When it comes to the apocalypse, Mad Max set a benchmark in 1979 that various other games, comics and movies would draw inspiration from for decades to come. Several films later, and the infamous Road Warrior is finally ready to ride with his inner demons on the shiny console and PC roads in a game that isn’t going to break any new ground – but it does have some charm.
Left for dead by the hordes of local warlord Scaborous Scrotus as he attempts to find his way to the Plains of Silence, Max is out of luck, water and his legendary car. Fortunes quickly change however as Max encounters the ostracised blackfinger Chumbucket, a mechanical genius who happens to quite literally worship the engines that he happens to be a dab hand at fixing and creating.
With Max out of a car and Chumbucket needing somebody to help him complete his holy work, the Magnum Opus, the two conveniently team up for wacky hijinks within the Wasteland. There’s certainly a story to be told here, with Mad Max delivering an ample amount of lore and legends through the various in-game menus. Whether that story is any good or not is up to you, as the game drops the ball in the final minutes of the last act.
Mad Max works far better however, when it gives players the chance to let their imaginations run wild and as you explore the wasteland.
SO SHINY SO CHROME!
It’s a harsh world out there, divided into two distinct styles of play: Driving and on-foot exploration and combat. When you’re in a vehicle, Mad Max is everything that you want it to be. That signature spin of the wheels as you roar off into the sunset, the unhinged sound of a V8 engine being pushed to the limits and the road wars of the Wasteland.
When it comes to vehicular combat, Mad Max fills an itch that few games are capable of or even interested in when it comes to the open-world genre, delivering a high-octane action experience on four wheels.
Even though the Magnum Opus is made up of steel thinner than tissue paper in the beginning of the game and requires numerous pit stops to repair, once you’ve started upgrading the base vehicle you’re going to find that your wheels can be a force to be reckoned with. And this is where Mad Max is truly so chrome, so shiny. Car combat is an absolute joy, as you wreck the hordes of Scrotus and find yourself adjusting tactics on the fly to deal with various enemy types that range from standard smashers to mental Carmikaze crazies.
You’ve got plenty of options open to you, as you can focus on introducing a petrol tank to a boomstick, harpoon the wheels out from under a War Boy or just blast them away with a “thunder-poon”.
Combined with a massively deep upgrade system that allows you to create arch-angel vehicles which can handle particular threats on the road, and Mad Max absolutely nails the sensation of going out for a drive in the Wasteland.
OH WHAT A LOVELY DAY!
And then you get out of your car.
If you’re not putting the pedal to the metal, Mad Max falls apart when you’re on foot. Maybe that’s an intentional piece of design to emphasise how crappy it is to be without wheels in the Wasteland, because it certainly feels like a hot and sandy hell when you’re not driving.
There’s a big emphasis on scavenging, from health-restoring water, maggots and leftover dog food, to scrap for your upgrades, ammo for your shotgun and fuel for the Magnum Opus. An unprepared raggedy man will die quickly if he isn’t prepared, but the survival aspect of Mad Max is hardly overbearing.
The world of Mad Max is also a beast. Barren but filled with a ludicrous amount of side-activities, there’s possibly too much to tackle here but your mileage may vary. There are convoys to ambush, locations to scavenge, camps to demolish, races to engage in, snipers to kill and scarecrows to pull down. A lot of it may amount to content for the sake of having content, but some diversions can still be fun thanks to some neat destruction physics.
In addition to all that, you still have to contend with the occasional super-storm, a vortex of wind and lightning that is attracted to the Magnum Opus, resulting in situations where you have to outride the hurricanes and make for a safe camp. Minefields also need to be cleared to lower the threat in certain areas, a tedious chore wherein you switch to a less-than-capable beach buggy and take your dog along for the ride.
In each region, you’ll also find yourself forging an alliance with various stronghold leaders. It’s the usual idea of mutual back-scratching that has you clearing out threats and slowly upgrading a stronghold to confer various bonuses on you such as instant ammo refills, water fill-ups and refuelling. It’s not a bad idea, but tedious when you find yourself finding scrap parts for projects to repeat the process at several other bases.
Which all sounds fine, until you realise that Max handles like a drunk man with unrealistically high expectations of his fighting skills. There’s a clear use of the Arkham style of fighting here from the Batman games, with Max using a simple mix of strikes and parries to deal damage and deliver brutal finishers.
The problem here comes from the fact that combat feels clumsy, a problem made even worse by a temperamental camera that doesn’t follow Max properly and results in many a donkey-punch hitting Max in the face. There’s barely any sense of a rhythm either, as finding the right gap to properly land combos to dial up the Fury mode and parry, feels both awkward and unresponsive.
It’s a frustrating system that is clearly trying to emulate the success of last year’s Shadow of Mordor, but fails dismally. Likewise, the game forces you to perform tedious tasks that result in frequent repetition when taking down bases and scavenging. You’ll find a camp, take down enemies inside, curse the unresponsive handling of your shotgun and destroy whatever you have to.
Top Dog camps throw a boss fight in to your path to shake things up, but these foes are hardly challenging as their mechanisms are the same all across the map.
And while Mad Max doesn’t boast the prettiest character models, it does have plenty going for it in terms of level design.
The apocalypse may have come and gone, but the shifting sands and ruined world around you is hauntingly beautiful and intriguing as you explore rusted relics and haphazard camps, with a big sense of discovery binding the locations together. There are the occasional dips in performance that will most likely be ironed out in future patches.
It’s worth soaking in that beauty as well with the game’s built-in capture mode, a collection of filters and camera toggles that allow you to capture the perfect screenshot. In fact, all of the screenshots used in this review come from that feature.
Hot off the critical success of Mad Max: Fury Road, the titular game is a mixed collection of superb driving and lackluster fisticuffs. It’s not a terrible game and it’s a far cry better than anything else on the market that has a tangible link to a film franchise – thanks to a world which oozes detail and lore.
Last Updated: September 7, 2015