Mad Max is certainly a unique game, though not without its flaws. It plays as a combination of destruction derby/car combat styled games, based in a Wasteland not unlike Fallout 3, with hand to hand fight mechanics very similar to the Batman series. So we do have some interesting ingredients to stir here.
I must give this game major kudos simply for being a decent game based off a movie. Video-games and movies don’t usually go well together (Hitman anyone?) but this time it is a movie being turned into a game and not vice versa. I also must thank the developers, who have delivered a wonderful PC port that was released at the same time as its console-based cousins. The graphics are also very good, the facial textures aren’t too flash but the landscapes of the Wasteland look incredible.
The Wasteland presented in the game looks great, though it does not have the same visual flair and strong colours that Fury Road had. Apart from Max, none of the characters from the movie make an appearance either, which would have been interesting. The vehicles also aren’t as flamboyant as those in the movie, but they do present some variety, with some cars laying mines, others shootings flames out the back, while others are coated in spikes making any contact a bad idea. The variety of enemies is well done but the variety of cars the player can use isn’t.
This is because all of the standard car bodies look very similar, and once upgraded with ramming grilles and such they all look the same. And because every car will end up with the same upgrades, any unique customisation is difficult, if not impossible.
This brings me to the Archangels, cars that are supposedly made for certain play-styles, but they are all under-powered, especially if a lot of upgrades have been unlocked, rendering them almost useless. They are largely a waste of time apart from those who want to achieve 100% completion, or those who are willing to explore the Wasteland just to get a new car body.
In a manner very similar to the recent Far Cry games, there are camps scattered around the map, all populated with enemies, with some having a boss to fight; though calling them bosses is a bit of a stretch as they all attack in exactly the same manner, which was disappointing. When taking over a camp, the player is supplied with scrap (the in-game currency) every so often, giving a further incentive to hunt them down. You will also find yourself looking to wreak havoc in as many camps as you can once a few combat upgrades have been unlocked.
Conversely, the Wasteland also has a few Strongholds that are friendly. Each one has a unique leader who is eccentric in some way, and each serves as a base for Max. These strongholds don’t get along with each other but oddly are accepting of Max, though he needs to complete missions to prove himself. If the player finds the right supplies, things like water tanks and oil tanks can be built, meaning that every time you enter that stronghold your canteen and gas-tank is filled to the brim. It takes some time to hunt down these parts but it is worth it. These Strongholds also serve as Fast Travel points, with other Fast Travel points being hot air balloons that reveal enemies structures in that region.
Impressions: Now, let’s talk about how the game plays out, start to finish. To begin with, car combat is difficult with no upgrades and no armour, which means the first quarter of the game feels like a bit of a slog. When upgrades start to become unlocked though, the fun begins as the player begins to add ramming grills, armour, spikes, nitrous, spiked wheels; everything one could need in the Mad Max Wasteland.
This theme applies to combat on foot too. To begin with it feels a little sluggish and far inferior to the similar combat mechanics of the Batman games. Again though, the upgrades made gradually available change the nature of the combat, making for some extremely satisfying kills and finishing moves. The combat isn’t as fluent as Batman but it is a hell of a lot of fun, with each upgrade making combat even better and varied. I find it a little odd that the best component of a Mad Max game is the hand to hand combat rather than the car on car battles, but I digress.
This isn’t to say that the car on car battles aren’t any good though, as they are a lot of fun. But, there is a key moment in the game that changes car combat entirely – about a third of the way in. This is when a mandatory mission’s reward is the ‘thunderspoon’ weapon upgrade, which is basically a stick with explosives on the end that can be thrown at other cars. This weapon is grossly overpowered, and once this weapon is acquired car combat becomes incredibly easy. The addition of this thrown explosive weapon doesn’t ruin the fun of the game, but it certainly becomes much less of a challenge.
This is especially true when you press the aim button, as the game slows to a crawl, the weapon auto-locking (when using a controller) onto the closest car to the player, sometimes not the car you wanted to shoot at. And since time slows down, it is impossible to miss! The further you get in the game, the easier this becomes, which seems like the wrong way round to me.
Another fun part of the game is the presence of ‘conveys’, which if taken out lower the danger level of that area. Unfortunately though, these groups of cars only seem to function as nothing more than a group of cars to destroy, as their convey route is always an endless loop leading to nowhere. They are driving on a race-track more than a convey route, but they are still very fun to take on and are easily the most challenging part of the game, with multiple vehicles to take on, some throwing flames behind them. We’ll ignore the fact that these tough, challenging conveys actually have nothing to do with the main story.
Issues: This game is not without some very annoying flaws though, in addition to some I have already mentioned. One of these is that for every second of the game Max is accompanied by a hunchback-type named Chumbucket, who becomes repetitive very quickly, shouting the same things over and over and slamming his hands on the top of the car, which at first sound like gunshots from a sniper. It would have been nice to have an option to shut him up. He is necessary as he is the one throwing weapons at other cars (apart from Max’s shotgun which he can fire out the window) but he gets annoying.
Another problem I had with this game, and something I have already touched on, is the handholding nature of the game. Nothing is hard to figure out as you are told which doors need explosives, which gates are explosive proof; there are giant (Y) markers (I am using an Xbox controller) when an enemy attacks, notifying the player that it is time to parry.
When using a shotgun, the crosshairs yet again lock onto the closest target. When on your feet, this means when you press the aim button Max will often actually do a full 180 turn if the closest enemy to shoot is behind him. It is infuriating and caused me to switch to mouse and keyboard many times, where there is no auto-lock feature. All these aspects cause the game to feel a little too easy in my opinion, and most of these options can’t be switched off. At least I couldn’t find an option to turn them off, though such an option could well be there somewhere as the menus are a nightmare to navigate.
While I did take my time, eliminating every camp on the map and completing all the side missions, apart from the beginning I had no problems while finishing the game and was quite disappointed at how short the main story is. Not that it is a story, Max wants a V8 and this drives each story mission. That’s it. Luckily there are a few side missions from the Strongholds, but there aren’t many and they don’t increase in difficulty enough to make for a decent challenge. Even the final encounter of the story is easy. A lack of a difficulty setting only compounds this problem.
Mad Max is not a perfect game then, but it can be extremely satisfying and can take up a lot of your time should you choose to explore and ignore the main story; personally I have logged 70 hours in the game according to Steam. But if you only stick to the main missions, even including the side missions, the game will become much shorter and less satisfying, not to mention there will be upgrades that you will miss out on. But for a game based on a movie that came out less than 12 months before, this is an surprisingly solid game filled with fun battles, both on foot and on wheels, even if it does get a bit easy after a while.
Visit Jordan at his review website: The Epileptic Moondancer