Hot off the fiery fumes of Fury Road, Mad Max the video-game has hit shelves with dust on its boots and oil smeared over its face from a hard-hitting V8 engine. Developed by Avalanche Studios, creators of the Just Cause franchise, Mad Max isn’t directly linked to any of the movies, but draws inspiration in a sprawling wasteland for you to drive and survive in. You are Max Rockatansky survivor of a world lost, drifting across the wastes in solitude, in search of meaning, in search of his Plains of Silence.
In the classic black on black V8 interceptor, he gets tailgated and struck by a pack of Warboys, lead by the ruthless Scabrous Scrotus, son of Fury Road’s Immortan Joe. Barraging through with V8 power beneath and shotgun in hand, Max downs as many as he can before being torn from his mechanical beast, beaten and stripped of his belongings. They take his precious interceptor and leave Max to rot in the harsh wasteland.
The setback won’t stop Max and it is from here on out where the player takes control of Max in search of his interceptor. Without a car your task is problematic, but you soon meet your new comrade, Chumbucket, a hunchbacked, black fingered mechanic who spews out more praise and belief in the almighty than a televangelist. With his help you're given the Magnus Opus, a machine from the gods; and while it is not much at first, it’ll soon become your archangel in the journey across the sandy dunes and traitorous roads of the wastes.
The world of Mad Max is immense; a vast open-world bathed in sand with remnants of the past all around you. From an overturned tanker ship to an abandoned airport, there is plenty to see, and driving across the wastes can leave you uncomprehended with the scope of it all. However, the world isn’t just full of emptiness, in fact the opposite, while desolate in appearance, there is an overwhelming amount of things to do within. The map is split off into multiple territories controlled by a number of factions, you need their help to build and complete the Magnum Opus, but it isn’t as simple as asking, or in Max’s case demanding; the territories are still under threat from Scrotus and it is down to you to tear down, destroy and wreck in any means to remove the threat.
Taking the same open-world blueprint used in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and the Far Cry series, Mad Max is riddled with a wide variety of missions and objectives to complete which are optional, many others are a must before proceeding further within the story. At first glance the map can be overwhelming, with a mass of icons and symbols giving you the location of scrap, water and fuel among others. There is a legend, but an option to toggle locations would have been better. At least you can set waypoints for easier navigation across the harshest of terrain. And like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry 4, Mad Max also has its take on viewpoints and radio towers in the form of hot air balloons. These serve as not only a fast travel option, but a very useful way of scoping out the area; your slow ascent to the top lets you view areas in the distance marking them on the map as well as giving you an impressive view of the wastes’ horizon.
Mad Max wouldn't be anything without its vehicular combat and driving and once you step into a vehicle, you can feel the power beneath. It takes a little bit of time getting accustomed to the heavy-handed feel of the driving, but once you do, it is a blast, more so as you progress further bringing the Magnum Opus to life with improved handling, acceleration and fierce attack power. With the help from Chumbucket, your car is tricked out with an array of weapons to make Max a true road warrior, starting with the satisfying harpoon. With it you can rip apart menacing vehicles piece by piece, bring down the gates of Warboy camps and tear down Scrotus' intimidating scarecrows that threaten territories. The harpoon will certainly be your go-to tool throughout your journeys. For a more explosive method of tackling your foes you’ll also unlock the thunderpoon, a type of rocket that can be propelled into any selected target. And last, but not least, for when trading paint up close and personal, you can use Max’s trusted shotgun to cause catastrophic damage to an enemy’s exposed fuel tank sending them to a fiery grave of ash and rubber.
When on foot, the combat can be just as brutal and satisfying as driving, that is, depending on if you are a fan of the simple, but effective freeflow combat that made the Batman Arkham series so popular. Whether on the road or raiding upon a Warboy camp, Mad Max takes the same concept as Batman and simplifies it further while adding more fury and brutality to it all. Countering is still in, adding a timer above the enemy giving you the opportunity to perform a perfect parry. Stacking your attacks adds to your multiplier giving you more XP towards Max’s Legend Level. After completing tasks and pummeling Warboys to death you're rewarded with Griffa points. Griffa being by far the most interesting character. He’s a wasteland wanderer like Max and not only offers upgrades to Max’s health, salvaging and Legend rank, but also shares wisdom, guidance and questions Max’s morality.
Mad Max is not without its problems. The world maybe an exquisite vast open-world, but it can be dull and fraudulent in its design, only catered to those have the persistence and patience. The story isn’t anything special and only serves as a way to get you from point A to B. It feels that its purpose is to have you go to each and every spot on the map for the scrap, water and fuel taking out anything that stops you along the way. What's more is that you’re scored (percentage wise) upon your completion, which only merely adds to the game's longevity.
Fortunately all this is optional, but at times can be forced in order to reduce threat or upgrade your character to carry on with the story. Scrap rules the roads and is necessary for upgrading Max and the Magnum Opus. The strongholds throughout can be also be upgraded, once you’ve found the specific tools for the job and these can assist you in providing a plentiful supply of water, ammo and scrap.
The controls take time to get used to. The driving is as simple as you can get, with R2 and L2 being gas and breaking, with weapons being aimed with L1 and fired with R1. The on-foot controls, on the other hand, are awkward. Sprinting is assigned to R2 and aiming/firing Max’s shotgun is with L1 and R1, this can be only assumed to make Max himself control like a car for no reason. The biggest nuisance comes from interaction, prepare to hold down a button for everything, which over time just becomes tedious; understandable for certain interactions, but not for everything. Same goes for the short unskippable cutscenes for refuelling and refilling Max’s water cannister.
Performance wasn't an issue and having played both PS4 and PC versions, the game runs superbly with only minor loss in framerate on PS4. The PC version is a surprise, considering the publisher being Warner Bros. Interactive. With the PC port handled by Avalanche themselves. It goes to show that first party is the right way to go and PC gamers can expect much higher frame rates and visuals compared to their console counterparts.
Mad Max is a delight to play and will have you chant “what a lovely day!” across the fury road, but once the dust settles, you’ll find deep down a hollow and dull open-world, with a somewhat mediocre and grindy core design doing nothing original. It's only redeemed by its vast sandstorm swept visuals and well executed vehicular combat, but this may not be enough for some. However, at the end of the day it’s all about how fun the gameplay is and that is where Mad Max shines.
Mad Max (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Mad Max is a delight to play and will have you chant “what a lovely day!” across the fury road, but once the dust settles, you’ll find deep down a hollow and dull open-world, with a somewhat mediocre and grindy core design doing nothing original. It's only redeemed by its vast sandstorm swept visuals and well executed vehicular combat.