They say you can’t really be disappointed by a game when you don’t expose yourself to the hype. However, considering the pedigree that Avalanche Software’s Mad Max has, coming from the creators of the Just Cause franchise and based on George Miller’s twisted sci-fi future which saw a great revival in Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s hard not to feel like it’s capable of so much more than what it ultimately delivers.
You’ve probably heard the storyline by now – our hero Max Rockatansky is traveling through the dust-ridden Wasteland, only to be ambushed by the War Boys led by Scabrous Scrotus. As the leader of Gas Town and Immortan Joe’s son, Scabrous takes it upon himself to steal Max’s prized Interceptor and other possessions. Max unsuccessfully tries to retrieve it but manages to leave Scrotus with a chainsaw in the head. Once you scavenge through the landscape long enough to discover Chumbucket, a manic mechanic who believes he can build the perfect machine, you’re on a relatively intriguing quest to take revenge.
"Make no mistake – this is inherently a Mad Max game, even if it would make for a terribly paced film. Locations like the Plains of Silence, The Jaw and Gas Town are incredibly distinct."
Once you obtain the Magnum Opus, a brand new vehicle that can be modified in a variety of sick ways, you’ll overcome your first camp…and discover that the Interceptor has been scrapped. Maybe Max still needs to take back the picture of his wife and child? No, he finds it among the remains of the Interceptor. A few other missions, mostly centered around upgrading the Magnum Opus – and don’t get me wrong, they’re genuinely fun as you learn about the game’s mechanics, including how to repair the Magnum Opus while weaving through swinging firebombs and battling groups of thugs – and the world of Mad Max really begins to open up.
That’s when the disappointment really begins.
Make no mistake – this is inherently a Mad Max game, even if it would make for a terribly paced film. Locations like the Plains of Silence, The Jaw and Gas Town are incredibly distinct. Many have noted the repetitious nature of the Wasteland’s aesthetics but that’s exactly what the universe is. To its credit, Avalanche Software does a lot to liven up each location. Wreckage from ships and old relics from the past, including pictures with descriptions from days before the world went insane, litter the landscape. Nighttime feels oddly relaxing but is still rife with danger as free-wheeling death machines roam the highways, hunting for their next prey.
The details on both characters and cars are intricate and help them stand out for the most part. At the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do with a desert setting and Mad Max makes the best of it. The game is also extremely well optimized on PC, offering consistent 60 FPS performance even on modest configurations like mine.
"If you’re seeking a thrill ride like Fury Road, then the video game is a distinctly slower, somber beast – which I honestly wouldn’t have expected from the studio behind Just Cause."
Even the voice acting and animation are very well handled. Chumbucket’s dialogues are essentially one long running chain of madness but picking at the individual links is fun. If nothing else, it’s cool to find out what other automotive-themed sermon he’ll come up with. There isn’t much one can, or needs to do, with Max as a central character and Avalanche made the right call with his lines. Short, to the point but nonetheless forlorn when it comes to the past, the madness seemingly bubbling beneath the surface at all times, Max is a decent protagonist.
Unfortunately, Mad Max the video game doesn’t make for a good story. The main story missions consist of roaming from point A to point B to point C, trying to discover information about Scabrous Scrotus and upgrading the Magnum Opus to do battle with his forces. For some, this is a relatively simple approach to story-telling – which in itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem is that approach lacks any really exciting exchanges, set pieces or sequences. Some of the cooler scenes, like escaping Chumbucket’s base as it’s bombed, are relegated to cut scenes. And for all the effort you make and all the Warlords you please, the only real conclusion is Max killing Scabrous. Yes, there are other factors involved in the ending (making it even more depressing) but that’s pretty much it. If you’re seeking a thrill ride like Fury Road, then the video game is a distinctly slower, somber beast – which I honestly wouldn’t have expected from the studio behind Just Cause.
The open world activities of Mad Max are intriguing at first. There are strongholds to capture, which provide vital resources to the Magnum Opus along with serving as safe havens with fuel and health; enemy towers dotting the landscape, which can be pulled down to reduce a warlord’s threat to the area; hot air balloons that can be activated and serve as fast travel points (basically like the radio towers in Far Cry 4 or synchronization points in Assassin’s Creed); and heavily armed convoys to assault for valuable upgrades.
"Car combat has longer legs to it, thanks to the number of ways you can upgrade the Magnum Opus. Favour ramming your foes? Buy a better battering ram and boost into weaker cars."
The problem is that there really aren’t many interesting variations to any of them. You’ll probably discover a tower that needs to be pulled down but requires an upgraded harpoon gun. Maybe you can run them over instead. Strongholds are fun to assault, especially since their multi-tiered nature means something interesting around every corner. They all devolve into the same routine though – snipe the enemies in watchtowers or pull them down with harpoons, destroy gas tanks to eliminate defenses, ram down gates, kill the War Crier so enemies don’t get buffed and then pummel the baddies into submission. It’s fun the first few times, especially with Max’s simplistic but brutally efficient fighting style, but it eventually gets old.
While lacking the depth and fluidity of Batman: Arkham Knight or even the strategy and cleverness of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Mad Max’s combat can be fun. The sheer impact of executing enemies with flying arm bars or German suplexes while kicking them repeatedly in the crotch when they’re down thankfully doesn’t get old. The perks system is a little confusing at first – there are benefits like increased health that you can obtain from Griffa, a wandering backpacker who bestows these on you depending on challenges you complete. Then there are the combat moves that Max can unlock along with increased damage with both firearms and his bare knuckles. Altering Max’s wardrobe provides for other useful enhancements to defense and you can also change the way Max looks, giving him a scraggly beard in the process.
Car combat is also suitably distracting, thanks to the number of ways you can upgrade the Magnum Opus. Favour ramming your foes? Buy a better battering ram and boost into weaker cars. The harpoon gun is your mainstay weapon for the most part with the sniper rifle getting some usage at longer ranges but why not have flames emitting from the sides of your car and damaging foes as you pass them? It’s all well and good at first, even if gathering scrap for upgrades takes a while. However, even if you take to assaulting convoys that provide some of the best car combat sequences in the game, one ultimately grows tired with the tediousness. Unlocking a nifty hood ornament and leveling up your harpoon gun shouldn’t be the only incentives for taking on these missions, but they’re all you really have when the gameplay gets so repetitive.
"As it stands, Mad Max isn’t a horrible game but it’s certainly one that could have and should have done so much more, given the time, resources and development team backing it."
I know it doesn’t make much sense to compare Mad Max to games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in terms of side-quest design. However, there are plenty of games that just do so much more with their open world quests that it’s ridiculous. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, for instance, at least gives you a variety of locations to explore with stealth missions, naval combat, real world missions and whatnot, building on its cohesive lore in the meanwhile. Sunset Overdrive’s missions exploit the movement system in intriguing, edgy ways – even if the fetch quests and objectives aren’t inspired, the game still manages to turn things upside down with sharp writing. For all the flak that The Witcher 3’s side missions have received, there’s compelling dialogue and characters, along with a motivation to explore. Mad Max doesn’t have to be like those games but it can at least do more to expand its setting.
For instance, when you drive over to a quest icon, you either talk to some one who gives you scrap and asks not to be killed (killing them isn’t even a moral choice or anything) or talk to someone who tells you about some sick jumps you can drive off of. Even the majority of other NPCs and enemies feel tacked on and uninspired, spouting some drivel before ultimately pointing me where I need to go next. There are certain moments where Mad Max shines, dodging enemy vehicles only to shotgun them a second later or even when caught up in high stakes convoy assaults against overwhelming odds. It’s a shame that even those lose their luster overtime as you repeat the same assaults again and again.
In the end, it’s hard to be too harsh on Mad Max. Maybe you’ll like both the melee and car combat over short bursts of time, driving through the world at your leisure. Maybe you’ll find enough reason to earn upgrades to more effectively annihilate convoys. And maybe you just want a game that properly captures that look and feel of the Mad Max universe while doling out just enough simple tasks to keep you busy. As it stands, Mad Max isn’t a horrible game but it’s certainly one that could have and should have done so much more, given the time, resources and development team backing it.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Gorgeous looking visuals and excellent optimization on PC. Locations, despite the common desert setting, look unique and faithful to the franchise. Good voice acting, especially for Max and Chumbucket. Brutal melee and car combat with some decent variety at first.
Side missions are uninspired and repetitive with no real motivation to explore other than grinding upgrades. Story missions lack any memorable characters, outstanding set pieces and compelling pacing. Tame payoff and even tamer NPC characterization that doesn't extend beyond quirky dialogues.
Mad Max seemingly had it all but ultimately stumbles in the worst way possible - by not presenting enough interesting things to in its open world. Side mission and story quest design aside, there's a whole of repetition and not a lot of substance to the game's madness. Good for the odd casual playthrough but imminently forgettable.
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