Mad Max is a storied franchise. Not really so much in the world of games, but in the world of cinema.
The original Mad Max is great, Road Warrior verges on brilliant, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome remains hilariously quotable and the newest Mad Max Fury Road was incredible.
These flicks influence pop culture to this very day. How many games have been compared to Mad Max upon their inception? Tons? Remember when Borderlands was first unveiled back before the art style change? People were calling it Mad Max meets Diablo.
The name Mad Max alone could hype properties before they even released. Borderlands had nothing to do with Mad Max. The connection? That sold games.
WB and Avalanche have gotten together to do their own Mad Max game. This isn’t a title that simply takes influence from the classic story and setting. It employs the two.
Does it work? It does. Is it fun? Yeah, that’s the catch.
Together, we drive.
Mad Max succeeds when it’s running on top of four wheels. The driving and the expanse of the game’s world are the two things that come together really, really well. It’s not perfect, but Mad Max can be a lot of fun when you’re behind the wheel.
The whole point of the game from a character named Chumbucket’s point of view is to build The Magnum Opus. That’s a glorious and divine car worthy of a driver known as the Saint. That’s Max.
Chumbucket becomes Max’s constant passenger and mechanic, and the two work together to upgrade The Magnum Opus to its full potential, beat back enemies and push through the Wasteland.
Driving, then, is a core mechanic in this game. Mad Max, at least the first two films and the recent “reboot,” has always been about ruling the road with motor, oil and gas. It’s about driving and the worship of cars. Avalanche had to nail this aspect, right?
They did. It’s obvious that the team knew going in what the core of Mad Max really was, and the driving is great. You’ll drive in races, fight enemies, use a grappling hook to pull down structures and rip apart cars, do sweet jumps and cover the massive Wasteland.
The best part? You’ll consume fuel. This is the apocalypse, right? Fuel should be a resource. Avalanche managed to require fuel for The Magnum Opus throughout the game. That fuel can be found (mostly) all over the world, and the game walks the line between using and abusing the resource of fuel as a mechanic. You’ll rarely be stressed to find gas in order to drive, but it does come up and nag at the right moments.
Driving itself feels really good. Some versions and equipment of The Magnum Opus are a little too slippery for my liking, but the open nature of the game’s environment when you have these less precise rides works just fine. Combat with enemies in cars can, like the rest of the game, verge on repetitive from time to time, but you’ll like the actual feel of the rides enough to look beyond this. At least, I did.
I know that I was bored a lot in Mad Max. That was mostly because of the storyline, characters and missions themselves. The driving really saved this game for me. It kept it from the dregs of absolute boredom, and that’s commendable.
I’ve punched these punches before.
Rocksteady made hand-to-hand combat fun with Batman: Arkham Asylum. That whole punch with nice timing while countering and dodging at the right moments thing was really novel five our so years ago. Now? It’s been done.
WB relies on this system pretty heavily these days. After the first Batman: Arkham title, we saw roughly the same system in Sleeping Dogs. We saw something really, really similar in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, too. Really, if WB is publishing a third person action game, it’s probably going to have this combat structure.
So goes Mad Max. The problem? This combat really isn’t novel anymore. We’ve done it so many times.
Max can be upgraded like Batman can, sure. You can unlock combos and methods of murder, but the core is too similar to what we’ve been playing every six months or so. Much like Ubisoft’s conquer the tower to unveil more of the open world stuff, I’m really getting fatigued by this fighting style. It isn’t new, and that means every game I’m playing feels like a different skin over the same mechanics.
That might not be a problem if you don’t play a lot of games; however, if you play a lot of third person adventure titles in today’s gaming world, this is going to feel way too familiar. Let’s try another way to fight, shall we?
Absurdity for absurdity’s sake.
Avalanche tries to ape the Mad Max film a lot throughout this campaign. The film itself was just the right amount of absurd mixed with relatable. Right, there was a nasty, guitar wielding war leader in the flicks, but that juxtaposed next to the flat character of Max sort of leveled things out.
The game doesn’t really succeed with the same types of absurdity. There’s no “shiny and chrome” moment, nothing that really pushes the title out beyond absurdity for the sake of being absurd, and that means the characters and story never really elevate themselves to a level worth enjoying.
That mediocrity spreads down to the missions and characters, too. Sure, they try to be crazy and outlandish with characters with names like Scrotus, but it never really catches or pushes beyond just a simple “heh” before moving on.
You’ll drive, you’ll find bits or execute single objectives, and then you’ll drive some more. That’s really what gaming is, right? Dressing up the mundane of moving from point A to point B with silly objectives and wonderful characters. Mad Max just doesn’t dress that process up very well, and the result is an exercise in repetition and pointlessness.
Yes, we want Chumbucket to build The Magnum Opus. Yes, we want Max to get to the Plains of Silence. These two things are ever-present. It’s just that everything else in the game between the now and later? It’s wrote and rather boring.
Mad Max is a fine open world game with a seemingly large budget; however, it never really stands up tall enough among all the other much better stuff out there today.
At its worst moments, Mad Max feels like a horribly bland, empty, pointless “adventure” through the remnants of Doomsday. It tries so hard to be like the film that recently preceded (not the classic original featuring Mel Gibson, but the new one), but it never really manages to capture its essence.
Don’t get me wrong, Avalanche Studios certainly tried to tap the flick in all the right ways. I recently watched the newest Mad Max for the first time. In fact, I started this game, then pulled back and decided I needed to catch the new movie before actually diving in all the way.
The two experiences aren’t really linked to one another. It’s just that the game seems to take a lot of cues from the movie, and that’s evidenced best by their inclusion of terms like “Blackfinger” when talking about a car worshipping mechanic, though they use the phrase “black thumb” in the film.
At its best moments? Mad Max is the right blend of chaos and automotive madness. The game can really surprise you in between its strings of repetition and rather bland character development. It’s just that those surprises don’t really come at a clip that’s fast enough to warrant a purchase near release.
This isn’t a bad game by any sense of the word. It’s fine, solid and passable. It’s a game to chew on when there’s not much else out in the landscape. This holiday? There are so many other better games out there worth playing.
If you want to enjoy Mad Max, wait until it dips in price. It’ll be a fine game to play this winter if you score it on the cheap and don’t have much else going on. It’s a mediocre game, quite plainly. It’s serviceable, but it never really pushes up to match the other games of a similar ilk already at retail.
Disclaimer: We received a code to download and review Mad Max for the PlayStation 4 a few days after release from the publisher.