Mad Max Head 2 Head

Publisher Warner Brothers
Developer Avalanche Studios
Platforms tested PS4 XboxOne PC
As we rush headlong and knee deep into brand new releases. This one centres around another post apocalyptic open world yarn, but this time set in the outback and follows the tale of Max, mad to his friends and enemies alike. Which seems appropriate going up against Metal Gear Solid 5 another multi platform title hitting the same day, but I have looked at that already


We can look in detail at my multi PC, PS4 and XboxOne copies after managing to squeeze in some hours with each along with nearly completing the game I have a good feel for the story and certainly its visuals and sound track. It follows a similar path of the original Mel Gibson movies minus the law abiding part but is really linked with the new reboot Fury Road (although not based on that movies plot).

It won't win any awards for being a ground breaker regarding story but it has all the right ingredients to work.

  • Vast open world - check
  • Rugged and troubled anti-hero with an upto date gym membership - check
  • Selection of vehicles that can be customisable - check
  • Cool, simple, elegant and batman/shadow of mordoor like combat system - check
  • Varied weapons, scavenging and character personalising/improving RPG type elements - check
  • Stuff to blow up, crush and kill - check

Maps are unlocked by using a balloon system to get a birds eye view of the area and sync up, a similar structure to Warner's open world release last year shadow of mordoor and is not the first time this familiarity rears up, not a bad thing.


Visual Fidelity

This is all encompassed within a very beautiful Australian setting that allows Avalanche to show of its skills and in house engine backed up with the Havok plugin to handle physics. This is a similar engine that powers the forthcoming Just Cause 3 and is the teams own work designed around modern hardware, dynamic emergent play and open worlds. Here the setting and action is far more subdued with Max not jumping from a plane while attacking a base with a rocket launcher using a missile as a surfboard, that is not to say the action does not ramp up here as it surely does. Instead we get a very open and Barron wasteland from sand billowing across sun set vista's to moonlight excursions into dank caves the engine as much as the art team deliver an accurate and at times foreboding setting.

With the team calling its engine a "Clustered Renderer" for Just Cause 3 which is similar to other methods like tiled deferred rendering or Forward+ rendering, a rose by any other name. This is growing in popularity this generation as it solves and improves many problem areas and options that either standard forward or deferred cannot on their own. Seen in use already from The Order 1886, Forza Horizon 2 and the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront, it allows far more light sources per scene along with decoupling the lighting pass from the geometry enabling enhanced lighting features like PBR and these can create much more believable worlds and materials. With this game originally using the more traditional deferred render was delayed into 2015 and due to or because of the dropping of last gen versions was retooled to include some/parts of these clustered elements within and still being a deferred base allows many more light sources and although not all are shadow casting, the game does handle that very well indeed. Car headlights cast shadows over rocks, walls, people and this all makes everything feel more grounded. The same goes for torches and I love this aspect now of games as not only is this an improvement in visuals and presentation but also in the immersion and logic of a game, seeing a shadow in the distance or others can affect both the atmosphere and game play, the metro games from the talented team over at 4A really excelled at this and I hope it soon becomes the standard.


The Havok integrated physics enable it to deliver destructible environments, procedural animation systems best displayed in the very visceral and impactful combat system. With it delivering a weighty system that sees each blow and kick carry power as they fly, fall and crumble, even more so in fury mode. This extends to the kinematics as you see Max adjust his walk, climb and even his knee jolt as he runs through the sand. Cars explode into a particle shower with parts falling off as you shoot, ram or pinpoint sections to disable it adding a tactical element to highway battles as taking out tyres is quicker than wearing a heavy armoured car/truck down. The only minor niggle is the fact the enemies become static and no longer considered collision models shortly after they are defeated, along with objects disappearing and this happens on max settings on PC just the same, hardly a show stopper but noticeable non the less. Later as you upgrade you get to use the harpoon gun which is very handy for quickly destroying encampments or taking cars apart.

But the engine traits also help in another change for this game, the shift to a High Dynamic range allows a PBR pipeline to be built which combined with the deferred shader method means that objects can have their own unique properties and thus are represented in a much more accurate way, although here they are heavily stylised for its chosen cartoon style aesthetic over photo realism. This is helped by the game also having a good Texture budget with the stitching on shirts materials or the decals on faces, even the stablemate of a good quality beard is all delivered and presented well here. The shading work in the game is exemplary and along with its HDR pipeline allows a much more organic and vivid colour palette to shine, it is one of the most colourful games seen in a while from pale blues, burnt orange sunsets, to deep red tones at sun rise. It uses its range and colours well to deliver a believable representation of the Australian countryside, it is kept even more attractive thanks to a decent use of AF here which looks to be around 10 -12x on both consoles ( PC can max out at 16) and although you get some distant shimmer from oblique objects on the distant ground this can come from its mip map bias to higher quality versions further away and its use of Parallax Occlusion mapping that adds more detail and depth to the land as you wander and explore an effect present on both Consoles along with the option on PC ( note here on AMD GPU's this is slightly buggy as the grid can clearly be seen on both GPU's which hopefully will get patched) a great use and touch is the sand footprints which although simple looks affective in play. This along with the AF all help deliver a good looking game and keeps the view detailed, clean and crisp most of the time. Adaptive tessellation is also lightly used in conjunction with these to create some nice rugged areas and overall this works well. With consoles running the max debris setting as per PC it delivers a very full and undulating terrain.

Elsewhere the high light source count impresses in heavier action scenes along with a great particle system that improves the battles, explosions and Collisions. With fire having an almost liquid simulation effect ( they don't like the smoke is just high resolution sprites alpha blended but looks convincing, but particles are used in addition to this in the fire ) as cocktail bombs land and they all have their own point light source. As do the particles from the fire and smoke which itself is very dense and affected by the wind. Elsewhere the engine does not scrimp on post effects which some nice volumetric lighting and crepuscular rays adding atmosphere from a setting sun over dunes to peering through a pieced tankers hull. Dust particles float in the light, sadly not an individual particle system but alpha transparent textures that work well. It allows occlusion shadows to penetrate across the horizon from towers or rocks, it also works within the dust and sand clouds as they receive shadows through them, on PC this needs to be set at high or very high with consoles looking to run the highest level and if not the difference is almost impossible to see between them if any. Both Depth Of field and motion blur appear and are as equally well implemented at the same highest setting as PC, with a high resolution resolve on DoF that includes Bokeh to enhance its filmic flair, this is depth aware with a focal length being used in foreground camera shots or to add scale in fight scenes, the lower option simply uses a plain Gaussian filter applied to the scene uniformly with the same depth calculated parts just being smudged. Motion blur is of both camera and per object origin, and is very impressive for both. It tracks arms, legs and bodies well and in all the games realtime cutscenes it just adds to its off-line CGI looks and still looks great at 60fps on PC. This is also due to its motion capped animation system and is well blended within sets in game, best demonstrated during the games combat system which also flaunts the games great post effects suite this also Includes the very in vogue chromatic aberration touch but is well presented throughout the game adding a fringed edge that sits well with the world setting and industrial, apocalyptic design. In cutscenes with the stinging sun drenched colour it blends well and does not look ill placed while also adding IQ benefits, but some may not like it's resolve at all and this game does have a very heavy post processed look to it most of the time, noticed most when the few shots that are missing this do look very clean.

Speaking of this it uses a post processed anti aliasing pass and although it runs at a native display of 1080 on both machines and PC it can have some heavy shimmer on specular highlights, thin areas and on the far geometry and textures in the middle distance, it never ruins the image but the PS4 seems to run another pass, almost like an SMAA solution with more coverage that can leave some textures looking slightly more blurred than on XboxOne and PC the trade off is it handles shimmer slightly better, best noticed in fight scenes, but helps reduce the shimmer, but the game does still have at times a noisy IQ in places but a native display on both consoles does help. Both In game and the impressive real time scenes that flow seamlessly into and out of game play (aside a fade to black at the end which is a shame but only a few frames ) suffer at various levels of this aliasing, sadly on PC you cannot add more options unless you want to experiments with some driver options or mods.


Sound Design

Sound is what you would call good but not as far reaching as the visual side of the engine, the main title track is effective in evoking the mood merged with its title credits. In game sounds all have a suitable range of gunshot, explosions and engine roar from the V6 or V8 monsters that sound authentic and what else could an Aussie anti-hero drive but a V8, they service the game well, impacts and punches are very good with deep bass that in conjunction with the animation system allow the fight scenes to feel aggressively accurate. Voice acting is good and great to hear Australian voices kept for the main character and others in the game which is very appreciated and true to the story's roots. Max played by Australian actor Brent Foster not only lends his voice but the actual character looks modelled on him, not unsurprising for the motion captured cinematic's. His delivery is good and suitably curt and gruff in-keeping with the character and he carries the in-game and cinematic's well delivering a man haunted by his past and lack or lust of a future. Other characters like chumbucket are the right mix of disturbingly creepy but endearingly loyal, more like a slightly less disturbed Golam (yet another vibe from Shadow of Mordoor creeps in ).


Performance

What is not so ambiguous is its performance, this is really an example of how to deliver right on target and within budget. Check out my first contact PC and console performance analysis to see more of this. From over an hour of various analysed footage across 6 platforms and specs in heavy action, real-time cinematic's, fast paced driving or exploration it never really drops a beat. The only dips come at the start within a cut scene, aside this in open play and other cinematic's it never really drops at all in play, in hindsight the XboxOne only struggles slightly more in cut scenes with some tearing and dips when it does but not regular and nothing to worry yourself about. In play and with a very good streaming and I/O process it does not dip, stutter or fall at all holding a rock solid 30 which combined with the high sample and abundant radial and per object motion blur delivers a smooth and solid performer that is a poster boy for stable, open world games this generation when we have had some others not quite so solid, no matter how hard you seem to stress the engine in chases, explosions, huge brawls and slo motion, bokeh shots it carries on without a sweat on both consoles with the XboxOne being ever so slightly more prone to stutters when driving but very small and even rarer, Well done Avalanche.


The PC release is equally as accomplished handled by the team directly as this is a PC engine from design and as per Avalanche's normal delivery is a solid release. It runs great on all my machines even the APU does a great job of running a very paired back version but pretty solid performance, with the consoles having the max settings on all options aside shadows being one rung lower but hard to spot at all and the obvious draw distance which looks to be on high for geometry and normal setting for debris from PC so what you get on consoles (both PS4 and XboxOne run identical settings) is nigh on identical with the PC aside the LOD and frame rate which runs around the 40's on my 750 machine and much nearer 60 on the 7870. Obviously the GTX970 machine can run in far excess of that with some down sampling thrown in allows it to have the cleanest image with a solid performance, the game does have a few and I must stress rare bugs, I managed to break free of the world on PC as here, along with camera issues mid battle and these happen on all machines, the harpoon can fail to work and in cutscenes characters can jump or disappear occasionally. Also later in the game it can have a obvious bug that causes the framerate and entire engine to stutter and fall like you are in slow motion, I have not captured a full worse case. As I say it is rare and with its Havok physics module being a key part of its engine it may be a physics related issue, aside these very rare occurrences it is a real winner on all platforms, with the PC winning out across both consoles not only due to its higher frame rate but also only being £20 it is nearly half the price of the console release, but no matter which platform you play it on it is an enjoyable and stable romp.


Summary

The game can deliver exquisitely beautiful views at times as the remote and desolate plain spans out before you, with wind and debris blowing through another particle system complete with a motion blur pass or elongated body tricks. When a sand storm or full storm blow in being a real treat as well, this lighting engine and scale can deliver a real mix of superb visual and the more subdued and less impressive ones, much like life. This is also true of the gameplay, the starting few hours feel good as you explore, scrap and scavenged for fuel and parts to repair or bling up your ride from the choice of which base to start your Magnum Opus from. Learning new tricks as you go, opening the map and world as it becomes more travelled, you drive, scavenge, fight, repair ...and repeat But after this like Shadow of mordoor the novelty can wear off, leaving you less involved in completing this tale of revenge and salvation of the silent plains, one that is not entirely well explained from the start and needs to be learned through longer play which just adds to its slightly more difficult attempts to hook the player within its narrative. But the connection between Max and Chumbucket along with mans best friend is one of the better and more natural emerged friendships as you meet more characters with varying levels of fetch quests and task allocation in trade for more parts etc is a familiar one.

As far as a demo of the engine itself and its competence on now gen machines and PC it is a real testament to Avalanche and a good indicator of what The improved version will deliver in Just Cause 3, I hope they look into adding in an unlocked options is possible on consoles if the performance level is available as I have surmised. Non the less It is an enjoyable and at times absolutely gorgeous game with even more commendable performance metrics that never allow it to ever effect your enjoyment, this only presents itself from what is contained within this desolate wasteland and how much you feel compelled to complete. It does not feel sufficient enough to keep you hooked to the end, IMOP as the variation is never as vast as its landscape.Right now as a £35/$50 console game or £10/$20 cheaper PC release all hinges on how much you want to play this story to its conclusion and if you enjoy a solid but a little limited in breadth of level design and mission structure, if you take around £15 of the base price then I think it would feel much more of a deal.

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