining.
What Mad Max needs, though, is a reason for all of this to exist. If it's made up of just numerous objectives that don't tie into anything major, it'll feel like a bunch of chores grouped together. You may as well send Max to get his washing. Admittedly Just Cause managed to take a similar path and execute it with some success, but the sheer desolate nature of the Wasteland needs a bit of colour in order to stop it from becoming too bland. If that has to come from the story, that's no bad thing.
As you'd expect that's not an area Avalanche is focusing on at the moment. Currently, it's all gameplay-heavy highlights, and it is showing signs of improvement. Knowing that it has a gargantuan amount of time before it's released - end of 2014 is the current date - and that it's moving in the right direction, Mad Max certainly has something to it.
It's just a shame it's a cross-generation title, as the real allure here will surely come from the technical marvel Avalanche will create. Aside from how it balances the multiple platforms, it may not impress as much on machines that are already starting to show their age; another reason why the developer has to ensure there's more than just a pretty canvas.
Still, if I were to draw a graph of Mad Max's progress, the line would steadily go up and that, at this juncture, is no bad thing...