Mad Max Review: 2 Max 2 Furious

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Posted October 16, 2015 by John Clark in Video Games

Developer : Avalanche Games

Publisher: WB Games

Release Date: September 1, 2015

Platforms:  PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC [reviewed]

Price: $60

 

I knew as soon as I started Mad Max that it would be a difficult game to review. A new title based on a popular movie property that borrows heavily from major blockbusters in both film and gaming? I was ready to be cynical, to lambast Avalanche for creating something that feels like it doesn’t have an original bone in its body. After a few hours, though, I changed my mind, and it raised a question of the value of originality in a game versus doing something well-established, but doing it very well. Ultimately, I walked away from Mad Max ambivalent about some aspects of the game, but ready to tackle this difficult question.

For those who saw Fury Road, the game doesn’t follow the movie’s plot, but it does take obvious inspiration from the locales and themes. The story begins when Max’s Interceptor is taken by war boys – sound familiar? – and he’s forced to accept the help of a mutant mechanic named Chumbucket to build a new ride called the Magnum Opus. How much one enjoys the storyline will depend heavily on how much they like Chum, as he’s a critical part of almost every mission and nearly sewn to the hip with Max. Fortunately, I found him endearing and interesting, but I could see some people growing aggravated by his constant presence.

That said, the plot is really just a pretty shallow vehicle to give the player reason to wander the wasteland. It’s here that comparisons to the likes of Ubisoft and other AAA open world developers becomes relevant: the gameplay loop of Mad Max is familiar and simplistic, taking heavy inspiration from these other titles. There’s even an analog to Far Cry’s towers in the form of hot air balloon that can be ascended in to scout the surrounding area. Using the information gathered, Max sets out and frees strongholds from war boy influence, races against other wastelanders, and chases down convoys. My favorite part of the game, however, are the storms: familiar to anyone who’s seen the latest movie, these raging tempests are incredibly deadly, but in a smart move by Avalanche, also packed with valuable loot. Sure, you can take shelter, but by braving their lightning and windswept debris, there’s a lot to be gained. My only wish is that they started more often; in sixty hours, I encountered only four.

GEEEET DUNKED ON!

GEEEET DUNKED ON!

 

It’s a shame, too, because the storms, like the rest of the world, are gorgeous. Some weak textures can’t hold back what I think is one of the most well-designed locales of late, and Avalanche deserves credit for managing to spruce up what could have just been an uninteresting desert. Rolling dunes contrast flat salt plains, Gastown is an industrial behemoth of oil rigs and refining units, and sulfur fields are as compelling as they are dangerous. It’s not a pretty setting, but it’s a varied one and I rarely found myself bored of sightseeing. More impressively is how well it runs on PC. After the debacle that was Batman: Arkham Knight, I was wary of anything published by WB, but the game runs butter-smooth and has little in the way of bugs or technical problems.

Fortunately, the actual gameplay is a lot of fun. Most of the player’s time is spent either on foot in fistfighting combat lifted straight from the Arkham games or driving in the Magnum Opus, engaging in car battles that would do Fury Road proud. In the former, there’s not much to be surprised by: war boys and buzzards occupy dozens of camps and strongholds across the wasteland, and Max has to take them down to lower the influence of Scabrous Scrotus (the primary villain of the game) in the area. One button attacks, another counters, and a third rolls. The primary difference between Max and Batman is one of brutality: unlike the caped crusader, Max has no problems killing, and the lethality of his attacks is both impressive and unsettling. After landing a certain number of hits, he goes into a ‘rage mode’ where every strike breaks bones and punches are followed up by hilarious and punishing wrestling moves, such as suplexes and body slams. Upgrading Max’s equipment lets him hit harder, rage longer, and unlock new special moves – par for the course for the pseudo-RPG elements that seem to bleed into many games these days.

 

That's not the end of the gun I'd use, but sure.

That’s not the end of the gun I’d use, but sure.

The driving, however, is where I feel like the game truly shines. Straddling the line somewhere between a conventional racing game and Twisted Metal’s car combat, getting behind the wheel of the Magnum Opus is a treat. Though the controls are initially a bit rough, they scale quickly with the quality of the parts the car is made up with, and by mid-game, the car earns its name with a serious sense of speed and an assortment of powerful weapons. From a harpoon that can be used to rip wheels off enemy vehicles and bring down gates to flame-spewing pipes and a target-seeking missile launcher, the Opus isn’t lacking in tools to dismantle other cars for scrap, the game’s primary currency. The aforementioned convoys in particular demand smart use of all these tools: chasing down a half-dozen cars to get the prized hood ornament is as fun as it is difficult, often taking place across ten minutes of hectic bumper-to-bumper combat.

While many of Mad Max’s activities are fun, I was off-put by how mandatory they are to complete the main story. High-level car upgrades being locked behind open-world objectives is one thing, but a good number of the main story missions are equally stonewalled, artificially inflating the length of the game by forcing the player to shut down a few more war boy camps or win a few more races to reach the next plot point. Unsurprisingly, this hurts the story pacing as well, doing the already thin narrative few favors.

All in all, Mad Max is mostly equal to the sum of its parts, with little that evolves it beyond the aspects that make up the driving, fist-fighting, and open world exploration. While I can’t help but feel a strong narrative, better setpiece moments, or a bit more creativity in encouraging the player to get out and see the world than locking off content would have helped immensely, the game’s still a lot of fun. There’s respect for the setting and the gameplay’s polished, which is as much as I could really ask for a licensed game these days. If you have the time and are a big fan of Mad Max, the game’s a definite bet, but even if you aren’t interested in Australia’s biggest post-apocalyptic badass, there’s a lot to like here.


About the Author

John Clark