Mad Max is a third person open world game based upon the famous movie franchise. Well, based upon the recent Fury Road, at least, aside from perhaps one or two nods to the original ‘trilogy’. But as with all the Mad Max films, the game acts as a standalone tale. It may reference certain elements of the most recent movie, but it’s largely disconnected in terms of narrative.
I’ve been a fan of the movies for a long time, so I always going to be interested in a Mad Max game. So is it a good Mad Max game? Well…yes and no. In terms of visuals and technical performance, Mad Max is pretty flawless. The open world captures the tone and beauty of the wasteland to a near perfect degree. And more importantly, even with everything set to Ultra, the game runs at a smooth 60FPS and barely seems to trouble my system.
I guess you could argue that’s because the world is mostly just an empty desert, but it’s a damn fine looking desert with an extremely impressive draw distance and a lot more variety in terms of terrain than you might expect. So yeah, the world is great. It perfectly captures the atmosphere of the harsh, Mad Max wasteland. And like all the best moments in the Mad Max films, the game has you partake in many, many, many on foot battles where you punch people in the face and slam them to the ground using wrestling style moves.
Wait, what? For a Mad Max game, it’s a little strange how much of it revolves around not driving. I get the need for variety. And I really don’t mind the on foot stuff…but there’s just so much more of it than the car based action, that it really baffles me. Outside of a handful of specific story quests, the only car based ‘objective’ type missions are the races and the convoys. It’s no surprise the convoy missions are by far the most enjoyable parts of the game, because it’s during these (sadly short) ‘road wars’ that you actually feel like you’re in a Mad Max movie.
But before we talk more about content, let’s talk about characters and narrative. Although not quite hitting the mark in the same way the open world does, the characters and narrative do feel very at home within the Mad Max universe. None of it is fleshed out to a great degree, although I did enjoy seeing and learning a little more regarding the various gangs of the wasteland.
The story keeps things ticking over and pushes you along, but it’s not the star attraction. It’s competent. It does the job. There’s nothing I can really praise…or complain about. The story is just sort of there. But honestly, I wasn’t expecting much in terms of story and it’s not really why I wanted to play Mad Max anyway. It was the world and the car based combat that interested me.
Which is kind of funny, because at the start of the game you lose your car and have to run about on foot for a bit. But this provides a neat hook for the player and a quest upon which Max must embark – to build the ultimate wasteland ride. I really liked this aspect of the game. You’ll be able to switch between various car chassis, and then further customise various aspects of them ranging from the engine, suspension, armour, rams, spikes, colours and lots more. You’ll unlock new components as you advance through the game allowing you to build your perfect machine.
Which is why it’s such a damn shame you mostly use this perfect machine to simply travel between A and B, and then get out to punch things in the face. For all the fun I had customising my car, I rarely felt like I got to use it beyond travelling from one location to the next. Now, travelling is still fun, don’t get me wrong. The world is full of random encounters and potential road battles, but the game never gives us a proper road ‘war’ like we saw in Fury Road, or even the climactic chase of Mad Max 2…or even 3, for that matter – but let’s not talk about that one.
Which is why, although I liked Mad Max overall, I’m also really disappointed by it. It seems like such a strange oversight. I mean, the mechanics are there, in the game. The cars, the environment, the atmosphere…but it never lets loose and gives us a truly memorable or exciting road battle. The closest we ever come is the convoy missions of which there are only a handful and you can’t even replay. Hell, even the final story missions – a chance to build up to a truly epic and final road war – is just a slightly longer convoy chase, and not even on a larger scale.
So let’s talk about how Mad Max structures its content. You begin in the territory of a guy named Jeet. He controls 5 regions. In each region is a balloon you can use to (tediously) scout the area. There are between 2 or 5 enemy camps, several ‘scarecrow’ towers, a couple of minefields and a handful of sniper positions. Each region has its own ‘threat’ level. By tearing down scarecrows, killing snipers and taking down camps you’ll eventually reduce this threat to zero which…does something, I guess?
It seems like the thing to do though, so you’ll likely spend a bit of time travelling throughout Jeet’s territory and helping him take back control. And it’s pretty fun. There are only 3 or 4 different camp types, but each has a unique design. You take these camps down on foot by running in and punching everyone. These make up the bulk of what you might call the ‘meaningful’ content.
There’s also lots of small locations you can find and scavenge for scrap, which is essentially the currency of the game world. You’ll need it to upgrade your car and Max, although Max can also be upgraded by earning special tokens, although that whole system feels like a poorly tacked on and unnecessary afterthought.
After a time, you’ll effectively clear Jeet’s territory and the core missions will send you on to a new territory of 5 more regions. And that’s when you realise you’ve pretty much seen everything Mad Max has to offer. Because everything beyond this point is essentially the same content recycled in a new location. And it gets pretty tedious, to say the least.
Mad Max may offer a lot of content, but it’s largely bland, repetitive, recycled content. It’s filler. I wouldn’t say it’s bad filler, but it’s filler nonetheless. Now, you can argue that a lot of this content isn’t strictly necessary to progress, so if I got tired of doing it, then why didn’t I stop? But the problem with that argument, is that if I did ignore this mostly optional, repetitive content, then what would I be left with? Not much of anything, really. Aside from a few unique story missions, Mad Max is 85% repetitive filler.
That said, I can’t deny I still enjoyed it. There’s something satisfying about clearing out the regions and hunting down every last piece of scrap. But ultimately, you’re really just doing the same 5 or 6 things, 5 or 6 times in every region of a territory, before doing the same 5 or 6 things, 5 or 6 times in the next five regions of the next territory. And then the next one. Yeah. So the content on offer isn’t exactly stellar, but if you don’t really care too much about the lack of variety or the repetition, then you’ll certainly get a good few hours of value out of Mad Max.
So let’s talk about the gameplay. This is split between on foot combat and car based combat. The on foot combat is styled on the ‘Batman’ system of counter and strike, but it’s the most basic version of this. It’s literally two buttons – counter and strike. You can do a roll, I guess, but that’s about it. It’s true there are other ‘moves’ you can unlock such as a shoulder charge, but none of these make the combat more dynamic or complex, and it’s often easier to just spam the attack button and counter when necessary.
You’ll eventually activate ‘fury’ mode where you hit…harder. You can pick up some weapons but these break after a few swings, and you can do a couple of finishing moves but overall, the on foot combat system is as basic as you can get. It’s also not at all challenging, even when the game throws a lot of guys on you at once. Hell, even the ‘Top Dog’ boss fights are disappointing, because every single one is exactly the same. They’re literally the same recycled guy, with the same attack pattern. I wouldn’t say the on foot combat is bad, but it lacks complexity, variety and challenge.
Which sort of applies to the car based combat too. I’m willing to cut this more slack, however, as there’s only so much you can do to make car based combat interesting and varied without it getting a little too silly. You’ll use your car to ram opponents, and upgrading elements of your car will make this more effective. You can use your shotgun to blast exposed fuel tanks, or your harpoon to rip pieces or even people out of their vehicles.
Given the speed of some of the chases in the game, particularly the convoy missions, the car combat is as complex as it really needs to be. And the game does a decent job of introducing new enemy car types as you progress. The problem with the car combat, as I’ve already said, is simply that there’s not enough of it. You’ll mostly be tangling with one or two vehicles at a time in the open world. The only larger scale car battles are the convoy missions.
I really don’t understand why the game never built up to or included any kind of road ‘war’ featuring dozens of vehicles on both sides. I mean, a big chunk of the game is about gaining allies by helping them take back their territory. But ultimately, it’s pointless doing so because it has no impact on how the game plays out.
Another disappointing aspect is that of survival. At the start of the game it seems like fuel and water will be in fairly short supply. Which makes sense for a Mad Max game. But you soon realise that fuel is literally everywhere in Mad Max. It also automatically replenishes whenever you revisit an upgraded stronghold. Now, I wouldn’t have wanted to be worrying about fuel all the time, because that would have taken a lot of the fun out of the driving, but it should have been of some concern. Instead, outside of the scripted search for fuel early in the game, I never had to refuel my car once.
If there was one word to best surmise how I feel about Mad Max, it would be – frustrated. I’m frustrated because the world is fantastic, and whilst the on foot and car combat is fairly basic, they certainly do the job. But beyond this, Mad Max offers a very repetitive experience full of recycled content. There were times I just had to take a break from it for a few days because I was getting sick of doing the same things over and over again. And because the story, whilst not bad, didn’t exactly hook me, I could have stopped playing it completely at any time and not really given a shit.
It would be pretty easy and cheap to slap a MEDIOCRE!/10 on this review, but I’d say Mad Max does just enough to rise above average. Just. Because there are moments when the game hits its stride, when everything clicks into place – you’re tearing across the wasteland, a warboy horde around you, ramming into other cars, using your shotgun on their fuel tanks, causing them to explode and flip into the air…it’s f**king glorious to watch and even more fun to play.
Why they didn’t do more of that and expand upon those elements and build up to some truly epic road wars simply baffles me. All the ingredients are there, they just go unused. Instead, they thought it would be better to have you spend 90% of your time running about on foot, punching people. In a Mad Max game. I just don’t get it.