In many respects, Mad Max: Fury Road is quite linear - a straightforward chase movie that deviates little in terms of sub-plots. Mad Max the game does pretty much the opposite.
Created by Avalanche Studios, makers of Just Cause 3, it's a labyrinthine, open-world title that has missions, sub-missions, side missions and plenty of other things to do in between. Sure, there's a direct, "golden path" through the game in terms of its story missions, but sticking to them is nigh on impossible when you're constantly running into opportunities to do other things, which happens a lot in this game.
It's a smart move that ultimately opens up the world of Mad Max to the player. It explores concepts and ideas that are just alluded to in the movie, and in the end you can fully immerse yourself in its universe, as screwed up, grisly, and vicious as it is.
So yes. Mad Max is an open world, mission-based game, and it plays like a cross between The Crew, Shadow of Mordor, Watch Dogs, and Batman: Arkham Knight. In that sense it doesn't offer much in the way of novel ideas. While the world of Mad Max is interesting and new, the game mechanics wrapped around it give a strange feeling of deja vu. It feels like an amalgam of successful bits from many other games carefully crafted together to create a decent, but ultimately familiar-feeling game.
Take combat, for example. There are plenty of opportunities for fisticuffs in this game as you raid camps and generally run into enemies. However, fighting in this game feels very Batman-like, with a soupçon of Assassin's Creed thrown in for good measure. It's the cadence of the action - it just has a certain feel about it that is all too familiar. It's fun, yes, but at the same time you know you've done something similar elsewhere.
I won't belabor the point any further, so let's move on to the game's general presentation. This, I think, is one of its strongest aspects. Mad Max weaves its narrative deeply into the gameplay with cutscenes constantly playing out in a near-seamless way. Whether it's little details like Max chowing down on some tasty Dinki-Di dog food, or a longer cutscene between the hero and his buddy Chum Bucket, the game does a great job of making itself feel like a movie. It also makes you feel like a part of its action - that you are Max, and this is your story. Of course, that's true - this is a Mad Max game after all - but sometimes a game can feel more like an exercise: a series of puzzles to solve in a practical sense. Mad Max doesn't feel like that. It has an openness that really does feel like you're choosing your own adventure, and whatever you do, it's a part of the story that then comes to life.
It doesn't quite feel like that at the start, however. Initially, the game follows the tradition of a series of linear missions designed to get you up to speed on the game's mechanics - and to also introduce you to the story. The tale spun is one of Mad Max going about his business, but falling foul of Scabrous Scrotus, who seems to be the progeny of Fury Road's Immortan Joe. Max's car is stolen, and he's left to die at the side of the road. Except, of course, he doesn't. That's where you come in, and take up the story.
In short order, Max teams up with the aforementioned Chum Bucket, a brilliant, but totally crazy Gollum-like mechanic who's building a new vehicle that needs a driver: you. With each character wanting something from the other, a bond is formed and Max and Chum become a team that works together to best the myriad hazards that lie out in the huge expanse of the game.
As you might expect, there's plenty of driving to do, and this is an area where the game excels. The control scheme and general feel of the cars is solid, from bouncing over rocks to driving through thick sand, the handling engine does a bang-up job in communicating what's going on with your car. Speaking of which, there are a wide variety of ways that you can customize your vehicle, and this is definitely a very enjoyable aspect of the game. The brilliantly-named Magnum Opus can be tweaked and fettled to make it faster, stronger, more maneuverable, and also kitted out with a variety of weapons which suit different situations - so you can really beef up your car for whatever mission you happen to be tackling next.
The driving aspect of the game is definitely very well executed, and vehicle combat is generally enjoyable and challenging. Making the proceedings a little more realistic is that certain enemies will try to escape if you begin to get the better of them, setting up some great chase sequences - sometimes against the clock as you try to take out an enemy before they head too deep into their territory and you end up running into more of their friends.
Where things feel a little weaker, however, is the on-foot aspect of the game. When exploring, the game loses some of its momentum. Firstly, Max isn't good at climbing on things, so quite often you'll be stymied by a fairly low ledge that he can't jump up, and you'll need to find the exact right place to climb up - usually helpfully marked with yellow paint. Making things feel even worse are the rather fiddly movement controls. Whether it's positioning yourself in just the right place to climb up or down a ladder, or moving behind Max's car to put a gas canister in the back, sometimes you really need to work at placing Max in just the right spot - almost like the area of activation for something is too small, and you're searching for it.
Max also can't fall very far without hurting himself, and while he usually walks it off quickly enough, it can be somewhat irritating when you fall a few feet, and then you have to shuffle along for a few moments while Max recovers. He just doesn't feel like a particularly dynamic character to control - apart from when he's fighting, when suddenly he really comes to life, feeling like he has purpose and a bit of oomph.
The real meat of Mad Max are its missions, and it's here where the game is a little more Dinki-Di than sizzling steak. As I've already said, there are a ton of things to do in the game. However, many of them are similar to one another: mainly breaking into a camp, looking for items to scavenge and dispatching the residents therein. While the main story missions have some variety to them, invading camps repeatedly can get old fast, and some of the side missions are fetch quests that can often feel like busy work. Almost like Avalanche Studios was running out of ideas of what to do with the game, but rather than simply stop adding missions, it continued to pile them on anyway, despite not all of them being that exciting to participate in.
I also didn't particularly like the way that the game ratchets up the difficulty by simply throwing more bodies at you to fight, or more cars in convoys to take down. There is some variety in terms of different behaviors and challenges to deal with, but for the most part the mechanics of fighting and driving don't really change a whole lot, and so as you get further into the game, encounters simply become more protracted. There is a little tactical nuance here and there, but mostly it's more about the numbers than anything else, and this can also lead to a bit of fatigue where you feel like you're doing the same thing over and over.
What I didn't get tired of is the dialog. The narrative is nicely woven into the game, and much of the yap between characters is interesting and rich. The use of language is really entertaining, and I like the way many of the characters interact with one another. The good-quality voice acting also helps here, and while the Australian accents are sometimes a little on the spotty side, what they're talking about is interesting enough for you to overlook that.
Looking at Mad Max as a whole, it's a big, ambitious game that offers a lot of activities to participate in, and a world that's really interesting to explore. Its story is a good one, and it's well-written and articulated. Where the game ultimately falls flat, however, is in terms of its variety - its missions do end up feeling rote. The story missions offer the most entertainment, as they should, but the deeper you get into the game, the more you'll find yourself repeating the same sort of thing over and over again.
It's a shame really, as Mad Max is almost a great game. It ticks many of the right boxes, it looks pretty damn fantastic, but ultimately it doesn't quite deliver on its promise of being a truly exciting and memorable open-world adventure.
Mad Max is a game that feels really good in moment-to-moment play, or in smaller segments. Cruising around the Wasteland in your chosen Magnum Opus, destroying other vehicles, and improving your ride is awesome. Combat is solid; you've done this before in Shadows of Mordor and Batman: Arkham Knight, but the basics still work here and the perfect parry is a welcome addition. Avalanche is one of my favorite developers and they nailed the base gameplay here.
The problem is where you expand that outward and add other systems, the entire game doesn't quite come together as well as Warner Bros' other open-world titles.
One example of this is in the scarcity mechanic. While you're out cruising around, you have to keep track of four resources: fuel, water, ammo, and scrap. Of those, water is perhaps the most difficult to keep full, but the need for it is smaller. Water refills Max's health on the road and you can give it to random survivors for customization points, but solid play means you only need it for the latter reason. Fuel, ammo, and scrap on the other hand are never in short supply. Fuel and scrap are plentiful, and ammo is merely saved for ranged situations. As long as you don't waste ammo shooting enemies that aren't snipers or War Criers, you'll be fine.
With the balance on finding scrap and fuel being tuned in the player's favor, those mechanics end up being less meaningful. Instead, fuel and scrap are just things I dutifully pick up along the way. I see a fuel can, I take it back to my car, realize I'm mostly full on fuel anyways, and then throw the fuel can away. (Occasionally, I light the fuel can on fire because "Ignite" and "Refuel" are on the same context-sensitive button.) Fuel is so plentiful that I wonder why I have to manage it.
Scrap is used to upgrade Max and Magnum Opus, which is an excellent system overall, but I never felt constrained by it. If you keep picking scrap up, you'll be able to grab most of the needed upgrades for Max and the Magnum. The system is rather deep when it comes to tuning the Magnum Opus to your personal specifications and I love that Avalanche went the extra mile here, but it's unlikely you'll be unable to buy the upgrade you want or have to make hard choices.
Beyond that, certain upgrades trivalize combat, like the higher levels of harpoon. Mad Max probably could've benefited from a more complex crafting and upgrade system, requiring players to collect multiple resources to upgrade your abilities.
Max himself also moves like a clod. Even his running speed feels a bit slow and most importantly, his jumping mechanics are woefully limited. Many times you'll find yourself stopped by waist-high walls or wandering around for the exact area that Avalanche wanted you to jump up on.
Which is a shame, because Avalanche also nails the world Max inhabits. While Scrotus feels like Mad Max: Fury Road's Rictus Erectus with a voice and his warband looks suspiciously like Immortan Joe's War Boyz, everyone else in Mad Max feels unique. The world feels lost in war and survival, with Max in a wasteland where people actually live. It feels like the right blend of real-world and game-world, with probably one of the better open-world maps I've played. Some of the vistas you can find are just amazing and when a sandstorm whips up, Mad Max can bring a smile to your face.
To me, Mad Max is a great first start. This is a big game with a great open-world, that doesn't come together as well as it could. This is my Assassin's Creed 1. I want Avalanche to revisit this world and these mechanics, just with a few tweaks. As it stands, I like Mad Max, but I don't feel that its the best it could be. If you're willing to overlook a few issues here and there, it's still absolutely worth a play for open-world fans.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: Some of the controls feel rather awkward, especially on foot. But for the most part, Mad Max is well presented.
- Lasting appeal: A huge game, with plenty to get your teeth into. The problem is that the missions lack variety over the long run.
- Sound: Quality voice acting and excellent spot effects give this game high audio appeal.
- Visuals: Great lighting and effects coupled with a vast, very realistic environment makes Mad Max visually stunning.
A sprawling game that packs plenty of content. The problem is that many of the missions end up feeling like recycled material. As such, the game lacks variety and, at worst, some quests feel like busy work. Overall, Mad Max offers a lot, but ends up feeling somewhat rote, with little in the way of truly new and novel things to do. You've ultimately played the sum of its parts before.
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