This past summer, Mad Max: Fury Road dominated the box office with its action-packed post-apocalyptic adventure. Now Avalanche Studios brings some of that same spectacle to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC in the Mad Max video game. The question is: can they turn a non-stop action movie like Mad Max into an open world video game that feels true to the source material? Read our detailed review to find out!
Welcome to the Wasteland
At the start of the game, the titular hero Max is going about his business when he runs afoul of the ruler of the Great White region, Scrotus, and his War Boys. They take all his possessions (including his clothes to his prized vehicle), leaving Max with nothing. He then meets a lonely mechanic named Chumbucket who becomes his trusty sidekick/mechanic. This new partner will help Max build the most fearsome vehicle in the Wasteland, The Magnum Opus.
The Magnum Opus is the key to defeating Scrotus and his crew, but to do so you must collect parts and build the car into a death machine like no other.
Mad Max and the three keys to success
Mad Max is an open world game that has you exploring the furthest corners of the Wasteland. Portions of the Wasteland are ruled by former allies of Chumbucket. In order to get special parts for the Magnum Opus, you must complete tasks for these allies as well as take down forces of Scrotus that have taken over their region.
This is where what I call the three keys to success in Mad Max come in: Scrap, Upgrades, and the Threat Level. Progression throughout the game is limited if you don't focus on these three things. They are required to defeat tougher enemies and even to access some story missions.
In order to upgrade Max and the Magnus Opus, you need to collect scrap. Taking down Scrotus forces and their strongholds are how Max gets that scrap. This in turn lowers the threat level of certain regions, which will in then unlock better upgrades for Max and his vehicle.
At the beginning of Mad Max, advancement won't be much of a problem. But when you get about 8-10 hours into the game, the dynamic completely changes. You soon realize that in order to compete with Scrotus forces, you must complete the cycle stated above over and over again in order to advance.
That repetition takes the fun out of Mad Max and instead makes the game's wide-open world feel small and limited. The game turns into a complete grind fest as you're constantly searching for scrap and taking over strongholds just to get whatever paltry piles of scrap they have available.
Warfare in the Wasteland
Mad Max is most enjoyable when you're engaged in some kind of combat, whether it be vehicular or hand-to-hand. Let's start with the hand-to-hand combat, which resembles the Batman: Arkham series' combat on a surface level.
Overall the on-foot combat is simple. Press the X button to land hits on your enemies, and counter their attacks by pressing Y when prompted. You can also hold the X button to perform a stronger strike. However, it isn't possible to a land a counter when going for a stronger strike. This gives the combat a nice sense of risk vs. reward but doesn't do much to vary the combat altogether. Over the course of the game, you'll see the same animations over and over again.
Speaking of varying the combat, that's one area where Mad Max doesn't excel. After taking down maybe the first 10 strongholds, you find that the combat generally feels the same. The game will occasionally throw different kinds of enemies at you, but it does little to spice things up. In short, the hand-to-hand combat loses its excitement rather early and begins feeling like an obstacle that's better avoided.
As it turns out, most of the fun in Mad Max lies in its vehicular combat. Drive around the Wasteland and you'll frequently come across packs of War Boys in their vehicles. These guys are all too ready to take on Max and his death machine.
Command Chumbucket to man the harpoon and he can easily snatch drivers from their vehicles or rip a tire completely from the axle of an enemies trusty whip. Don't have the best angle or the proper upgrade to perform any of these moves? Well, you can always rely on raw horsepower and the strong build of the Magnum Opus to ram enemies and cause tons of damage. Ramming hurts Max's vehicle too though.
Cause too much damage to the Magnum Opus and you will be forced to jump out of the vehicle and hope for the best as Chumbucket begins to repair the car. This is potentially the most dangerous situation you can be in. Your enemies will continue to use their war machines to attack you and you're simply left defenseless unless you're lucky enough to have a couple of bullets on hand.
I say lucky because, in the Wasteland, bullets are a rarity. But what makes them even more of a rarity is the unintuitive controller layout of the game. For some reason, the B button is used to hip-fire Max's shotgun at enemies. This same B button is used to complete other tasks as well, including dropping from ladders and other things.
This button layout has caused me to waste at least 30% percent of my ammo by complete accident. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing in Mad Max. Sure, the game offers an alternate control scheme that puts the shotgun button in a different spot. But why not have an alternate scheme as the default? Not everybody will take the time to change the controls; many of us assume that developers chose the best scheme possible for the default layout.
The Great White comes to life
The Wasteland in the Mad Max movies is barren yet beautiful, and the game captures this amazingly! It features a day and night cycle with a breathtaking skybox that you'll find yourself staring at every now and again. It almost seems as if every sunset or sunrise is different from the last. However, the thing that brings the Wasteland to life more than anything is the unpredictable weather of the desert.
I'll never forget the first time I experienced my first storm in Mad Max. The sky turns dark and you're faced with extreme winds and dust flying everywhere. Not only do the fires started by random lightning strikes pose a danger, so do the buried car parts that these strikes can send flying.
You can either find shelter or take the storm head on. If you choose the latter, you will be greatly rewarded with Muthaloot. Unlike most loot that can be found in the Wasteland that only contain somewhere up to 20 loot, the Muthaloot always comes in at a whopping 100 loot. There are a few boxes of Muthaloot that can be found in the storm.
Mad Max is a thrill ride for the first 8-10 hours. For the first open world game in a new series, it builds a great foundation for future titles. I really enjoyed the game at first, before the repetition set in.
What brings me back to the game is the sheer amount of freedom it provides while still creating a sense of isolation. Max isn't an overpowered hero that can easily take out the enemies of the Wasteland. He's an average man stuck between a rock and a hard place, yet willing to do whatever it takes to get revenge on Scrotus. He always has to work for each victory, even if it's the smallest one.
Still, repetition plagues the game. Those victories eventually become stale. The thrill disappears for stretches, only returning when something non-scripted happens. In that respect, Mad Max is like a roller-coaster. The first couple of rides are adrenaline fueled madness, but by the tenth ride it merely becomes just a piece of entertainment.
The constant grinding for scrap and copious busywork make the game feel linear and repetitive. As a Mad Max game, some linearity is fine. But the linearity and repetition don't mix well. If the sidequests were more different from each other, some of that repetitiveness could be avoided. Especially with the hand-to-hand combat.
Driving and upgrading the Magnum Opus are a big part of why I keep going back to Mad Max despite its flaws. I find myself yearning for some good old fashioned vehicular combat that ends with enemy cars exploding with a beautiful sunset in the background.
Mad Max is a beautiful disaster, a great game with a lack of execution. And yet I can't wait for the next installment (if there ever is one). The potential is plain to see, even if the execution needs work. It's tough to recommend an uneven game like Mad Max during this busy release season. After the holiday season has died down and the price drops a bit, you might want to give Mad Max a shot.
What you'll like:
- Feels like a true Mad Max world
- Vehicle combat is tons of fun
What you won't like:
- Lots of busy work that becomes repetitive
- Story is shallow
- Every hand-to-hand fight feels just like the last
- Ridiculous controller layout