Part of me feels really sorry for Mad Max. Being released on the same day as MGSV: The Phantom Pain and on the cusp of the madness of releases yet to come seems like commercial suicide. If ever there was a game that had “Summer release” written all over it, it was this one.
Middle of The Fury Road.
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Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Mad Max movies and I adore the world George Miller has created. It very much sowed the seeds of my Fallout obsession and I really, really wanted to love Mad Max. The problem is that almost everything on offer here is competent, it’s fine, it’s okay, it’s safe. Mad Max the videogame is very much the antithesis of its hero, it takes no risks whatsoever.
Mad Max opens up with a road battle and Max’s iconic car, Black on Black, is stolen from him and scrapped by the minions of Scrotus, our delightfully sadistic antagonist. Max teams up with hunchback mechanic Chumbucket to build the Magnum Opus, the deific car to end all cars. The voice acting is a mixed bag, the main characters are voiced well enough but the random quest givers you stumble upon really phone it in. Bizarrely around 80% of the game’s population appear to be American, which is strange considering that you’re driving around a post-apocalyptic Australia. That’s pretty much it plot-wise, with that you’re flung into the world with the goal of making your car awesome.
battering hordes of weirdos isn't as fun as it should be
And what a gorgeous world it is, Avalanche have excelled themselves in making the wasteland extremely pretty. The smashed, skeletal settlements and desolate stretches of desert are realised beautifully. The impressive graphics are complimented nicely by the impeccable sound design; the howling winds, the barbaric roar of engines and the Hollywood car explosions are a feast for the ears. It also runs impeccably on my GTX 780, and by all accounts runs smoothly on older set ups.
Ground combat in Mad Max is brutal, bone crunching and disapointingly shallow. You’ll be repeatedly pressing a single button to perform an outrageous amount of attacks and occaisionally pressing another button to parry and then a third as a finisher. It feels like a more sluggish cousin of the combat found in the Batman Arkham games or Shadows of Mordor. It’s very much by the numbers, and only gets challenging when you are swarmed by enemies who are buffed by a Warcryer. Warcryers are suspeneded on cranes and increase villain’s attack speed and damage, killing them off quickly is advsiable, but it’s worth leaving them until last to hear how they try and talk you out of offing them!
To help you despatch your foes, you can use shivs as a one-shot execution, brittle melee weapons that break quite easily and of course Max’s trusty shotgun. Gunplay is extremely limited in Mad Max, ammunition is scarce in the early game and your firearm is mainly implemented as a finisher in ground combat or for blasting fools who try to board the Magnum Opus.
Road combat is where Mad Max is at its best. Once you’ve beefed up your car and go wheel to wheel with the crazies that terrorise the wastelands, Mad Max reaches its pinnacle. Smashing convoys and enemy patrols you find on your travels never gets old. Utilising your nitrous boost, shunting and ramming your enemies is one way to go, but judicious use of your shotgun and harpoon are what really makes road combat shine.
Car combat is fantastic
You’ll travel for miles as you battle other road warriors and your harpoon can be used to rip wheels from cars, or hlariously to impale a driver, tear him from his vehicle and send him flying into a cliff. Hilarious! Your shotgun can be used to take out tyres or, more spectacularly, on fuel tanks to explosive effect. Road combat is just so bloody satisfying and it highlights just how poor the ground fighting really is. Simple mechanics are used in both, but the amount of fun generated from harpooning bastards and shooting fuel tanks leaves the fisticuffs in the dust.
If you like upgrading stuff, then you’re in for a treat as Mad Max has progressions systems coming out of its arse. You can upgrade Max, his weapons, his armour, his skills. There’s even a ton of beards that you can customise him with. You can extensively modify the Magnum Opus with choices of frame, tyres, suspension, armour, spikes and even hood ornaments that give you passive bonuses.
Rather then earning XP to level up, you must complete a series of challenges, for the most part this will include things that you’ll be doing anyway such as defeating a certain number of enemies or destroying a number of cars. This encourages you to try out a variety of activities to keep progressing. Some of the beefier vehicle upgrades are story mission rewards however, so you can’t grind your way to godhood too soon.
Unfortunately, some of the earlier passive upgrades you can unlock for Max render the rather half arsed survival mechanics redundant. Within a couple of hours or so of play, eating, drinking and refueling becomes less and less important. It would have been interesting to see an optional “hardcore” survival mode that turned the environment into a dangerous enemy as well.
At certain intervals in the story you’ll unlock access to strongholds that can also be upgraded through a series of fetch quests. Once you’ve collceted the various macguffins needed you can unlock access to food, water, fuel, ammunition and scrap (the game’s currency). The first stronghold you unlock, it’s quite compelling seeing it come to life as you return with prizes from the wasteland but once I had one base of operations that provided me with everything I needed I couldn’t be bothered to upgrade the other four that I very quickly was given access to.
The Magnum Opus can be customised in a variety of ways
That brings us to the rest of the activities and with the exception of smashing enemy convoys and entering races you are essentially given a laundry list of menial tasks to perform. The map is saturated with pockets of scrap to loot, towers to destroy, mines to clear, snipers to kill, relics to collects etc. Most of the “content” on offer is wading through busywork and bullshit collectibles. Even capturing camps, which is fun at first (and also provides you with a steady supply of scrap) descends into routine as you fight a group of guys, blow up an oil tank, fight a group of guys rinse and repeat.
Mad Max is crying out for a compelling story, interesting characters and some adventures to get your teeth in to. Fans of the movies with definitely get more enjoyment out of this as there is fun to be had driving around like a nutter blowing stuff up, but it ultimately pales in comparison to some of its competitors.
MAD MAX VERDICT
Mad Max is a decent if, uninspiring time waster. You have a vast laundry list of tasks to chew through, but hardly any of them are particularly challenging or interesting. The excellent road combat and meaty progression system make it worth your time once you’ve beaten the significantly better open world games available at the moment.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Sticking an enemy driver with your harpoon and flinging him across the road for the first time. And every time after that because it doesn’t get old!