Mad Max Review
- Developer/Publisher: Avalanche Studios/Warner Bros.
- Platform: PC (Steam, currently priced at $/€ 49.99); PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, currently priced at $/€ 59.99
- PS4 version tested. Review copy provided by the publisher.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is out. The game that promises to usher in a new era in open world, stealth, storytelling narrative and adaptive gameplay has hit the streets and my PS4 friends list is filled with people excitedly sneaking with the man formerly known as ‘Big Boss’. But not me. I’m playing the game that has been entirely overshadowed by Big Boss and FOX, the one based on a huge movie license that could be either terrible or fantastic: yes, I’m playing Mad Max.
Not actually related to Fury Road in the same way that Shadows of Mordor never once mentioned “The Lord of the Rings”, Mad Max is an open world game which could very well be a sequel to Shadows of Mordor, if a nuke went off and all the orcs started driving cars.
The game begins with Max facing off against Lord Scrotus, an utterly beautiful name, and as you may expect Max essentially loses everything including his beloved Interceptor. Max quickly finds a new vehicle, if a basic one, and a mechanic pal, Chumbucket. From here Max sets out on a quest to build the wasteland’s very best car, his Magnum Opus, and beat down Scrotus while he’s at it.
The premise and set up are very simple and straightforward, and it’s from here on that the game keeps drawing comparisons to Warner Bros.’ Shadow of Mordor, to the point where you can assume Warner have a flowchart on “How-To Make Open World Movie Games.” The wasteland is strewn with sidequests for you to complete to lower Scrotus’ influence over the area, including enemy bases, areas to search for resources, hot air balloons (which just act as towers to fill in your map - much like almost every other open world game), minefields you can clear with your dog and enemy convoys.
This is also where the game starts to become a bit uninteresting. All the activities that are in the wasteland tend to become more akin to open-world checklists, as opposed to actually being interesting places to visit and interact. The areas to collect resources quickly become not profitable enough to keep visiting, their only redeeming factor being that they potentially have Project Parts you can use to upgrade your base - though, once you’re able to pinpoint where these parts might be, it removes the need to actively and randomly search bases.
Minefields are possibly the worst activity of the bunch. They can only be cleared with the dog in tow, which can only be taken out while using the buggy - and unlike almost every other vehicle, the buggy can do nothing but drive, with a dog. Considering how often you may find yourself faced with enemy drivers trying to run you off the road, the indefensible buggy isn’t worth using unless you’re clearing minefields, and only minefields. This makes the process a lengthy slog which may be interesting the first time, but it never becomes fun.
The Magnum Opus, luckily, remains fun throughout the game. Upgrading and adapting your ride to destroy the enemies roaming the wastes is a great experience. You can upgrade the Opus to accommodate a sniper rifle and a harpoon, both of which become invaluable against certain types of enemies. Ripping off enemy tires, tearing enemies out through the windshield, well-aimed shotgun blasts to the gas tank, all of these are hugely enjoyable ways to tear though the waste’s fellow drivers, and it really is where Mad Max shines the brightest.
When not engaging in vehicle combat, you may find yourself engaged in combat on-foot, which is similarly satisfying and effective. The combat in Mad Max is basically the same as Batman Arkham's, with enemies being punched with one button and parried with another. You can mix up the combat by throwing fuel tanks at enemies to blow them to pieces, pick up melee weapons to beat them with and that’s it. Combat is pretty simple and you’ll rarely find yourself overwhelmed unless a sniper is on overwatch or you have a car trying to run you down while you brawl in the road.
Most of that on-foot combat happens while trying to take down enemy bases. Enemy bases are the most creative you can be in Mad Max; they're heavily fortified with Molotov Slings that rain down fiery death and snipers posted around the perimeter. Once you deal with these you can choose to either storm the main gates or find a hidden entrance, hoping to ambush your enemies. Stealth is an option, and you can strangle your opponents if you sneak up to them, but it’s easier and faster to go in all guns blazing. Camps essentially lead you around by the nose until you take control, either by killing everyone or destroying something important. Camps will then be populated by allies who will feed you resources periodically, which makes this activity one of the most fun and profitable ways to spend your time.
Though, “all guns blazing” was probably an overstatement in hindsight. In Mad Max ammo is incredibly rare, actually it may be the rarest ammo of any game I’ve seen in a long time. Luckily, once you upgrade your base you can refill your ammo each time you go home, that definitely being the easiest and fastest way to refill your weapon. In combat a shot is an easy kill, though I would recommend saving them for blowing up gas tanks on enemy vehicles.
One aspect of Mad Max that I really do enjoy is the Magnum Opus itself - as the name itself implies, it is your Masterpiece. It is a vehicle you design from the body, to decals, spikes, etc. and it’s supposed to be your ultimate vehicle - though I do somewhat doubt that, come endgame, your car will look too different from anyone else's. There’s no point in not getting the maximum upgrade for your vehicle, meaning aside from purely cosmetic elements, your car will have a lot in common with your friends’.
This is a very competent game made by an obviously talented team of developers
It’s a strange situation, Mad Max is a game I started really, seriously enjoying, despite expecting nothing special; and yet, so many of the things it asks me to do are so boring and chore-like that it puts me off playing entirely. Removing Scrotus’ threat level to zero in the opening area didn’t take too long (perhaps a day or two) but all the activities you have to complete to get in there, including all minefields, convoys, camps and more, can be incredibly monotonous.
And then there’s the bugs. After two patches I still run into bugs. One got me stuck inside a wall until I reloaded the game, I’ve seen enemies get pushed into places where I can’t kill them, story quests won’t activate, enemies flying across the screen after an odd punch to the jaw... And there's more. And yet, I can’t hold it against Mad Max.
It’s still a game I really, truly enjoy. The open world may not be the most interesting, the characters may not be all that memorable, and the quests might not exactly be inspired, but this is a very competent game made by an obviously talented team of developers (Avalanche Studios; you know them for Just Cause) and they honestly blew my expectations for a Mad Max game out of the water. My gripes ultimately feel minor, because the game as a whole is very satisfying and fun to play, save for a few of those more menial challenges.
I recommend Mad Max. I really do. Yet, there is just a plethora of things that frustrates me about the game, and it’s truly a shame. It's a great game with a lot of quality, but very visible rough edges. Definitely worth your time if you’re a fan of the franchise, or like the idea of open world driving with harpoons and explosives. Which, why wouldn’t you?