As movie franchises go, Mad Max is one that’s been crying out for a video game adaptation for a while. Fury Road managed to set Hollywood ablaze with its exceptional blend of high-octane action and stunning visual set-pieces, so how well does the game compare to its cinematic namesake?
It’s easy to draw comparisons to Fury Road with Mad Max, not least because the game came out on the same day as the Blu-Ray, and the brand recognition is so high at the moment. But truthfully, the game doesn’t have anything to do with George Miller’s most recent epic, even though he did help consult on the game. Instead, the game focuses on a Max that is more driven (excuse the pun) to get to Gas Town, in order to extract vengeance on Scabrous Scrotus, whose War Boys left Max for dead in the middle of the wasteland having stripped him of everything he held dear, most notably his car. Max stumbles across a disfigured hunchback, Chumbucket, who insists on helping Max to create the “Magnum Opus”, a car to rival any other and quench his thirst for revenge.
From here on out, the structure of Mad Max proves to be your standard open world fare, with main storyline quests being padded out with a bunch of side missions dotted around the world. The game provides some simply breathtaking visuals at points, with stunning vistas and highly detailed character models complimenting the desperate atmosphere of the vast and barren wasteland perfectly. Unfortunately, problems arise when you start to dig into the content dotted rather sparsely around. Sure, you’ll get your odd random marker pop up procedurally, but for the most part the wasteland is as empty as you’d imagine it to be. Commanding totems dedicated to Scabrous are littered across the place, smaller outposts are there for you to loot, races and other car related missions are there to enjoy, and rounding out the types of side content is a bunch of balloons, which you can ride up and survey the area. My main criticism of this is that when you go up in a balloon, you then have to pick off the individual elements, rather than them just show up on the map, and repeating it is a tad tedious.
Car combat is a huge thing in Mad Max. Essentially playing out like a bastard child of Twisted Metal and Assassin’s Creed, the balloon-ascending open world shenanigans is countered by a spate of vehicular mayhem. It’s an avenue that hasn’t been ventured down with much success since the days of the aforementioned Twisted Metal and Destruction Derby. It certainly feels like the latter as you encounter the random gangs hell-bent on smashing you to pieces. Fortunately, the upgrade tree on your Magnum Opus allows you to customise almost every single aspect of the four-wheeled beast, from lacing your tyres with barbed wire and scraping it along the sides of others, through to an assortment of spikes and blades that line the bodywork and repel enemy invaders as they attempt to disrupt your voyage through the chaos. Max himself has a similar path, allowing some customisation of your character and upgrading key areas of his appearance, strength and other abilities in the world.
One of the biggest strengths of Mad Max is the characterisation and realisation of Miller’s creation. The character design is absolutely spot-on, with suitably insane representations of wild-eyed lunatics, metal sticking out of every orifice and piece of skin. There’s a great sense of dark humour running through the whole game, which raised more than a sly chuckle on a number of occasions. Chumbucket in particular was a highlight, with his deranged ramblings and praising of the automobile gods a consistently amusing focal point.
Sadly, with almost every positive Mad Max brings to the table, there’s an unfortunate downside to match it. As mentioned above, a lot of the side quests feel extremely generic, and essentially the game feels like it’s the definition of “Open World by-the-numbers”. It’s a shame that it feels so formulaic, particularly as Avalanche is best known for mixing the genre up with the downright manic exploits of Rico in the Just Cause franchise. Whilst the car combat is great at points at what it does, the on-foot combat definitely feels like Arkham-lite (if you’ll excuse the pun). Without much new brought to the table, Mad Max feels like it’s just lacking that spark which could tip it over into the “Great game” category. On top of all of this, the control scheme for the on-foot sections is somewhat bizarre as well. Using one of the bumpers to aim and pressing Circle to shoot your shotgun is a baffling choice, as is using R2 to sprint, where it would have been a much more obvious choice to use a more typical Third-Person combat control scheme.
Mad Max is probably the best example from the past few years of games that were released on the wrong date. There are moments in the game that will bring a broad smile to your face and leave you feeling incredibly satisfied, but at the same time you’ll sit there thinking “Man, I wish there was more variety”. For all the comedy, action and genuinely beautiful visuals that the game throws your way, some of the flaws will bring you back to the barren wasteland with a bump. It’s a game worth playing, and I really enjoyed the highs that the game has to offer, but it’s hard to recommend picking this up over a lot of titles that are out in this horrendously busy period.
Unless you like Australian accents. In which case you won’t find a better game this year.