Mad Max Review - Petrol heads rejoice
There are moments when Mad Max is a game worthy of the movies but at times you’re left asking “what’s the point?”
It’s not that Mad Max has highs and lows, more that it has highs and mid-level plateaus of “why was this game made?”
From the very start, Mad Max wears its AAA credentials on impressive cinematic sleeves. Visuals here are high quality, with the post-apocalyptic wasteland oddly beautiful. Avalanche Studios have managed to use the stone-bleaching sun and shadows to craft a terrain more interesting than a desert has any right to be.
Continuing with the big money feel, there’s certainly no skimping on those pretty cinematics, possibly to the games detriment. Players will repeatedly find the urge to press buttons during some of the longer scenes. Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of time for interaction later as this is one beast of a game.
That’s right, continuing with the AAA sandbox feel, you soon discover a seemingly endless series of side quests, collectibles and races to keep you occupied whenever the main quest loses your attention.
So far, so par for the open-world course. So much so that you may find yourself wondering why you’re not just replaying the superior Shadow of Mordor. Mad Max will feel very familiar to any gamers who've spent much time in Middle Earth. Familiar but initially lacking, because Mad Max takes time to find its own niche.
What makes Mad Max special? What makes it worthwhile? Gasoline.
The foot-based combat sections are similar to but weaker than Warner Bros' last two sandbox outings. You’ve no elvish magic or batarangs here. But when you get in a car and take to the open roads, suddenly the game makes sense.
Here we have the tipping point when it comes to your purchase of this game: Do you enjoy driving games? If yes, well welcome to sandbox heaven. If it’s a no, then Mad Max has little to offer you over other open world games.
The narrative is underwhelming. I understand who Max is meant to be, from the movies, but the game really failed to create any emotional bond. If anything I cared more about my car than the human. It’s hard to care about the story when you don’t really care about the character. If you took out a “Sandbox Adventure By Numbers” story book, you’d probably find a lot of dots joined and forming Mad Max's plot.
There are mysterious characters in the game that make you curious, but too often you’re distracted by yet another fetch mission. Your motivation for nearly everything in the game is to improve your car, so all too often the plot goes like so:
“Oh no, an obstacle I can’t pass in my current car.”
“Don’t worry, I can build X to get us past it.”
“What do I need to do?”
“Go get me Y part that I need.”
Rinse and repeat.
All this negativity is washed away once you actually get in your car. Your whole motivation boils down to a warlord jerk stealing your original prized black car and you wanting it back. In order to do so you team up with a deranged mechanic, Chumbucket, who needs your help to create the car of his dreams, the Magnum Opus. At one point I wondered why I was trying to rescue my own car while also building this “ultimate car”, but then I just nitro-boost jumped over a ramp and I was OK with whatever.
The wastelands are full of other motorists, most of whom I suspected of at least a smidgen of cannibalism. At the very least they’re desperate to run you off the road in the most violent manner. Here is where you’ll find the beautiful emergent sort of gameplay that makes Far Cry 4 such an exemplary sandbox game.
While combat on foot is a limited punch, punch, parry affair, combat behind the wheel is full of fun options. Early on you’ll get the harpoon, allowing you to pull parts of vehicles and even pull drivers out of their seats. After a long day completing fetch quests, it’s oddly cathartic to harpoon a homicidal maniac out of his car and drive along with him for a spell.
There are various different ways to ram your opponents to cause damage, or maybe forcing them off a cliff is more your style. If all else fails, you can always pop a shotgun out to blow up their fuel tank.
If you kill the driver without blowing up the car, well it’s yours to take and keep, though you’ll soon develop an addiction to scrap and ruthlessly destroy every car you find.
A sandbox game wouldn’t be complete without many upgrade options and Mad Max doesn’t disappoint here. Max can be upgraded by the mysterious Griff, who seems to wander the wastes with his homemade turtle shell. The Magnum Opus is where the real upgrading action takes place, with a selection of parts easily at home in any arcade racer, plus a few more interesting options such as a selection of rams and harpoons.
Scrap is the in-game currency used for upgrades, but you’ll find yourself in constant scavenging mode for water and fuel. While it could be an ongoing annoyance, the rationing and scavenging actually helps you get in to the mindset of the wasteland life, which is nice when you consider the cardboard main character I complained about earlier.
Mad Max ticks all the boxes for an AAA sandbox game and is raised from the mediocre by the motorised antics and wasteland visuals. Upgrades, fortresses, side quests, collectibles and roaming enemies are all present. There is a huge amount of content in this game, whether you spend time completing it really depends on how much petrol is in your blood and how many words to "Born to be Wild" you know.
(Version played: Playstation 4. Review copy provided by publisher.)