Nick Smit reviews a movie tie-in that… no, come back! It’s good, we swear.
Let’s just kick things off with a celebration of the fact that this is a movie tie-in game that isn’t an awful abomination. Mad Max is an open world action-adventure with a particular focus on vehicular combat. The game takes place before the events of the post-apocalyptic franchise’s newest film, Mad Max: Fury Road. It stars our favourite Australian vagabond who spends his life alternating between driving while scowling, and punching people while scowling. Max’s actions in the game are actually pretty similar to that with, Arkham style fighting, the “liberate the area” gameplay design reminiscent of Far Cry, and with its own customisable car mechanics thrown in.
It’s a real joy to experience the world of Mad Max in an interactive environment. When you’re introduced to antagonist “Lord Scrotus”, as if we’d written in the name ourselves by picking an obscenity and making it sound Latin, you know you’re in a faithful recreation of the franchise’s general tone. Fans of the most recent film will also know what the writers were going for when it comes to Max himself. Going down the path of realism, Max is depicted as a battered survivalist struggling with PTSD as well as his moral compass. Couple this with the high-modality action the franchise has been known for and it plays with an appropriate ferocity, as Max fights literally tooth and nail to stay alive. Unfortunately, gameplay and story don’t always stay so harmonious.
I see two directions, through which you could make a brilliant Mad Max game: Linear action or open world survival. You could go the route the film itself did by channelling Max’s desperate nature into a well-crafted progression that’s a sheer fireball from start to finish. Conversely, you could draw it out into a contemplative exercise, wandering the desert in as much danger of overexposure as roaming bandits. Rather, disappointingly, the game awkwardly straddles the fence between these ideas which often undermines what could have been so very good.
The narrative constantly reminds you of the scarcity of water, and you would think that this would play a major role in the game. But while water is indeed scarce and one of the few ways to replenish Max’s health, he doesn’t suffer from thirst at all and could technically go the entire game without a drink. Similar disconnects happen with the fact that you can bring your car from a smouldering wreck back into tip-top shape by merely stopping to let your onboard mechanic have a crack with his magic fingers. Combat is where the game hits its peak and all of these seem like decisions to get you back into it quickly, but if that’s the case, then why put them so far apart in the first place?
But don’t get me wrong, I’ve clocked far too many hours in the title to justify during the uni semester, and there’s a lot to like. Vehicle combat in particular is fast-paced and satisfying, using tactical driving, your trusty shotgun or even a harpoon to carve a path through the fleets of war machines that roam the wastes. The game looks simply gorgeous, with that classic blue/orange contrast and a surprising amount of environmental variety, considering the whole apocalypse thing. And all of this runs at a comfortable 60fps on even a mid-range computer like mine. The rhythm-based ground combat, upgrade systems, collectibles and side-missions are faithful applications of tried and true gameplay mechanics, so any reader who values their games for the volume of content should take my criticisms as my own personal ire with the style. As someone without much time on my hands, my focus is on awesome per hour, but that doesn’t mean Mad Max’s endless good hours are any less valid.
Image: Nick Smit via Mad Max, Avalanche Studios.