Shiny and Chrome, But Repetitive
Mad Max, from Warner Bros. Interactive and Avalanche Studios is very obviously a labor of love for both companies. It’s got the lore hooks from the films, it nails the tone and look of Miller’s recent film, and it’s also got some of the best car-based combat in games today. But it’s where the open world RPG-lite tries to do too much that it falters. It’s a very competent game, and unlike other recent WBI releases, the PC port from Agora Games runs like an absolute dream and plays well on the keyboard. But that doesn’t save it from the problem a lot of open world games run into: heavy-handed content bloat.
Yes, I’m saying that Mad Max actually has too much stuff to do. Or to be more precise, the chores that the game is chock-full of are less than entertaining and I found myself ignoring most of them as time went on. Taking out scarecrows, running races for extra cars you won’t use, and scavenging every camp for scrap starts off decent enough. But it all becomes an obvious attempt at padding the game’s length far too soon.
The story is pretty standard fare for Mad Max. Taking place sometime after Fury Road (the game acknowledges the events of all the films in the character bios and so forth), Max is in search of some sort of final peace in a place called the Plains of Silence. Of course, before that can happen he’s hijacked by reigning baddie Lord Scrotus (yes, Scrotus) and though Max tries to kill him by putting a chainsaw through the top half of his head, Scrotus survives and Max barely does while also losing his prized Black on Black (Interceptor) car.
He then runs into a hunchback named Chumbucket, saves Scrotus’ injured and cast aside dog, and the three begin their quest for the ride Max needs to topple Scrotus and make his way into the Plains of Silence: The Magnum Opus. Chum is actually a lot like Shadow of Mordor’s incarnation of Gollum, goofy, animated, and he has some of the funniest lines in the game. He’s rather infatuated with cars, and aside being really good at fixing them up, it’s also implied he checks their oil with his own dipstick from time to time.
What can I say; it’s Mad Max, not Shakespeare.
Chum’s always with you when you ride out with the Magnum Opus, though he won’t be there when you’re using other cars you pilfer from the wastelanders, or his own dune buggy which carries Dinki-Di (Scrotus’ dog) who can help you clear mine fields. But that part, the mine-clearing part? That’s just one way Mad Max clearly tried to do too much at once. Side objectives like mine-clearing are entirely optional, but clearing them will make life in the wastes better, and it’ll also make the later stages of the game easier by proxy. So by skipping them, you’re missing out on upgrades and the like. It’s a bit of a gaming catch 22.
Now, this might make it seem like I don’t like the game so far. That’s definitely not the case. I’ve had a blast when taking over Scrotus’ camps or hunting down convoys in the open world (the latter of which can give some truly experiences). It’s the little bits that muddy the overall pacing of the game that really drag me down.
Additionally, the game’s hand-to-hand combat starts off far too simplistic for my tastes, but grows into something a little more nuanced late in the game. Compare this to say Shadow of Mordor, and you’d be on the right track. It uses the same one button attacks, another button parries or blocks mechanic. But where games like Mordor and Arkham series layer on loads of cool moves over time, Max’s attacks never really get the same sort of treatment. There are things like breaking your opponent’s arm to stun them on a parry, but it’s not the same as having full control over combos the way Batman and Mordor allow.
Car combat on the other hand is brilliant, thanks in large part to the harpoon you get early in the game. You’re like a metal-plowing Ahab out there in the great dune sea, spearing warboys from their cars like it was nothing. Then you get explosive tipped spears for the harpoon about midway through the game and it becomes even greater. The car’s power, handling, and overall survivability once you get the V8 make driving around the dunes even better.
There’s also something missing from the 3rd person movement on foot when it comes to controlling Mad Max. He runs and moves believably enough, but there’s no real jump (except to dodge), and Max can only climb areas that are denoted with a climbable surface (which is always bright freaking yellow). When compared to games like Mordor, AC, and Batman, this makes the movement of Max seem rudimentary at best.
Mad Max, despite my qualms listed here, really is a decent game. It’s fun, has the personality of the movies behind it, but somehow feels a bit hollow. I think the combination of repetitive tasks, lack of control over Max’s movements, and the fact that the story gets lost in favor of having you complete said repetitive tasks weigh down an otherwise enjoyable ride. Upgrading Max and the Magnum Opus are a lot of fun, and true to its RPG bits the upgrades feel meaningful and add a lot of power. The story’s a bit weak, but still has its moments, and the overall style of the world is spot on Mad Max.
If you’re a fan of games like Shadow of Mordor and Assassin’s Creed, you’re going to find a lot to like here but I doubt the game will invoke the same sort of adoration as those two titles. Mad Max is a serviceable and enjoyable beginning to what I hope will become a series of games set in this world. Every legend needs to start somewhere, and the basics of greatness are here. Max and his Magnum Opus just need a bit more tuning and the helping hand of a good Blackfinger to get into true fighting shape.
Our copy was a Steam code provided by 360 PR on behalf of Warner Bros. and Avalanche. We played over 20 hours and completed the main campaign and a load of the very many sidequests. We played on both a laptop and a desktop, with varying hardware and were able to run the game on high and ultra at 30 and 60 FPS respectively.
Gameplay – 7 The overall gameplay arc is solid, and everything works wonderfully. The problem comes when you start to realize that the game has you doing the same menial chores over and over in order to pad out the gameplay hours.
Visuals and Sound – 9 Mad Max looks and sounds absolutely perfect. Voice acting is solid, though it seems Max has just as little personality here as he did in Fury Road. Sounds of cars ramming, exploding, and tearing are suitably raucous. On Ultra, Mad Max looks absolutely stunning, with some of the best explosions I’ve ever seen in games.
Longevity – 7 There’s a buttload of content here, but the jury is out on whether or not you’ll actually have the stomach to do it all. So much of it relies on repetition that I doubt many will get a full 100% game completion.
Value – 7 You get the full unabridged game for $60, but given the title’s main story is around the $20 mark, folks looking for a meatier RPG might come away feeling like the length of the game was too short. Hopefully the eventual DLC is both valuable and worthwhile.
Polish – 8 Mad Max runs absolutely great. I had very few issues when it came to performance. That said, there were some weird clipping issues, my car would tend to get suck a lot, and missions often had me do things that didn’t need to be done because I’d already done them elsewhere in the story. These are minor complaints though and PC gamers should be happy with this port.