With a rusting shiny and chrome paint job…
Despite having a video game previously released on the original NES in the good old days of 1990, it’s surprising to know that no other game developers and publishers have given the Mad Max film series a real go in the modern era of gaming. For 25 years, we’ve seen the various misadventures of Max Rockatansky in the post-apocalypse Australian outback inspire gaming franchises with notable successes such as the Fallout series standing top of the pile, whilst Max himself has been left in the dust somewhat. Well not anymore, as Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment has tapped Swedish developers Avalanche Studios – responsible for the open world action adventure Just Cause series – to deliver on a worthwhile purring motor of a game, albeit one which has some minor faults in it’s MOT.
On the way to the Plains Of Silence to escape the terrors of the wasteland, Max (voiced & motion captured by Bren Foster, The Last Ship) runs afoul of the warlord Scabrous Scrotus and his army of War Boys. Strip bare of his armoury and possessions as well as his prized V8 Interceptor being ripped apart for parts, Max is at rock bottom with nowt to his name. With nothing to lose, he searches for Scrotus in an act of revenge. Teaming up with a hunchback mechanic mutant named Chumbucket, Max goes about the remains of civilisation gaining the necessary parts to build the Magnum Opus vehicle, a perfect car capable of surviving the insanity and chaos of the post-apocalypse desert.
Whilst at first glance it would be easy to dismiss Mad Max the game as a Grand Theft Auto clone with a bulging map with mission after mission to plow through… and it’s hard not to shake that perception. The freedom of a sandbox style videogame is the go to nowadays for many games, rather than say have a more linear experience. Although that freedom is often filled with things to do and see, it tends to lack the focus a more rigid game would offer. More often than not in the 12 hours I’ve clocked up so far, I’ve just taken Max around the wasteland rather than progress the story a great deal. As part of the game’s undercooked feel, there are points in Mad Max where I wasn’t particularly well directed in what I was meant to be doing, despite the fact the objective is always turned on in the top left corner of the screen. Oh I’m meant to level up a certain part of the Magnum Opus? Well which one should I on the actual bloody upgrade screen then? There are some time-sinking elements with tonnes of optional mini objectives that do add to the patience-pushing lack of depth in your actions. The number of times you pull down scarecrows of various wasteland bosses, take out snipers and mutant encampments, ride stationary hot air balloons to unlock more areas on your world map, looting spots to raid for precious scrap metal (the currency of the game) and safe dreadforts to build up add up to a high number of busybody repetition, which doesn’t get overly dull or boring, more so dissatisfied with the high number of similar tasks required of you.
Most of the game, you will be engaging in both vehicular and physical hand-to-hand combat with the scum of the wasteland and both are incredibly fun. The hand-to-hand fighting is reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series, chaining together combat combos against massive groups of enemies but with a difference. Whilst Batman offers a grace as he systematically counters and despatches goons effortlessly (because he is Batman after all), Mad Max is far more brutal. Whether by design or not, it’s way more meatier and feels like it’s not freeflowing most of the time – Good. Max as a character should be breaking a sweat as he fights for his life and the random whailing is of a desperate man fuelled by adrenaline more than anything else. Every punch landed deals a great deal of force that feels like it should shatter your TV with it’s stodginess. You can build up a fury meter to unleash a raging powered-up Max on sorry mutant scum and bust out special moves like a finishing german suplex to rid the wasteland quicker. Whilst it is not the best Arkham clone you’ll play through, the combat in Mad Max is undoubtedly suitable.
The vehicular combat is perhaps the shining spotlight for Mad Max to show off. In true Twisted Metal fashion, you can go toe-to-toe in a high octane, terrain spanning duel of wits trying to pick the right spot to ram your rival into fiery oblivion or pick an opportune moment to fire off a steady rare shotgun shell to a fuel tank for similar effect. The Magnum Opus can be upgraded to help out in various methods, from stopping raiders to climb aboard during a duel to ripping off enemy car parts with a giant harpoon. Said harpoon is easily the most fun in the whole game as you will never get bored of busting into a car and sending a War boy or mutant flying into the sky off the end of your hook. The grinding of wheels on wheels are immensely appeasing, especially when you finally get a rival to bite the dust in typically Max pyro filled demise. Controlling the car itself feels nicely balanced and the upgrades you make to the Opus can have an actual effect on the weight and acceleration amongst other factors to your personalised beast. You can pick up more paint jobs and styles so you can dramatically give your car your own demented post-apocalypse War party look. A slight gripe but you only really see cars at the beginning of the game. There is a hope as I play more of it after this review that I see a bit variance in terms of bikes, buggies and trucks for vehicles.
Although there’s probably a bit too much borrowed from the Fury Road style guidebook, you cannot ignore that Mad Max the game is a truly worth bearer of the franchise’s name and spirit. A factor where many licensed games of various films, TV shows, comic books and the like fall down, this definitely feels like an untold adventure of Max Rockatansky. Whilst the plot is a bit laughable on it’s own merit, the context behind it is totally up Max’s alley – his car is stolen and ripped apart, he wants revenge and builds a new better one. It is in tone with the usual plot set up of the films where Max wanders into a new situation and we pick off from there. The barren look of the wasteland with the remains of a former giant lake or sea and surrounding structures now covered in sand is at home with the Max-iverse and the various rustic and slapdash enemy bases maintain the easter eggs of recognisable iconography. Whilst from the amount of play time I didn’t get too deep into the story, the themes that revolve around the death of hope when you meet local Max upgrade controller-cum-wasteland shaman Grifa about where Max the man is going in life are thought provoking. The crowning moment is when you participate in the enemy convoy sub-missions where you catch up to a bunch on vehicles and wreck havoc upon them until you have acquired the goodies of loot, ammo and scrap currency. Like Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior & Fury Road, these chases are intense, multi-vehicle pile ups as you have to throttle at speed and be on your toes to take out the goon cars before going for the money shot big prize whilst avoiding raiders jumping onto your car and being hit by enemy vehicles of different shapes, as you go from one end of the map to the other in prolonged chases. This is what came the closest of matching the highlights of the franchise and were utterly wonderful and intense moments of play. A high five to Avalanche for getting these spot on.
I do feel how well this game honours the Mad Max film franchise, also masks it’s utterly stupid gaming design choices. First of all, to fire off Max’s iconic shotgun, it’s mapped to the Circle button for the Playstation 4 version. Baffling when Playstation as a console has had two sets of trigger shoulder buttons for 20 years now. You will waste and fire off precious rare ammo by accidentally wasting a round as Circle is a no questions asked quickshot. Max has the ability to jump although in my 12 hours so far playtime I have not found an actual use for it yet. It’s not high enough to grab taller structures nor is it powerful enough to use in combat. There are an insane amount of waist high walls that Max stubbornly refuses to pull himself up and over, whilst he’s keen to run into them constantly. The lack of proper important female characters was worrying although I’ll concede I may not have progressed too far into the story. Still, the only real purpose the female gender so far served was as background Non-Playable Characters who offer Max the odd quick side mission or bit of intel. The low key showing of Australian accents – or quasi-American ones for the most part – is a bit of a slap to the face of a franchise which embraces it’s geographical setting. Finally, I appreciate Avalanche did have one or two problems getting this game ready for final release but good lord there is a lack of polish. Not exactly in the graphics department as the wasteland looks absolutely fine and lush. More in the sense that I’ve had four or five start of the game tutorials load up everytime I boot the game up for another playing session. I’m sure they’ll get sorted along with a bit more spit in the inevitable patch but until then…
Whilst it is far from a perfect game, the Mad Max videogame is undoubtedly in the same voice as the film medium of the franchise and that manages to mask most of the faults. Fans of the films, new and old, will undoubtedly love this and will sink a fair old chunk of time to immerse themselves more into the Max-iverse wasteland. More casual fans will be left smarting from the admittedly repetitive gameplay and maybe keen to invest time elsewhere in games which offer more instantaneous context. Still, if Fury Road was the V8 Interceptor of a Mad Max experience, the game is at the same level as your first real powerful car you pickup second hand – it’s got a nifty 1.8 litre gearbox and you’ve polished it up a treat, although you still dread when it’s time for it’s MOT.
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