Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox One (Version Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Windows PC
Release Date: September 1
In a familiar chain of events we find Max left for dead in the middle of nowhere, his prized Interceptor having been taken by deranged men covered in body paint. What follows is a terribly generic wash of open-world gameplay that tries it’s best to snuff out the creative flame that burns brightly beneath it all.
We’ve read this script and played this game before. You’re dropped into a land controlled by enemy forces. This territory needs to be reclaimed, you’re beckoned to eliminate enemy strongholds and reduce the threat within each region. This happens alongside fetch quests and other knuckle bruising tasks for the friendly locals. Sound familiar? It should. The core game feels dated, especially when its release was lined up against a much more unique open-world system *cough* MGS 5 *cough*.
You’ll find a smattering of friendly havens dotting the wasteland, allowing for fast travel and resource replenishment. Each friendly settlement can be improved with an array of highly unsatisfying upgrade projects. These projects are the same at every location, and require you to endure fetch quests. The whole process of base improvement is so inconsequential that it’s typically not even worth your time. The only activities worth investing in are the ones that get you more scrap.
Scrap is the primary currency of the game, and you’ll use it to upgrade your vehicle and unlock new gear and moves for Max. It’s time-consuming to collect and is littered across every location you visit.
The Magnum Opus
The crux of the story is based on constructing the holiest of rides, the Magnum Opus. Your vehicle is the most customizable part of the game and the shining beacon that keeps me from dismissing Mad Max as an uninspired movie game.
Flamethrowers, spikes, wheels, paint, hood ornaments, you can change almost everything to create your ideal wasteland ride. You can build a sleek racer or a tank-ish war machine, and it can all be changed on the fly. Your hunchbacked companion, Chumbucket, is always along for the ride and is an invaluable ally in your journey across the wasteland. Chumbucket is in charge of vehicle repair and heavy weaponry, and the dynamic between him and Max while on the road feels wonderfully natural.
You’re controlling the vehicle, Max, and Chumbucket simultaneously, which sounds like a massive headache, but it’s really not. The controls take a little getting used to, but once you understand each character’s role you become “one” with the Magnum Opus. Any time you stop moving Chumbucket scrambles to the front of the vehicle and begins repairs. When you switch to your sniper rifle, Chumbucket takes the wheel while you line up the shot. The pair makes a unique and creative team, but that alone wouldn’t have been enough to stop the game from sinking.
The harpoon opens up your options for any vehicle encounter
The harpoon saved Mad Max. The utility this piece of hardware provides makes the experience far more interesting and varied than it would have been otherwise. It’s a vehicle weapon, but can be used to tear down structures, fling enemies, open gates, and rip apart vehicles. The harpoon opens up your options for any encounter, and creates both intense moments of action and hilarious moments of insanity. The versatile weapon combined with an impressive physics system make the Magnum Opus the center of guzzoline-fueled entertainment.
Mad Max is at it’s best when your foot is on the gas pedal. When you’re behind the wheel nothing feels out of reach and you have access to all your tools. Using your boost, you can scale most obstacles and traverse terrain that would be unthinkable in any other driving game. The world feels like a sandbox when you’re in the driver’s seat.
Nothing captures this feeling of freedom better than the convoys you’ll come across in the wasteland. Scattered across the map are routes used to transport fuel from Gastown. Take out the main truck and you’ll lower the threat level of the region, and bag yourself a buff-granting hood ornament. How you approach a convoy, and when you decide to do so is completely in your hands.
You can take a cautious approach, picking off the muscle before attacking the rather defenseless truck. Or throw caution to the wind and go barreling after the prize, exposing yourself to the vicious variety of wasteland war machines. No matter your approach, you’re in for a treat.
Each convoy is comprised of various vehicle types with different weapons, weaknesses, and tactics. A convoy assault takes the best elements of Mad Max and combines them into a single intense, large-scale encounter.
Convoys are pure joy, giving you complete freedom to use your arsenal of tools however you choose. Each upgrade I made to the Magnum Opus was informed by my last convoy attempt. Did I get tore apart in seconds? Time to upgrade my armor. Did my harpoon let me down? Let’s upgrade that.
As fun as driving the Magnum Opus can be, you’ll only spend about half your time doing it. The other half of the game becomes an uninspiring slog of button mashing.
The Other Half
Max doesn’t have cool gadgets like Batman
As soon as you step out of the Magnum Opus your mobility, freedom, and choices are stripped from you. When facing an enemy combatant, your option is to punch them in the face…or punch them in the face. The combat borrows the ping-pong reactionary combat system which has become a staple of Warner Bros. action games. However, Mad Max doesn’t improve upon it, or even really have an identity of its own. Max doesn’t have cool gadgets like Batman in the
Series, or supernatural powers like Tailon in
Shadow of Mordor
, so his combat boils down to mashing X until people stop breathing.
Max isn’t even very good at this. Unless you focus on unlocking finishers for Max, combat is extended for far too long. Either these guys have titanium skulls or Max’s fists are pillows in disguise.
When you’re not punching faces you’ll be running around searching for scrap and navigating the labyrinth of enemy encampments. Max isn’t very mobile, you can only climb over specially marked obstacles and in rare video game form, he has a realistic jump height. This makes what could have felt like exploration, feel more like walking through a hedge maze. These clumsy and monotonous extrusions remind you how much you’d rather being inside the Magnum Opus, rather than running around a cave looking for a fuel can.
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If you peeled away the Hollywood franchise, you’d be left a terribly forgettable open-world game, but the stylized post-apocalyptic wasteland and adrenaline-fueled vehicular combat gives this game a pulse. There’s fun to be had if you’re willing to eat your vegetables, but these veggies aren’t even healthy.
A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.