As a modern open world game, Mad Max could be called a rather mediocre release. It doesn’t have anything original going for it, and all of its aspects are imitations of established titles. But if you’re a Mad Max nut, you’ll adore this game! You’ll strap it to your car front and nitro-boost right into bliss. Originally set for a 2014 release, Avalanche Studios nearly spent a full additional year to A) polish the game and B) add even more elements of George Miller’s amazing Mad Max: Fury Road to it. And it shows. The game now inhales so much chrome that it could easily have been the official tie-in game.
Here’s what it’s about. Some time before or after Fury Road, Max travels through the area of Gas Town and meets its new leader. Scrotus is one of Immortan Joe’s sons, and while Max manages to shove a chainsaw into his head on their very first date, Scrotus’s gang steals Max’s car and leaves him to die. Max of course survives, and after teaming up with a mutated mechanic, Max needs to build himself a new ride.
If you liked Fury Road, you’ll simply love the game design. Rigs, cars, outposts, enemies, everything looks inspired by the latest movie. You’ll face sandstorms, fight chrome spray painted War Boys, and you get to battle those spiked dune cars. There are human blood bags and religious car symbols. Did I mention that you get to drive a speaker-stacked wagon just like the Doof Warrior’s? But the inspiration doesn’t stop here. One of the NPC characters lives in a tent just like Aunty Entity’s, you get to drive the original Ford Interceptor, you can visit a plane wreck that resembles the one of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Oh, and of course you get to fight IN Thunderdome.
Gameplay consists of two variants: melee combat and vehicular combat. All over the giant map, Scrotus has camps. Camps you can break down and conquer. Usually that means taking out all of the camp’s defense lines, then going in to beat the crap out of every single War Boy inside. Ammo is scarce, so you’re mostly fighting with your bare hands. Rocksteady did it best on their Arkham games, and that’s exactly why Avalanche chose to imitate their fighting mechanics. Max isn’t as graceful as Batman, but he too gets to beat up a dozen enemies at once. The other variant of course involves cars. Aside from simply ramming other cars until they burst into flames, you can attack vehicles with a harpoon. Max’s cars obviously aren’t as manoeuverable as the Batmobile, but it’s always fun to detach car doors, then rip out the screaming driver at full speed. There is even a little RPG element. You can buy a lot of upgrades for your car, for your own hand-to-hand fighting, and for basic skills.
The sheer length of the game is astounding. There’s about ten hours of main story, another ten hours of side missions, and you’ll need at least twenty more hours to clean the rest of the map. If you’re short on time you can pretty much avoid any of the side stuff, but you really should spend some time on that in order to buy some upgrades. Without them, the game is considerably more difficult. What’s great is that you actually feel the effect of every upgrade. Unlike the useless upgrades in The Witcher 3, every hard-earned upgrade makes the battle easier, and you’ll feel motivated to become better. The character of Max doesn’t look anything like Mel Gibson’s or Tom Hardy’s version, but you can grow a manly beard! And the overall voice acting is solid. Max himself doesn’t talk much, but his hilarious mechanic does, deeming Max a saint and his car a sanctuary. The main story is pretty good. It’s a solid fifth chapter in the Mad Max franchise and could have made a worthy movie. It doesn’t hold up against the perfect story-telling of Fury Road, but I doubt that anyone expected that.
What’s not to like? For you to enjoy this, it is necessary to like repeating elements. Climbing towers in Assassin’s Creed? Hunting animals in Far Cry? Taking over terrorist camps in Just Cause? Finding Riddler trophies? If you see stuff like that as annoying chores, Mad Max probably isn’t for you. You’ll repeat many aspects over and over and over again. You’ll really need to enjoy driving around, collecting scraps, and punching War Boys in the face. You’ll spend hours doing exactly that.
I really enjoyed it, and truly recommend the game.
But where there’s both gears and sand, problems arise. The soundtrack is rather weak and doesn’t compare to Tom Holkenborg’s of Mad Max: Fury Road. To regain health, Max drinks water. It’s just that refilling water takes forever, and drinking takes even longer. It’s unnecessarily annoying. The game is not a Dark Souls, but I gotta warn you that it can be really difficult at times. Max can’t just gracefully escape every brawl by using a grappling hook, and health doesn’t come back by itself. You also might be annoyed by the fact that Max cannot jump. There are marked places where you can climb. However, you’re always forced to use the paths you’re destined to take.
And finally, we gotta talk morals. Most games have you rescuing someone, or freeing slaves, or stopping evil, or any other motivation that is basically deemed good and selfless. During the main story Max does all of that, but it’s never his main motivation. He’s driven by building himself a better car, and that’s all. Most of the time you’ll aggressively break into War Boys camps, and just beat everyone inside to death, stealing money to buy yourself a better set of tires. I mean you’re not exactly raiding orphanages, as every camp has piles of dead and mutilated bodies. There are bathtubs full of blood and couches with what look like mangled rape corpses. Still, killing everyone for car parts does leave an ambigous feeling. When you’ve beaten the story, your personal body count will have added up to more than a thousand kills. After these happenings every surviving War Boy should be telling legends about you. Max, the feared scourge of the wasteland. The one no War Boy ever wants to witness. “It’s just a game”, yeah, but this aspect could have been handled a little more elegantly.
This is probably the ultimate Mad Max video game, and I doubt you’ll find a better one in Bartertown. Get in and load your sawed-off.