If you’re looking for a joyous open world romp through beautiful wide countryside as you take in the wonders of nature, watching butterflies fluttering amid the glorious calls of song birds, then maybe it’s best you don’t hedge your bets on Mad Max.
Set in a desolate wasteland, Max has lost the one thing that he loves. His car. Desperately scurrying around in the search of food and water, hiding away in the the storm filled deserted land before going toe-to-toe with gangs of bandits, both on foot, and in the vehicle you have helped to create, craft and mould into your own, it’s a tough, gritty world that is full of anguish – a far cry away from the open world money making of GTA, the madcap affairs that go on in Saints Row or the fantastical hunt of The Witcher 3 – as Max struggles to keep in touch with his first love. His motors.
With the merciless warlord Scabrous Scrotus and his gang of War Boys controlling the wasteland, the one real precious commodity, that of gasoline, is the difference between life or death; although getting Max’s hands on it will mean that he consistently puts his life on the line – with death a real possibility. Scrotus is a hard man, one who doesn’t take too kindly to others and with Max going all out in order to regain that which was taken from him, he’ll come up against not just the main man, but numerous generals and those hungry for war. Whilst the world you spend time with is made out to be a sparse arena, you’ll find yourself going head-to-head, hand-to-hand and car-to-car with crazed lunatics at all times.
You’ll do all this with your wonderful mechanic-cum-hunchback, Chumbucket in tow. As one of the world’s most recognisable and heroic black fingers, this mechanic will help you integrate yourself with the residents of Max’s world, help him discover new ways of wilderness survival and most importantly show off his wicked skills in creating some of the most awesome fully customisable vehicles you’re likely to see. But you’ll need to provide the little grease monkey with enough scrap and toolS for him to carry out his promises and it is from there that you discover a world full of horror and madness. Mad Max plays out as a pseudo Borderlands meets Rage – and that’s a good thing!
With most of the game taking place behind the wheel of a motor, getting behind the wheel is a necessity in order for Max to find his required amounts of scrap and for him to be able to fulfill the missions requested of him. But whilst driving, he’ll come up against other wastelanders driving vehicles that have been upgraded with spikes, flames and more who will do anything to kill him. The whole ‘driving thing’ that was well hyped before the arrival of Max turns out to become nothing more than a bash em up, driving around, firing off turbos and the like in order to dish out more damage to the enemy before your own car goes up in flames. Initially this seems like a tall task as the opponents vehicles are well kitted out, whilst your own dodgy looking rented motor struggles to keep pace. But a quick hop out of the car, dodging drivers in the process, giving Chumbucket the chance to repair any damage, before letting you pile back into action, saves the day.
The vehicular combat in the early stages involves nothing more than a bash or two, jumping out and then back in again, before smashing head first into the enemy numerous times in order to make them explode. It all gets a little tiresome with many minutes of circling round trying to get the best possible angle for destruction taking place. Until you manage to convince Chumbucket to upgrade to a more powerful armoured vehicle, it doesn’t really play out like promised.
Thankfully, that all changes the more you play through the campaign though, as the more hours you invest into the Gastown story, the sharper Max will become, the more powerful his car will be and the longer he’ll be able to last in a fight to the death.
The same goes for any hand-to-hand combat that Max may decide to get involved in. Although a veteran of the battle, he’ll struggle to hold off the multiple enemies that come at him throughout the game, with you urging the ability upgrades to unlock just that little bit more often. Similar to the combat involved with the car though, once you do manage to upgrade Max’s skills with the strange but elusive skills trader, Griffa, things become considerably easier. And when I say easier, I mean I’m not dying every 2 minutes! The hand-to-hand combat is however pretty fluid – not on a par with Batman Arkham Knight fluid, but not far away – although the fury mode is considerably easier to activate meaning that Max is happy enough to eventually dish out some real damage.
You’ll need to get to grips with the combat system too because, in order to uncover scrap and to lower the threat levels that grip Gastown and the wasteland, enemy camps will have to be swiftly dealt with. Whilst they all have considerable defences in place, a sharp shot from the back of a car with a sniper rifle, ensures that it is relatively easy to lower the fortifications promptly, before getting in close to finish off the job. In a complete and utter steal from Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, once the bases have been cleared out, you’ll find them repopulated with allies who will help you out a little more.
In order to discover more of the world, Avalanche Studios have pinched more leads direct from those titles and attempted to inject some Max love into them. Gone are the well crafted viewpoints and radio towers that needed a whole new skillset just in order to navigate your way up them, and in their place we find some hot air balloons which, after solving a fairly simple puzzle, will take Max up into the air in order to scout out the lay of the land. It is here with the help of his trusty binoculars, that he’ll discover the enemies base camps, death races and scrap populated zones. The lack of skill required in order to unlock these vantage outposts (and subsequent fast travel points) however is disappointing and mean that the enormous sense of achievement found in the aforementioned titles, never appears with Mad Max.
When you do discover locations, it’s then a simple task of making your way towards them, finishing off any War Boys that may get in your way and grabbing as much loot and scrap as possible. Both of these are king in Max’s world and without it, you won’t be getting very far.
Throw in some car based death races with which to test your driving skills, mine clearance missions that feel like nothing but filler, and basic camps full of discovery, and you’ll find that Mad Max contains enough side missions to happily roll alongside the main campaign story, keeping you busy for many an hour. Whilst the story behind the confused state of Max holds up fairly well, it plays second fiddle to the hours you’ll find in just going out searching for clues, strangers and scrap.
In fact, I never knew I’d find scrap collection so enjoyable.
There are however a few things that stop Mad Max from becoming the open world wasteland warrior it should be.
Firstly, and I’ll say this quietly, Max is a little well…dull. For someone who has built a reputation on living alone, feeding off scraps and scavenging for every little minute detail, it would have been good to see and hear a bit more enthusiasm coming from his mouth whenever a cut scene or integration with a new character takes place. All too often, a mumble and murmur is about all we get out of our protagonist and whenever a longer conversation does take place, it all seems a bit scripted and passionless; something that stops us from being able to fully empathise with either Max or his quest. In fact, many of the characters involved in the Max’s story are pretty forgettable, with only the weirdness of Chumbucket breaking through monotony of others.
But whilst the dullness of the main man can sometimes be overlooked, the fact that Mad Max as a game attempts to master the entire open world wilderness, before falling short numerous times cannot. Maybe it’s the fact that there is just too much to get to grips with, confusing the player (at least this player) over and over again. Should I send Max out on a scrap collecting mission? Should I speak to that well hidden wastelander in an attempt to gather vital intel about the next big camp? Should I just jump in a car and try to fight off some of Scrotus’ War Boys, or perhaps I should spend a little time in the numerous menus in order to try and upgrade my vehicle, better equip one of the many strongholds or add to Max’s burgeoning skill trees. The whole thing can sometimes become a little intimidating and gives little rhyme nor reason as to why you are searching for even more scrap or defeating an enemy camp.
All that said though, there is immense pleasure to be had from hopping in a beast of a machine, fully kitted out with turbos, tyre spikes and flames before dishing out some well earned destruction to the enemy. Until you get to that point though, with a good few hours of game time invested as you get things upgraded, it’s all a bit of an early slog. Bear with it though, because whilst Mad Max may start off slowly, once it gets going properly, there’s no stopping this one man killing machine and he happily pushes the vast majority of negativity to one side.
Mad Max doesn’t attempt to redefine the open world genre, but it does take plenty of leads from numerous other titles. With visuals never wowing but easily on a par with a fair few other AAA games and combined with a pretty dull character, Max unfortunately falls just that little bit short of his required goal of become the ultimate road warrior.
He does get close, but there are a few doubts that stop him from going the whole hog.