Mad Max Review (PS4)
There are some properties that lend themselves to being a videogame. Then there are others that may have certain parts that would translate well but would it be enough to make an entire game? Mad Max certainly falls into this category. At best you can probably imagine a kickass racer a la Road Rage and at worst a re-skinned Fast and the Furious game. It was therefore rather surprising when the Just Cause series developers Avalanche Studios announced an open world game. Given that they know their stuff when it comes to open world games, it was going to be interesting at least to see how they could mould this genre to fit in with Mad Max’s post-apocalyptic world.
Like the feature films, The Mad Max game focuses on a specific episode in Max Rockatansky’s life rather than his entire existence. This is a good thing as it allows the game to be original but still have the same flow and feel of the films. In the case of the game we find Max in a spot of bother; he has somehow crossed paths with a tyrant who arguably has the best villain name ever – Scabrous Scrotus. The game begins as Max has lost everything and is wandering about in only a pair of trousers. We soon find out the entire plot for the game- revenge, pure and simple. Max meets an eccentric hunchback mechanic called Chumbucket who will help him build a car so he can avenge his beloved Interceptor and finish what he started with Scrotus. In order for Chumbucket to build what he calls the Magnum-Opus, Max will have to scour the various camps and outposts of the wastelands for the parts needed. This is where an open world game starts to make sense.
The world of Mad Max (known as the Wastelands) is huge. It is split up into five large sections with four of them having a stronghold. These strongholds are owned by a character that is sympathetic to your cause. At different points through the game they will allow you to set up a sort of base in each of their strongholds, for a few favours here and there of course! These are normally centred on reducing the influence of Scrotus’ hordes in their areas. With this being an open world game there are a few ways to reduce the influence of the bad guys in the Wastelands. The quickest and easiest way is to clear out the many camps scattered throughout the world. There are a few different types of camp which dictate what you need to do for them to be considered cleared. Some camps have oil reserves that need to be destroyed, or oil pumps that need to go boom, or simply clear out the camp from all of the enemies hiding inside it. They all have a little twist in how they are to be completed but do have the common elements of breaking through the camps defences and fighting lots of enemies once you are inside.
As you would expect, vehicles play a huge part in Mad Max. Not only do you need to drive to get anywhere in what is essentially a massive desert, but many of the quests and side missions are vehicle related. For example, there are the Scarecrows; large beacons that mark Scabrous’ territory which you need to destroy. Something lifted straight from the films is the car combat. Random war parties (swarms of vehicles) will often show up as you are travelling around and try to kill you. In an attempt to stop them you can ram into them, shoot out tyres/ gas tanks/ the driver with your shotgun or use your cars built-in harpoon. With the vanilla variant of this you can become a fisher of men, but not in the biblical sense. A well timed shot can see you pierce an enemy in the chest and rip him from his car bringing it to a screeching halt. The harpoon can be upgraded to have an explosive tip and is hilariously named the Thunderpoon. This allows you to blow up vehicles before they even get close to you and is also useful in getting rid of pesky barricades and sentry towers around camps. The whole use of the vehicle in Mad Max is completely justified and quite frankly, brilliant. It does not feel shoe-horned like the bat-tank did in Arkham Knight.
It is rather difficult to try to list all of the things you can do in Mad Max as you embark on your path to revenge. Apart from the previously mentioned camps and scarecrows, there are snipers that need to be eliminated, mine fields to be cleared, areas to be discovered via hot air balloon lookout posts, convoys to be taken down and races to be won. Now, the cynical amongst may say that these sound like the usual filler you find in a GTA clone and you would be absolutely right. The even more cynical amongst you might describe Mad Max as “You spend the entire game completing all the filler tasks and side mission-y stuff until you unlock a story mission which involves no skill but gives you an upgrade you need to continue doing more filler until you get the final story mission” Again, you would be absolutely correct. The only thing, though, is that all of this is thematically correct and suits the world of Mad Max perfectly. Driving about from one end of the Wasteland to the other just to get an exhaust part makes perfect sense in a post-apocalyptic world. And of course should whoever have it be friendly; they are not going to just give it to you without some sort of quid pro quo. The theme also justifies ramming down numerous fiery lampposts and killing endless snipers as without them, it’s easier to travel and the whole quid pro quo thing again. The point I am clumsily trying to make is that although the meat of this game is filler elsewhere, it just feels natural here.
Completing the side missions rarely feels forced or repetitive. And when it does, it means you are ready for the end game. After around the 28 hour mark I had reduced Scrotus’ influence in one of the areas to zero (from a starting value of 5) and maxed out some of Max’s equipment. Although there was still four areas that had influence levels of at least 3, it felt natural to move on to solely story missions and ninety minutes later I was watching the end credits. Mad Max feels like it has been perfectly balanced; the combat is on the right side of challenging and although there is a ton of stuff to do, there was clearly thought put into how much of the game will feel like enough.
Graphically Mad Max is one of the best looking games of the year. Avalanche studios have gone out of their way to ensure that Mad Max looks the part. The vast Wastelands switch colour palettes from red dusty dunes to white flat salt pans, blue rocky mountains, grey dilapidated cites and golden dunes effortlessly. The weather effects are also impressive as the clear night sky is filled with more hope than the god forsaken land. The aesthetic of the movies is also captured perfectly through the NPCs and vehicles. Whilst the world of Mad Max seems to be an amalgamation of the last three films (The Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome in particular), the vehicles and enemies are lifted straight from Fury Road. Scrotus’ hordes look exactly like Immortan Joe’s warboys. The vehicles too have more than a passing resemblance to those in last year’s blockbuster film. There are loads of other touches that tie the films and game together. Max can often be seen eating tins of Dinky Di dog food, he is sometimes referred to as “the raggedy man” and George Millers’ renaming of things is carried on here; mechanics are called blackfingers while gasoline is guzzoline.
Playing Mad Max was a very rewarding experience for this reviewer. The open world game is moulded perfectly into Max’s mad world. Like fellow WBI movie tie – in Shadows of Mordor, Mad Max’s barren and harsh land is well suited to an open world scattered with enemy camps and few friendly strongholds where you can catch your breath. There are other neat touches throughout the game, such as the storms. Like in Fury Road, there are massive sand storms that can appear at any time. These storms bring with them lightning bolts and other bits of nastiness. When they appear, the best thing to do is to seek shelter at the nearest stronghold. Being caught in one is something you need to experience at least once though. The screen gets covered in clouds of brown dust and debris and the sound is immense. It is possible to drive though one should you fancy your slim chances. It is very difficult to steer your vehicle and almost impossible to get moving again should you lose the forward momentum. I managed to survive driving through a storm once and not ashamed to admit doing a lap of honour around the living room afterwards.
Another area WBI games seem to have nailed is the combat. Borrowing heavily from the Batman and Middle Earth games, Mad Max uses the Attack, Counter, Dodge button system you should be used to. Various different attacks and combos can be purchased from an upgrade screen as per normal and though the combat is not as brilliant as that in Shadow of Mordor, it is still very satisfying. And whilst we are on the subject, employing the nemesis system to Mad Max for the sequel would be amazing, hint hint.
Mad Max is also not without its share of faults. Although good for most of the game there were several frame rate issue whenever I entered a certain part of the map. It only seemed to be a small strip of road but the game ground to a halt anytime you passed through. The boss fights were another issue and tended to be very similar to each other. The characters all have a large weapon and an unblockable charge attack. The key to defeating them is avoiding the charge attack then launching your own attack as they are recovering. Some of the bosses – the Top Dogs – look as if the same character model has been used and tweaked slightly. The wee speech they give you at the beginning of the fight with them may be different but it’s delivered by the same voice actor in the same accent. There is a similar thing I noticed with the Intel encounters you have on your travels. Their character models are different here but they sound like they are using the same dialogue trees with minor variations thrown in. It is understandable that it is a lot of work to populate a huge world with unique characters and that shortcuts are necessary but in some cases, particularly in the case of the Top Dogs, a bit more effort could have been made to camouflage them.
There are still many things to tell you about Mad Max, but given the fact that you’ve already spent a morning reading this we’ll cut to the chase. Mad Max is a very enjoyable game. It pays close attention to its source material and can sit alongside the four films rather comfortably. Avalanche Studios have done an excellent job in bringing Mad Max into the videogame world and it should be on your watchlist of games for this holiday season.
8 tins of dog food out of 10