End of The Road
Mad Max, as a series, bears a significant connection with many. The universe, the setting, and the storyline have always been a paramount and ultimately very engaging part of one of Australia’s most renowned and beloved series of films. It was always going to be a risk, no matter the developer, to bring Mad Max to the gaming world and to do the series justice. And while it certainly has its fair amount of pitfalls, Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max is a game that will certainly appeal to players looking for an enjoyable open-world adventure in the War Boy-filled post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Opening up with a scene almost akin to that of Mad Max: Fury Road’s opening, we find Max trailed by a group of War Boys, with the game’s antagonist, Scabrous Scrotus, further forward. After a quick encounter, Max finds himself in a dire situation, and ends up on the receiving end of Scrotus’ wrath. We’re then thrown into the world of The Wasteland, with Max ultimately trying to build a car that will see him out of the desolate world and allow him to finally lay waste to Scrotus, who has assumed control over the entire Wasteland and those who occupy it.
Mad Max’s story is something you’ll forget about fairly quickly, and it’s because the game almost pushes you to experiment and dive into everything else that’s littered around The Wasteland instead. The story, as a whole, is disappointingly shallow even though it takes around 15 to 20 hours to complete. There are only a handful of missions that seem to have an impact on how the story progresses, while the others seem to just want to deviate and dance around the subject matter at hand, almost making them feel like side quests rather than being linked at all to main storyline. This is further reinforced by the fact that to start certain missions in the game you have to fill a quota – whether that’s completing a selection of side missions, dismantling one of the many Scrotus camps littered around The Wasteland, or upgrading your vehicle to match set standards. This led to quite a bit of frustration, because the aforementioned requirements can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an extra three or four hours to complete depending on your situation. It completely derails the flow of the game, especially if you’re just in it for the story, and the game uses this as a way to flesh out how long the story actually takes to complete.
If you aren’t just in it for the story and take a liking to the environment and the universe of Mad Max, there’s certainly quite a lot that you’ll love. You’ll eventually come across strongholds that have leaders that play a part in the game’s story, although even after they’ve more-or-less played their part in proceedings you can still take side missions from them and engage in activities sprawled around the world. These activities range from dismantling Scrotus’ many camps, competing in death race-like death runs, or clearing out scarecrows, sniper outposts, and minefields. The problem with these activities, though, is that they feel repetitive after the first couple of times you’ve done them – and nothing ever changes. Even the Top Dog camps, which are like mini boss fights, feel extremely repetitive with the Top Dog’s utilising the same combat manoeuvres over and over again until you eventually kill them.
When you visit any of the leader strongholds, you’re able to upgrade and fortify them by going out into the world and collecting parts which will in-turn give you rewards each time you decide to revisit their stronghold. These rewards range from the automatic replenishing of your canteen — which is the primary way to replenish your health in the game — to refuelling your vehicle, replenishing your ammo, and/or replenishing all of your health.
Collecting these parts won’t necessarily be easy, though, as they’re located in a multitude of different places which are all filled with War Boys and War Criers — Oil Camps, Stank Gum Camps, and scavenging locations all contain the aforementioned parts, so you have to be ready for a fight no matter what.
Littered within these locations and around The Wasteland will be quite a lot of scrap, which is the currency used within Mad Max. Scrap is used to fortify strongholds and upgrade both Max and his vehicle, the Magnum Opus.
Upgrading both Max and the Magnum Opus is a fundamental pillar in the progression of Mad Max. The Opus’s upgrades usually counteract each other, so you have to pay attention to the vehicle’s stats and make a judgment as to how you want the Opus to run and handle. While you can upgrade it with a big, powerful engine, it might completely derail the handling and make the vehicle incredibly difficult to drive — so you have to be mindful of these pitfalls and think about things before spending hard-earned scrap.
Similarly, you can also spend scrap on Max’s upgrades, but they aren’t as unforgiving. As you level up, eventually aiming to reach the ‘Road Warrior’ rank, you’ll unlock new upgrades that will make Max incredibly powerful on-foot. Each increase in level will see you unlock Griffa tokens which you can take to Griffa, a character you also meet early on in the game, who can increase your health meter, weapon stats, and damage stats.
Mad Max’s gameplay is separated in to two different parts – one being completely focused on the vehicle side of things, whereas the other is when you’re on-foot exploring the world. Using the Magnum Opus and utilising its weapons becomes a prominent part of the game’s core experience, and while it felt a bit heavy at times I found that after a few upgrades I was able to adequately take down Convoys and War Boy’s driving around The Wasteland without too much effort. Utilising the Opus’s Harpoon, Sideburners, and the extremely effective Thunderpoon to take out opposing vehicles or structures made for some exciting and enjoyable sequences of events, even if it did often feel somewhat repetitive.
When you’re tasked to continue a mission or task on-foot, Avalanche Studios have employed a fighting system very similar to both the Batman Arkham series and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, although countering is slightly more difficult. While the fights are still usually comprised of more than five-or-so enemies, it forces you to be more mindful of their attacks and to be ready to use the counter button accordingly. If you’re mid-swing and press the counter button, you’ll still end up being hit, unlike the super-reactive Arkham combat system. It’s an enjoyable and at times challenging system to get used to, but it made the game all the more satisfying. Players who are new to this combat system will find that it can be quite challenging and frustrating to deal with at the beginning, but spending the time to really understand it and utilise it to create massive combo chains and instigate bone-crunching finishers certainly makes up for the learning curve.
While Mad Max’s core gameplay is certainly a strong point, the game’s sound design and score are somewhat disappointing in comparison. While Fury Road blasted throughout cinemas with loud, incomprehensibly bold sound design that completely complemented the narrative at play, Mad Max takes an approach that almost feels counterintuitive. It just feels as if the game doesn’t have that oomph that made the movies so prominent, and for a game that’s all about Mad Max and his vehicle, it feels like a big opportunity missed.
Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max unfortunately feels quite unbalanced. Its beautiful, desolate atmosphere and brutal on-foot and vehicular combat are certainly something to admire, although the world is filled with repetitive quests and a storyline that sadly only really feels necessary and enjoyable in the final act. The game is riddled with bugs and glitches, and on multiple occasions forced me to quit out and reset my save to get rid of them. It’s not necessarily game-breaking, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. For those with the patience and a love for the universe of Mad Max, though, there is certainly something here to admire and enjoy. The world of The Wasteland feels lived-in and is riddled with opportunity to really just go out and live your own action adventure as one of Australia’s most iconic protagonists, and that was always the best part about it.
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC