Timing. It’s a very important aspect of many professions, and it can be something that makes or breaks many a company in terms of well-timed releases. I say this as Mad Max unfortunately falls foul here, despite being a decent game. I fear Mad Max will suffer greatly due to its same day release with Metal Gear Solid V. Both are large, open world adventures, both are big licenses, but only one will likely reap the most success, and let’s face it, few titles can compete with Metal Gear, regardless of their license. I’m fairly certain which way gamers with limited budgets will go.
So, it’s into this ill-timed release slot that Mad Max finds itself, and this is a shame as the game is actually pretty decent, if not amazing. Based upon the Mad Max license as a whole, with clear inspiration taken from the recent Fury Road, the game tells its own story, what there is of it, and isn’t linked with any existing canon. This is a standalone tale, but one that still retains a lot of the elements of the post-apocalyptic world our gear head exists in.
As the story opens, local warlord, the unfortunately-named Scrotus, is taken down in a brutal manner by Max, but not before his warboys steal Max’s iconic Interceptor and turn it into so much junk. Stripped of his car, Max soon meets the equally name-challenged, Chumbucket. He’s a ‘black finger’, that’s mechanic to you and me, who worships vehicles and wants to build the greatest vehicle in the wasteland. So, the two set out to build the Magnum Opus, Max’s new wheels, all so Max can get revenge and find the Plains of Silence, for some reason that’s not really elaborated on.
Yeah, the story is a little weak, but luckily it doesn’t really matter here, as the core action of the game is what counts, and it mixes on-foot adventure and combat with vehicle exploration and high-speed murder, with the latter introducing some fairly unique elements.
I am the Nightrider!
Mad Max revolves around the Magnum Opus, and you’ll spend a good deal of your time performing missions and tasks in order to acquire the various materials needed to enhance and customise the car. This is without a doubt one of the most impressive features of the game, and there are tons of customisation options, most of which are unlocked as you progress through the story and increase Max’s level. Early on your choices are limited, but eventually you can create your very own wasteland monster. It’s also good to see a body option that resembles the Interceptor, so if you’re a big fan of the legendary movie car, you can recreate it, and can also unlock the actual car as a reward later on.
Upgrades deal with every aspect of the car, from wheels, engine, and shocks, to armour, hood ornaments, and a variety of weapons, including Fury Road‘s explosive harpoons. All of this improves the Magnum Opus, allowing Max to take on bigger and more dangerous foes, something you’re just not able to do at first when the Opus is relatively weak.
To facilitate this, Max and Chum have to complete all sorts of missions and side-quests to gather scrap and more specific items, and this involves a lot of side quest content. The vast world map is filled with an assortment of missions and tasks, which you’ll be using the Magnum Opus, and other vehicles to reach. To do this, you’ll require fuel, which has to be scavenged around the world too.
Vehicle handling is good, although it does take a while to get used to, being just a little more sensitive than other open world titles, not to mention the fact you’re driving on sand and rock for the most part. Once you get to grips with it, and get into the flow of things, you’ll find an very enjoyable twist on vehicle combat.
As well as basic skills like ramming and side-swiping enemies (with explosive results), you can shoot weak spots with your shotgun (with explosive results), throw ‘thunderpoons’ (with explosive results), and even harpoon cars to rip off parts and drag drivers out of their seats (not explosive, but still results). It’s well-handled, and the addition of using Chumbucket as your wingman is great. He operates the harpoons, points out enemy threats, and can even jump out and fix your car when stationary. When you decide to use the sniper rifle (with explosive… oh, you get the point), Chum will also drive the car for you while you’re aiming (with you in control), giving you full command of both the car and the rifle. Basically, car combat is great, and importantly, feels just how you’d expect, reproducing the battles of the movies well, especially when attacking road trains and convoys.
Avalanche has succeeded in making the Magnum Opus an important part of the game, and a central focus in a world where cars mean life, and gas is gold. It’s even managed to get the balance of car combat and on-foot action right, something many thought even Batman: Arkham Knight didn’t manage.
You’re mad, man!
Speaking of Batman: Arkham Knight, we come to the on-foot part of the game, including combat ripped unapologetically from Rocksteady’s series. WB must really like Batman‘s combat, as it did the same with Shadow Of Mordor.
Not as well handled as the car mechanics, Mad Max‘s non-vehicular content is still solid, and is perfectly acceptable. Combat is an almost carbon copy of Arkham‘s, complete with counters, familiar indicators for enemy attacks, and a ‘fury’ mode that allows Max to deal more damage when he gets mad. It’s all about careful timing and evasion, with the game throwing clear Arkham-like enemies at you, such as knife-wielders, armoured brutes, and foes with shields. It’s not at all original, but it does work. Punches and kicks feel meaty and have weight to their impact, and Max’s array of brutal hits, throws and finishers are great. It’s not as deep as Arkham‘s combat, but it’s still good.
The major issue with combat is how samey it can get. Max has very few weapons to make use of, save for his trusty shotgun, which can usually one-shot foes, and makeshift melee weapons. Shivs can be used once for an instant kill when a foe is stunned, and you can use the environment to your advantage, such as slamming foes into walls for a beatdown, and so on, but it all gets very repetitive, and difficulty is only really handled by increasing the odds against Max.
When you’re on foot and not fighting, you’ll have to explore to scavenge scrap for use in upgrading both Max and the Magnum Opus, and you’ll also be on the hunt for collectables, such as historic relics that give some insight into the old world before the war, and the changes it’s seen. It’s a throw-away feature, but it offers some extra lore, so it’s welcome.
When on-foot you’ll also perform other tasks, including assaulting enemy outposts and bases. Fuel camps are one of the main side-quests, and after first decimating their perimeter defences with the Magnum Opus, pulling down sniper towers, destroying flame throwers, and so on, you proceed into the base on foot to deal with the foes within. This culminates in destroying the oil wells in each base, thus removing the need for Scrotus’ men to bother with it. This, and many other tasks such as pulling down Scrotus scarecrow totems, picking off convoys, and defeating sub-bosses reduce enemy influence on an area, much like Red Faction: Guerrilla. As the threat level in each area drops, you’ll be attacked less, and Chum can further upgrade the Magnum Opus. Captured bases also bring in regular scrap, with more bases giving more resources.
Advancement through the game is very closely tied with achieving side-quests and optional objectives, and this is where a lot of people will find fault. Some may consider a lot of the content to be filler, or busywork, extending the game by simple, even cheap means of rehashing repetitive tasks, and forcing players to plough through it to advance. In all fairness, this is an accurate assessment, and the game certainly does pad itself out with a huge amount of fetch quests and repeated tasks, but I actually found it to be satisfying enough, going through the motions to actually earn the upgrades for my car. Sure, I’d have liked more variety, and pulling down the umpteenth scarecrow or assaulting another familiar fuel base does have a negative effect on the game, but it’s no more guilty of this than many other open world games that do the exact same thing. Mad Max, however, does tend to force this ‘optional’ content on you more than others, occasionally preventing progression until you meet minimum requirements of side-quest completion, and I can fully understand why some would have a problem with it.
I also disliked that the game often forces you to throw away your own, custom choices for you car you’ve worked so hard on in favour of preset vehicle setups (called Archangels by Chum) for specific tasks. I’ve spent a long time making my own monster, why can’t I decide when to use it?
The main missions drive the game along nicely enough, with some interesting action, locations, and characters, but I have to say, the world does feel a little dull at times, with reused structures and little in the way of variety. I know it’s a wasteland, but some more variation would be welcome, especially as you spend a lot of time driving around it getting from point A to B. Thankfully, the map is riddled with tasks, so you’ll always be busy with something.
I am an out-of-controller!
Wedged as it is under the weight of launching alongside Metal Gear Solid V, it’s a shame that Mad Max will suffer because of it. It’s certainly not in the same league as Metal Gear Solid V, but it is a good game in its own right, manages to deliver a long story with some of the best car combat around, and it successfully mixes old and new Mad Max style into its own unique world. It does contain a lot of filler, but this filler does actually have meaning, helping you become stronger, instead of being simple time-kill fodder.
If you’re going to buy one open world game, then Metal Gear Solid V, or The Witcher 3 will certainly be your best options, but if you prefer your open world comes with a focus on vehicles, explosions, and post-apocalyptic mayhem, this could be one for you.