George Miller’s Mad Max has always been an influential series, especially when it comes to video games. After years of playing games inspired by the post-apocalyptic franchise, we finally have an actual Mad Max game courtesy of Avalanche Studios, the folks behind the immensely fun Just Cause series.
Though not a movie tie-in, it comes hot on the heels of the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road, which not only made the franchise relevant again, but also set a new bar for action movies. So does the game do justice to the legendary road warrior series or is it an ultimately forgettable title like many other movie-based games? I’m pleased to say that the answer lies closer to the former. It is a worthy addition to the franchise and an enjoyable game in its own right.
The game is largely a faithful recreation of the post-apocalyptic wasteland from the movies and looks absolutely stunning. It’s seriously one of the best looking open-world games I’ve ever seen, featuring pretty skyboxes, gorgeous sand dunes, rocky passes and ramshackle settlements covered in rust. Destroyed landmarks such as huge statues and massive freeways serve as a reminder of the old world. Much like the movies, the game is somewhat thin on plot, with Max’s quest simply being the retrieval of his old car – the V8 Interceptor – from the bad guys and driving off to a faraway place he calls The Plains of Silence.
However, the game makes up for this simple premise by letting the environment itself tell a larger story. Along the way, you’ll run into characters and locations that feel right at home with the franchise’s unique style. The world design and the small bits of lore scattered around the map also help in creating a solid backdrop to all the vehicular and on-foot action. The fact that you can see Max’s final destination, a place called Gastown, from the very first zone in the game is rather brilliant. Its massive fiery chimneys towering in the distance serve as a constant reminder of Max’s objective.
While the map is really well designed and fun to explore, it’s a little unfortunate that the game eventually devolves into the usual open-world “clear the icons” race. There are camps to be liberated, places to be scavenged, convoys to be taken down, races to take part in… well you know the drill. It all sounds like the typical open-world stuff, and for most part, it is.
If you’re already sick of the open-world shenanigans of recent games, especially the Ubisoft ones, then it’s unlikely that Mad Max will change that. It would have been so much better had the map progression been more organic, with more emphasis on exploration and survival than the standard unlock towers and points of interest type of deal. Yet, somehow Mad Max remains an engaging experience as the game truly shines when it comes to the moment-to-moment action. And it helps that most of the activities are actually a lot of fun.
Whether it’s while driving or on foot, Mad Max is a total blast to play. You’ll be spending a lot of time behind the wheel of the Magnum Opus – Max’s customisable car, which keeps evolving over the course of the game. Upgrading the Magnum Opus (and Max himself) is a major part of the game and I found it to be quite addictive. Watching the car slowly transform from a barely-held-together junker to an unstoppable machine of destruction is a highlight of the game.
That brings me to the car combat, which is ridiculously fun. Avalanche Studios is no stranger to creating fun gameplay and though it’s not as outrageous as their Just Cause games, Mad Max has its own unique brand of fun, which is consistent with the tone of the movie series. Simply put, the game has some of the best vehicular action ever implemented in a video game.
The car has some neat tricks, such as the indispensable harpoon, which can be used for everything from ripping out enemy car tires to pulling out drivers right out of their seats, among other things. And it only gets more fun as the arsenal expands to a mounted sniper rifle, a rocket launcher, wheel spikes and flamethrowers.
Taking out an enemy vehicle with a well placed shotgun blast and watching it explode into a ball of flames as you zip past remains fun no matter how many times you do it. The game truly nails the gritty vehicular action of the movies and controls wonderfully while you’re driving. The only minor quibble I have is the lack of a proper handbrake, which makes it difficult to make quick turns during combat. However, it’s a small issue at best as unlike games set in urban environments, you aren’t expected to make high-speed turns very often.
While on foot, Max can engage enemies in melee combat, which at first, feels ripped right out of the Batman games. It lacks the free-flowing nature and the intricate moves of those games, but has a more raw and personal feel to it. Fights are quick and brutal and the crunchy sound effects and animations go a long way in elevating the simple combat system. Max also carries a sawed-off shotgun for emergency situations, but as expected, ammo is scarce even after getting upgrades. The game finds a great balance between guns and melee and makes you count every shot.
Outside of combat, Max’s movement feels a little awkward. It’s something I got used to eventually, but it feels a bit off when you start. The sprint is underwhelming as there’s little difference between the normal run speed and sprinting, but at least it’s not as useless as the ridiculous jump, which barely serves its purpose.
As fun as it is, the game does get a bit long in the tooth towards the end, especially if you decide to pursue every side activity. The map is huge and clearing out every zone can prove to be tedious. Then again, most of this is optional, but I honestly wish this game was structured better than this. I also wish there were more survival elements in the game. The game makes you think water and fuel are extremely scarce, but that quickly becomes a non-issue after you get a few upgrades.
There is also a notable absence of motorcyles and big war rigs, which have been a staple of the series. I kept waiting for that one mission that would let me drive a war rig across the map, but that never happened. Maybe be in a sequel or DLC perhaps?
Overall the game is a solid foundation to build upon and the core gameplay is extremely solid. I must also mention that the game has a rather excellent “capture mode”, which allows you to stop the action at any time to take screenshots or videos, complete with a set of filters and many different camera options. Those who love taking screenshots will truly enjoy this, especially given how good the game looks.
Avalanche Studios has taken the best parts of its Just Cause games and combined them with Mad Max’s crazy universe to create a game that’s gorgeous to look at and tremendously fun to play. A few minor issues aside, I had a complete blast with Mad Max. It may not win any awards, but something tells me this is the kind of game people will look back upon as an underrated classic that deserved more credit. Whatever you do, do not dismiss this game as mediocre.