– Aaron Birch
No doubt you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road and thought “That car combat was amazing. If only I could do that!” Well, although it may be illegal to customise your car with giant spikes and jump around with explosive spears while a guitarist plays hard rock hanging off the front of your car, at least the last time I checked, the world of videogames is here to indulge you.
Brought to us by those talented chaps and chapesses at Avalanche Studios, Mad Max follows the developer’s previous theme of giving players an open world, plenty of cars, and a crap-ton of explosives to play with. This time we’re not a Latino super agent, we’re none other than Mad Max himself, and he’s actually the star of the show, well, along with his car.
Set in a kind of mash-up of both classic and new Fury Road-style Mad Max worlds, the game isn’t tied to either the original or new films. Instead it tells a new story unique to the game, so aside from Max, don’t expect to see anyone from the movies pop up. Here we’ve got a more elaborate cast of characters, including Max’s new ally, Chumbucket, a disfigured hunchback with a talent for building and fixing vehicles, and a whole collection of new messed up gangs to tackle, with the major threat being Scrotus’ gang, who aren’t too happy Max killed their leader in a rather nasty way during the opening cut-scene. Well, they do steal his car and turn it into junk, so it’s payback, if a little harsh.
With no car, Max meets Chum and the two set out to build Max’s new ride, the Magnum Opus. With this, Max will get very mad indeed, and take the war to Scrotus’ minions. Oh, and Max wants to find the Plains of Silence, whatever they are. We don’t really care about that, though, and apparently, neither did Avalanche, as it’s not really given much set up. Oh well.
After a couple of quick tutorial missions, you get the Magnum Opus and immediately begin to build the basics for it. From here, it’s off into the sprawling wasteland to further enhance the car so Max has a chance against the legions of Scrotus. Along the way Max encounters other gangs and allies, as well as various outposts that need his help.
As an open world game, Mad Max brings a lot of the usual tricks to the party, including a massive amount of side missions and optional tasks. The story missions are the meat on the bones, but here there’s a more forceful lean towards making players do more than the bare minimum to proceed. Indeed, you have to indulge in the many side missions to stand a chance, and even to progress at points, but more on this later.
The two main aspects of Mad Max are vehicle and on-foot sections. The vehicle sections are no doubt going to be the highlight for many players, and it’s here where Avalanche has spent a lot of time. Car combat is unique and satisfying, thanks to the setting and the abilities Max and Chum have at their disposal.
Max can ram other vehicles, including a Sleeping Dogs-style side-swipe, and has his trusty shotgun, both of which can be devastating, but it’s Chum’s help where the real fun begins. He can use the harpoon to grab and pull off car armour, doors, and wheels, and he can even pull drivers out of their seats. Eventually you can use explosive spears and other equipment, including a powerful sniper rifle. Chum’s mechanical abilities are also useful for keeping the Magnum Opus road worthy, and he can jump out and fix it when needed.
The car combat is enjoyable, and the harpoon really opens things up, much like Rico’s grappling hook did in Just Cause 2, and no doubt will again in the third game. Sadly, the car combat never really approaches the epic fights seen in Fury Road, despite the game’s artwork begging to differ, but even on a smaller scale it’s car combat that’s much more interesting than most other similar games, and to stand a chance, you really do need to pick your fights wisely until the Opus is beefed up.
When on foot, Max may as well be wearing a cape and cowl, as combat here is ripped kicking and screaming from the Arkham series, right down to familiar onscreen prompts and enemy types. It’s a rhythm-style combat system where you need to attack, parry and counter with good timing. WB used the same Arkham system in Shadow of Mordor, and has done so again. It’s not as good as Mordor‘s fisticuffs, though, but Max’s blows and various brutal moves are weighty and have impact.
When you’re not in combat you’ll be scouring the wasteland for scrap, water, and fuel, and you’ll be tackling the game’s many missions and tasks, such as taking over enemy bases and camps. These are all different in layouts, but feel similar, and consist of perimeter defences you need to take out with the Opus, internal guards that need to be defeated, and goals that need to be achieved, such as blowing up oil pumps or fuel transfer tanks. Once a base is captured, allies will take it over, and you’ll be supplied with scrap at regular intervals. The more bases you have, the more scrap you’ll be sent.
As you conquer bases, and do other tasks, such as pulling down Scrotus’ scarecrow totems spread around the world, you lower the threat level in each area, much like the system seen in Volition’s Red Faction Guerrilla. A lower threat level means less attacks, and opens up upgrade options for the Magnum Opus. You can also run errands for allied strongholds, which further benefit you with such things as free water, fuel, and weapons, and even scrap gathering when you’re not playing.
This is all good, and I had a blast in the game’s apocalyptic world, but after a while you begin to feel like there could be more. The world is barren, being a wasteland and all, but there’s an overuse of the same buildings and locations, and not enough variety. It’s good, but it could be great. The game also has a lot of busywork going on, and this will certainly upset some.
Mad Max revolves around building up the Magnum Opus, and to do this you need a lot of scrap, and other requirements, such as Max’s level, which needs to be raised by performing tasks and completing challenges. As I mentioned before, this requires players to do a lot of work, notably in the form of side quests. Missions that are often totally optional in many other games of this ilk are not so optional here, and you’ll have to plough through a great deal of them to earn the scrap and requirements to proceed. In fact, at points the game even stops you progressing through the story until you’ve done this. This adds to the game’s longevity, sure, but it does feel like filler at times, and Avalanche artificially increasing playtime using cheap methods.
Thankfully, I personally didn’t mind this much, as I did enjoy the game enough for this not to be a problem for me, but if you don’t like this kind of to and fro content, Mad Max will likely disappoint, and you’ll tire quickly.
One thing that certainly did irk me was the game’s focus on your own, custom vehicle being thrown out of the window from time to time, with some missions forcing you to use other vehicles or ‘archangels’, special preset vehicles. I spent a lot of time building up my car as I liked, and thought I should be able to use it when I liked, too. Apparently not.
Regardless of the game’s quality, however, which I have to say is pretty good on the whole, the major failing here is the timing of release. Not only has the game greatly missed the movie’s release window, it also released on the same day as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. That’s just commercial suicide, and the game will suffer because of it.
This is a shame, as I actually enjoyed Mad Max, and feel it’s a strong enough game to warrant a purchase. Put up against Kojima’s masterpiece, though, there’s just no comparison, and Metal Gear will win out every time.