Few video games can master the look and feel of their blockbuster film predecessors. Mad Max, an iconic movie franchise well overdue for an up-to-date video game tie-in, has arrived. The locations, car combat and sound effects are spot-on but a few hindrances and a lack of innovation make this open world game feel all too familiar.
Players are thrown into the fray with one of the most explosive opening cutscenes I’ve seen for quite some time. Through rusted fishing trawlers and parched terrain, Mad Max is as close to a post-apocalyptic wasteland as you can get. Avalanche Studios has depicted a run-down Australian Outback in marvellous detail: a harsh, desolate, but graphically beautiful landscape where shifting sand dunes and jagged cliffs can be seen for miles. The intense heat may be unbearable, but that isn’t your greatest enemy – it is other wastelanders.
As Max, your main goal is to exact revenge on Scabrous Scrotus, a powerful Warlord who steals your prized vehicle, the Interceptor, and leaves you for dead during a bloody encounter. Your saviour however is a hunchbacked mechanic named Chumbucket who is intent on creating the ultimate vehicle – the Magnum Opus. Even though water and fuel are the greatest assets there are, it also helps if you’ve got a kick-arse car to help you out.
Finding Scrotus takes time and Mad Max prides itself on man’s relationship with his machine. Throughout the wasteland you’ll be stockpiling scrap to customise your Magnum Opus, Max himself as well as fortifications for any potential allies in the game. Destroying enemy vehicles, looting scrapyards and clearing out enemy camps and strongholds all reward you with various sums of scrap. However, players who fail to dabble in side missions and general exploration will face quite a grind in terms of upgrading Max and his vehicle.
The car customisation is deep and you feel the effects of every new tier of abilities. Beginning as a slow, rusted car body with frail suspension, your Magnum Opus can evolve into a V8 beast with spiked rims, a deadly frontal ramming grill and a heavy injection of nitrous. Additional decals and paint jobs are unlocked the more you play, and it is great to see your vehicle of choice change over time.
As previously stated, Max also has his own upgrades. These vary from knuckledusters for increased melee damage, to leather jackets for melee defence, and even include a series of skills that assist in melee combat. Furthermore, Max also has upgradeable weaponry in the form of a shotgun, as well as a sniper rifle, plus a harpoon for the Magnum Opus. Completing various series of in-game challenges increases your ‘Legend’ rank, directly affecting what unlocks are available for purchase.
To exact revenge, Max first needs to eliminate Scrotus’ influence throughout the surrounding regions. By tearing down his intimidating Scarecrows, eliminating his snipers and overtaking camps under his command, his reputation diminishes – leading to the higher tiered upgrades. The Magnum Opus is the driving force behind this and it’s where the game’s strongest area – vehicular combat – comes into play.
Avalanche Studios has made the driving mechanics in Max Mad incredibly satisfying. In search of large sums of scrap, it is highly enjoyable to intercept a convoy and tussle with five other vehicles of different classes fitted with equally destructive weapons as your own. The Harpoon Slam is very useful, whereby players fire their harpoon at an enemy’s rear bumper and use their boost ability to launch themselves into impending carnage – specks of dirt and chunks of debris explode from collisions and it is quite thrilling. Brilliant weather effects, like filtering sunlight behind clouds or a full-scale sandstorm add so much atmosphere to these encounters. Sometimes cars will career into giant boulders or fly off cliffs into oblivion; crossing the Wasteland in exchanges like this rarely get dull.
The sound effects are also commendable. In a land of destruction, the explosions and environmental ambience is top-notch. It’s so good to hear the utter silence of the Wasteland drowned out by the sheer roar of your Magnum Opus. In a game such as this, where music isn’t a frequent occurrence, there’s nowhere to hide. Avalanche Studios has wonderfully integrated tunes where appropriate – during car chases and moments of emotional impact.
For all its high-octane excitement in the car, unfortunately, Mad Max has issues when it comes to getting out of it. The melee combat system, a dead ringer of the Batman: Arkham games, fails to evolve beyond the opening few hours of gameplay. A series of one-button punches, kicks and parries is as technical is it gets. Max’s strikes hit hard, and with Fury mode enabled, they have extra intensity with consecutive takedowns. But it is lacklustre, that’s for sure. Melee counter-attacks occasionally fail to trigger leaving you wide open for attacks that put you more at risk of dying than actually getting hit by an enemy vehicle. The disorientating third-person camera further adds to this, frequently getting caught in nearby walls with baddies striking when they are out of view.
Apart from some over-the-top wrestling integration, the Mad Max combat system is fairly unimpressive. There’s no detailed list of challenging combos, reminiscent of the Batman games, and it fails to put its own spin on the adopted system. This is a shame, because acquiring regional strongholds, more heavily fortified versions of camps, is one of the more strategic and challenging aspects of the game. Each have numerous entry points with perimeter defences to clear with numerous routes of attack leading towards a big boss. A nice little inclusion would’ve been some Tomb Raider-style underground labyrinths leading to even more stockpiles of scrap – this game needed all the out-of-car diversity it could get. Max’s jump mechanic is also made redundant, as it rarely assists with climbing to higher points or clearing obstacles, adding nothing to the gameplay.
As soon as you’re out of the car you’ll be itching to get back in and, before too long, all of the game’s negative aspects are revealed. Your adrenaline-filled tasks become repetitive and the satisfaction of continually lowering a series of region-based reputations loses momentum. Despite a sequence of handy perks, courtesy of a wandering traveller named Griffa, the rewards in Mad Max lead to an unintuitive scrap rewards system. For all of the in-game scrapyards, camps and strongholds to loot, clearing areas of 100 percent of the collectibles yields no extra incentive. You may feel as if the in-game rewards don’t stack up with amount of investment required in this open world title.
There’s very little revealed to players when it comes to unveiling more about Max’s past and character. He’s always been an enigma, a lonely figure with his machine traversing the insane world that is the Wasteland, and here he remains a mystery. Admittedly, plot progression takes a back-seat and there are segments where Mad Max struggles to grab your attention.
Mad Max is a conundrum. Its quest variety and melee gameplay fail to match up with its picturesque graphics and unique car combat. The amount of action here is undeniable, but over time, Mad Max turns into an unremarkable open world title that lacks excitement outside of the Magnum Opus.
It was a joy driving the Magnum Opus through the Wasteland and Hayden spent over 25 hours with Mad Max for the purposes of this review.
Shoot to Thrill
An adrenaline-fuelled adventure that loses its lustre.