Mad Max took me a little by surprise on its release in September. I vaguely remembered an announcement about it a couple of years ago. but had honestly thought that it had ended up being cancelled or in development limbo. Instead it popped back up earlier this year and ended up being released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid V, seemingly an almost suicidal day to release another open world game.
I ended up not picking up Metal Gear straight away and swayed by gameplay footage I thought Mad Max would be a good pick to tide me over.
Aside from seeing parts of Beyond Thunderdome over and over on TV when I was younger I’ve never really managed to get into the Mad Max movies (I did plan on seeing Fury Road but missed it at the cinema so haven’t seen it yet) so I had no real attachment to the series or Max himself coming in to it.
The game starts with Max out driving in the desert, which I guess is all there is to do when you’re not fighting lunatics in post-apocalyptic Australia, when he gets attacked by the leader of the local lunatics, the delightfully named Scabbus Scrotus. Explosions happen, there’s fighting, Scrotus takes a chainsaw to the head and Max ends up stranded in the middle of nowhere with no car, weapons or supplies.
Max quickly meets up with wasteland mechanic and weirdo Chumbucket who tells Max that he can build him a new, more powerful car that will help him take on Scrotus’ army and bring a relative peace to at least this part of the wasteland. Max helps gather some parts and together they start building the main vehicle of the game, the Magnum Opus.
As far as stories go, it’s hardly deep. Max needs a car and when he gets a car he wants to make it tougher and faster. The last handful of story missions do finally get going with some character driven plot, but by and large the story of the game is just about Max and his car. But I didn’t actually have a problem with that, as it was somewhat refreshing to have a game with a straightforward action movie plot that’s not really bothered about trying to do anything over the top. The story missions almost act as just an excuse for the game to exist.
The main bulk of the game comes in the form of the side missions and scavenging locations, and huge expanse of the desert means that there’s tons of space for them to be scattered about. There are a handful of side quests dubbed wasteland missions and then there are a huge number of collectables as you would expect from an open world game.
Each area of the map has several enemy locations and items that Max needs to take over or destroy to free the area from Scrotus’ gangs. These are largely repetitive, once you’ve done the first couple of areas you’re basically going to end up doing the same things over and over if you’re working on 100% completion. This even extends to the enemies, as the ‘top dog’ camps scattered around all inexplicably have the exact same enemy at the end just with slightly different colouring.
The main currency of the game is scrap, which is used to buy most of the upgrades for Max and the Magnum Opus. Luckily, scrap is everywhere. You’ll be rewarded with scrap for completing missions, emptying scavenging locations, destroying enemy vehicles and so on – this emphasis on scrap as well as the desert setting made me initially compare the game quite a bit to Red Faction Guerilla which I enjoyed a lot several years ago.
You’ll need a lot of scrap, too. Both Max and the Magnum Opus have a huge selection of unlockable upgrades that you buy with scrap but confusingly Max also has a second upgrade tree that you progress through by levelling up and trading in tokens with wandering mystery man Griffa. This upgrade list appears in a different section of the menu to Max’s other upgrades and you can’t unlock anything without going to specific locations to meet Griffa, which seems rather counterintuitive since all other upgrades can be bought on the fly.
At the beginning of the game, Max talks about how important it is for him to stay hydrated (he is in the desert, after all) and how scarce petrol is but this gets abandoned pretty quickly, which I thought was rather a shame. The canteen is used simply to recover health, and after you get the first couple of Max’s upgrades the fuel meter on the car is basically just there for decoration as I can’t remember ever running out of petrol anywhere. I wouldn’t have minded more of a survival aspect, with regular drinks of water being required to keep Max from dehydrating and fuel tanks that run out quicker though I accept that this would have caused the game to have a significantly slower pace which might not have worked as well.
When on foot, Max is a bit more grounded that you tend to find the protagonist be in most action games. His jump is so slight that it’s not worth even bothering with most of the time, and drops that you might expect to survive can prove to be instantly fatal so wandering around does have some risks. While on foot Max can fight enemies hand to hand, in what is essentially a stripped down version of the Batman Arkham series combat system, one button to attack and one to counter.While Max lacks Batman’s gadgets to use in combat, he does have a rage meter that when filled by attacking lets you use more damaging attacks. It’s all very functional but not at all innovative.
Vehicle combat thankfully is much more exciting. Driving the car around generally uses your standard driving controls (I’d recommend the alternate control scheme though as otherwise there’s bizarrely no handbrake) but you do have a number of gadgets and skills at your disposal when up against enemy vehicles. The Magnum Opus can slam into other vehicles, Max can use his shotgun to shoot out tyres or fuel tanks and best of all is the thunderpoon, an explosive harpoon that can be used to completely destroy opponents.
I was a little surprised with how good everything looks, too. There’s only so much you can do with a desert really, but each main area is visually distinct enough that you can tell where you are and it’s all lit quite nicely. Particular note goes to the dump area that surrounds Gastown, as there’s tons of bits of rubble and broken things all around and combined with the burning smokestacks and soot of Gastown it’s quite atmospheric. The character models are unexceptional but solid enough, with the vehicle models being quite good overall.
As it’s set in a post apocalyptic world, there’s not much in the way of music which can make driving around a little dry at times. Obviously there’s no radio stations anymore but it would have been nice if Max could have had a cassette player or something in the Magnum Opus to play music while you drive, they could even have used it as an excuse for a bunch of extra collectables and had you finding tapes in scavenging locations to have more music to listen to.
My first draft of this review was going to praise how, somehow, a fairly major WB Games title had been released without any major bugs, but that sadly isn’t the world we live in. About a week ago, 40 hours or so into the game, the most recent patch for the game completely broke the ingame map for me, making it impossible to locate any remaining side quests or scavenging locations. The story quests thankfully leave a permanent marker on the edge of the minimap meaning I was able to finish the game but everything left over is basically unplayable until it’s fixed as I don’t exactly relish the thought of driving around aimlessly in the desert with next to no landmarks to try and find things. The developers are aware of the problem and say they’re working on it, but this just adds to an already pretty shaky track record for WB this year. This problem apparently only affects existing save games so anyone picking the game up now shouldn’t be affected, but there’s no way I’m going through nearly two days of playing again just to get a working map.
There are a number of weird little quirks as well. Having to stop to pick up each piece of scrap (at least until you have the scrap upgrade to each stronghold, but even then that only picks up scrap from destroyed enemy cars) instead of just being able to run over it, random cutscenes for some actions that could have just been handled ingame less jarringly, dodgy physics at times and, for me at least, sound effects randomly just cutting out altogether. It’s clearly a game that needed a bit more polish and I wonder if Avalanche had to have it finished on a schedule to get it out the door in time for the Fury Road to come out on Blu-ray.
And yet.. there’s still something about it that absolutely grabbed me. I get together with three friends from CCL at least one night a week to play 4 player co-op games of all sizes, yet for the past couple of weeks we’ve unanimously agreed to just sit on Skype and chat while we all play Mad Max. Looking back over what I’ve written, I’ve almost made myself think that I didn’t enjoy the game and while I stick by my complaints about it, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s undoubtedly a game for completionists and collection addicts, as the main story will only take a few hours if you just play it from beginning to end but thankfully I enjoy doing both so found a lot to like.
Mad Max is out now now PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.