The ultimate chase for metal scrap
Mad Max is a water well in the desert, whose promise of long term sustenance dries up far too quickly, and ditching it in search of something more fulfilling is the better route to survival. Anyone looking for a proper prequel to the Mad Max: Fury Road film won’t find it here, since what counts for a story in Mad Max is merely an excuse to unlock cars and parts. Instead, the game is another go-round at an open-world game, borrowing its gameplay from the possibilities of a beautiful looking land dominated by gas, steel, and limited resources.
At the outset, Max is driven by the procurement of a V8 engine and a car to drop it in so that he can reach the fabled “Plains of Silence.” Metal scraps are currency and allies from different, albeit indistinguishable, regions will aid you in obtaining the necessary amount to upgrade your initially paltry ride into one that can take down enemy camps and progress into a reputable Road Warrior.
Max’s tale has always been scant, and Mad Max stays the course with a main quest that can be completed in ten hours or so. The films, however, filled 90-minutes with a stark vision of the future and unforgettable moments. Here, the game only manages to stuff the wasteland full of loot-based errands—and the sheer amount of tasks isn’t enough to justify the use of the license, let alone adding another derivative open-world game to your library.
Mad Max is a game in three segments: fetch a quest, drive to the requisite enemy base, and face your foes in close quarters. Between this there are races, scavenging, and road encounters, but these only serve to better prepare you for the showdown at enemy camps.
Mad Max lifts much of its map exploration ideas from Assassin’s Creed and FarCry. Air balloons stand in for surveillance towers that can be used to reveal locations of enemy camps, structures, and security. It’s standard fare and can hardly be faulted for borrowing a tried-and-true structure, however, Mad Max simply doesn’t go out of its way to do enough on its own. The game does a well enough job of masking these mechanics with a post-apocalyptic worlds’ aesthetics, but it’s a palette swap only worthwhile to enthusiasts of the film.
As Max, you become dependent on Chumbucket and his project car, the Magnum Opus. Chumbucket is a deformed mechanic obsessed with the legend of the protagonist, but considering that Max Rockatansky is the perennial loner, it’s odd that he would suddenly rely so heavily on anybody. Fortunately, Chumbucket’s pandering loyalty provides for the most fun and versatile mechanic in the game; the Harpoon.
The Harpoon is deceptively simple yet rewarding. The ability to strategically breakdown enemy vehicle armor, pull snipers out of their nests, and cripple camp defenses are a lot of fun and are open to varieties of playthroughs. Practically every stage of the game depends on the Harpoon and mastering its use. Because of this, Mad Max slogs when you’re forced to abandon it.
After important icons populate on the map, Max is free to tackle the desert in whatever car is available to him—including the main vehicle. Apropos of the film from which the game takes its name, most of your time, though, will be spent behind the wheel of whatever version of the Magnum Opus you decide to cobble together. Along with several body frames, the available vehicle upgrade categories are not so esoteric that the non-car enthusiast couldn’t enjoy it. Simply, you can modify speed, defense, and mixes of power that is decided by the weapons at your disposal.
Once you get over the upgrade hump—which I found to be right around the halfway point of the Magnum Opus’s tech trees—Mad Max fulfills its promise of feeling like a legend who is inseparable from his car, tied as the brain and heart of the apocalyptic vehicle the way a Road Warrior should be. Crashes, 100 mile-per-hour shoots-outs, and wild explosions almost justify the incessant hours you’ll spend digging for loot. There are two major scripted battles with the main foes, and both are rightfully tense and over-the-top bouts of twisted metal. You forget that you had to slave away at hoarding, as your vision tunnels in the race against vehicular beasts chipping away at the Magnum Opus. These battles reward weapon ingenuity and planning by letting the combat transpire in an abundance of chaos.
Still, these amazing car wars only come together once you’ve performed the sufficient amount of grinding. Otherwise, your window into the film’s car combat gauntlet is severely limited by the immediate destruction of your car, impenetrable enemy defenses, or having a vehicle control so poorly that a foes pit maneuver—attacking your car’s rear corner—will instantly spin you out of control. These aren’t growing pains that limit themselves to the first hour or so, but a persistent nuisance that slam the brakes early on what eventually becomes a heart-racing experience. Of course, you could always exploit the AI by jumping out of your car and waiting for the War Boys to neatly park their car and follow suit. But then you would be willingly entering Mad Max‘s most dubious gameplay portion, hand-to-hand combat.
Fists, melee weapons, and a trusty close-range shotgun give Max the edge when trekking outside of the Magnum Opus. The game’s most complex set-pieces are at enemy camps, and it’s a shame this only occurs when navigating with Max on foot. Mad Max employs Batman Arkham-like fisticuffs, which when paired with the right upgrades and equipment are vicious and satisfying. Melee’s upgrade trees work the same way in that you’ll be trapped in repetition for a while until Camps themselves practice the game’s insistence on recycling, as you’re not given much room to dispose of enemies in a way you’d like, performing the exact same tactics and confronting bosses indistinguishable from one another.
Mad Max‘s best moments of blood and fire are regardless lost in the constant demand to seek out scraps of steel and complete essentially the same exact tasks, ad nauseum. The stellar triumphs in vehicular combat are rendered hidden for so long in favor of the most glad-handed exploration feature. Scrap is everywhere and easy to come across so you never feel accomplished for finding any the same way you infrequently do for pulling off Harpoon kills. Worse off, you get so little scrap when you find it—sometimes only one meager piece. In this way, the collecting is stretched out into hours-long scavenging sessions, which then become insufferable and undermine any intended experience of reward.
Mad Max’s suffer-to-enjoy operation, doubtless unintentional, prevents any real desire to continuously get behind-the-wheel in an otherwise beautiful and exhilarating wasteland. The game too often, for too long, holds your hand in what is disguised as an open-world game. Like Max Rockatansky and his twisted past, the game is too afraid to let go.
|Developer: Avalanche Studios • Publisher: Warner Bros. Int. Ent. • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 09.01.2015|
Mad Max’s inescapable, monotonous looting in a derivative open world can’t justify seeking the sparse instances of break-neck fun behind the wheel. Though there are moments that reach the level of Mad Max: Fury Road, they’re unfortunately too few and far between.
|The Good||Taking down enemies with the Harpoon and Magnum Opus can be beautiful chaos.|
|The Bad||The game’s best moments, few as they are, are buried under unpleasant piles of scrap.|
|The Ugly||Who’s that guy playing Mad Max?|
|Mad Max is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review.|