Mad Max was a bit of a surprise honestly as Warner Brothers neglected to put much advertising into this game, and released it much like they did Shadow of Mordor last year. It’s an open world adventure using a franchise that saw a recent entry in the same year. Following the hugely successful film Mad Max: Fury Road, many expected this to be on the same level as the film, but in reality it pulls from the other Mad Max films to create an experience that really captures the essence of Max from the Mel Gibson era.
Mad Max takes place prior to the events of Fury Road (but not necessarily in the same universe as the map doesn’t line up with the film) with Max Rockatansky engaging in a skirmish with Scabrous Scrotus, son of Immortan Joe from Fury Road, in search of a fabled land called the Plains of Silence. This battle ends with Max being stranded out in the Great White with nothing but his sheer survival instinct. Max comes across the deformed blackfinger, Chumbucket, who sees Max as a prophet of sorts for his obsessive religion of fire and steel and through mutual goals Max agrees to help him his “pilgrimage” of building the Magnum Opus, the ultimate wasteland war machine.
Much like the Mad Max films, Max takes a backseat to the series of side characters with over the top personalities. Max is a reactionary character, acting on survival instinct, performing good deeds not out of the kindness of his heart but with a very clear motive. But in this evolving age where we can have a multi-franchise shared universe in film, games are surely to be included in such an affair. Mad Max’s story is a bit on the light side, but it’s just like the films that inspired the game and provides a “deep” (about as deep as any of the films gets) looks at Max’s character through his heart to heart talks with Griffa and later Hope.
Mad Max is at its core an open world game in the same vein of Shadow of Mordor, being a pseudo movie tie-in to a movie franchise that released in the same year in an open world setting. But instead of the emphasis being on a nemesis system, the focus is on the vehicle upgrades and combat. The average day in the life of Mad Max takes the form of searching for scrap, finding parts for stronghold upgrades, clearing minefields, and so much more in an Ubisoft styled open world with outposts to capture and such.
The car mechanics are more akin to Grand Theft Auto V or other arcade racers than a simulation which plays to the outrageous and hilarious nature of Mad Max’s gameplay. You build your car from the frame to the paint, with various rams, armor, harpoons, sideburners, and other classic tools of the wasteland, in the pursuit of bigger and better gear. Car combat with other vehicles is a spectacular flurry of flame and steel, launching harpoons and ripping of pieces of armor, shooting explosive lances into other vehicles with by far the best looking explosions I have seen to date. Combat between fortresses and your Magnum Opus are a bit more calculated using your harpoon to pull down sniper perches and gas tanks and sniping enemies before staring the ground assault.
On-foot combat is a bit more barebones than some would like, taking the framework of the Arkham combat and weeding out the fancy gadgets, replacing them with flashy and brutal finishers. It’s rather sparse but adequate for a fist-fighting combat system. The game takes a survivalist tone with shiv punishers and shotgun gutshots. It’s not anything to brag about, but it fits the game for what it is.
The controls focus around the car gameplay, even when you’re on foot. Using the triggers for acceleration and brakes, this puts the projectile combat in a weird position as you have to use the left bumper to aim and the B button to fire. In combat the B button also does a quick-fire option and in a game of limited ammo, I found myself wasting ammo on meaningless thugs by accident. It took a few hours to get over this, but it’s a strange control scheme.
This is another area where Avalanche shines, and it’s the world creation. The wastes are beyond stunning from the lighting to the detail in the stones. The variety of different forms of deserts, from dried up oceans with coral formations to the traditional desert and the orange stones are amazing to say the least. Littered in these areas are well crafted detailed bases that always feel different despite the dozens you encounter.
The technical aspects have the Xbox One version running at 1080p 30 frames per second, but the recent patch screws with the constant 30fps where it fluctuates between (what feels like) 20 fps and 40 fps. I ran into these hiccups mostly in the fist combat sections where the game really chugged along, but when I got in a car it felt like it was running better than even before the patch. Hopefully Avalanche fixes this and comes up with a happy medium.
The audio in this game is nothing to write home about in terms of character sounds, but the car sounds are to die for. With over 10 engines to salvage, each one manages to sound distinct and purrs with only the kind of pleasure that a gearhead can appreciate. Each engine upgrade feels worth the high cost for that sound alone, from the first pitiful V6 to the final giant V8.
Mad Max takes a franchise that to this point has had no notable entries, and makes something that feels like a step in the right direction. With an inspired open world and exceptional vehicle combat, Mad Max is only hampered by an uninspired combat system and lack of direct story for newcomers to the franchise. Although a tad repetitive, no one can argue that Mad Max skimps on content but this along with the points mentioned prior keeps it from true greatness. That being said, Mad Max is an excellent first step and a game worthy of the Mad Max fan base. So don’t forget your spray paint because while it may not be a platinum game, it is shiny and chrome.
Full Disclosure: At the time of this review, I have played over 30 hours of the game, reaching the maximum level, and with so much more to upgrade on my car and in the wasteland.