George Miller blew audiences away this year with Mad Max: Fury Road with jaw-dropping spectacle. Developer Avalanche Studios then had the unenviable task of attempting to bring some of that non-stop explosive action from the cinema to an open-world video game. Mad Max takes the action from games like the Batman: Arkham series and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and tries to blend it with the film’s universe to make one cohesive experience. Though the result is packed a plethora of side quests and vehicular battles, it unfortunately seems to stall a bit, due to the fact that it is frustratingly repetitive.
Taking the role of the brooding Max, our not-so-heroic protagonist is trying to leave his troubled past behind by departing to the Plains of Silence. In true gaming fashion, his decked out car is dismantled before reaching his destination, forcing the player to start from the beginning, which in turn acts as the driving force behind your adventure (no pun intended). Turn your new hunk of junk, the Magnum Opus, into a powerful vehicle capable of intimidating even the maddest of war boys.
Fortunately for Max, a skilled mechanic named Chumbucket–who is curiously obsessed with both the Magnum Opus and Max himself–is right around the corner. Along the way, you’ll be pitted against Scabrous Scrotus, the son of Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road.
Although Fury Road taught us that a deep story isn’t necessary for a great filmic experience, this logic doesn’t hold water the same in video game form; rather, in Mad Max the game, it comes across as dull. I understand why we need to build a beast of a car, but it’s the way you do it that proves to be unnecessarily tedious.
Fury Road taught us that a deep story isn’t necessary for a great experience.
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason as to why it’s boring, as it’s really about the game design choices. The map is huge. Driving around this expansive world will give you a glimpse of beautiful terrains that contrast with the bleakness of the the world’s reality. However, most of your time will be spent doing the same things over and over again. See, the impressively large map is split into territories led by different gangs. Each spot begins at level 5 danger, which you’ll have to incrementally decrease to unlock new gear. This is accomplished by going to different markers on the map, and completing one of the side objectives.
The markers represent one of the following tasks: a scarecrow location (symbolizing enemy presence), sniper spot, enemy camps that need to be destroyed, a race, or a scavenger location. All of these need to be destroyed or taken down, excluding the race. Obviously, that’s testing your inner speed demon. Some of these might prove to be fun the first time–hey, you might even like doing it 3 times–but no one wants to do the same thing 20 times or more. It’s an arbitrary way of adding “value” to the package.
Enemy camps, which are located all over the map, are extremely similar to the “strongholds” seen in Shadow of Mordor. You have to infiltrate them and take everyone inside down. The same approach will work out most of the time, which is yet another example of how repetitive things can get.
It would be easy to ignore these objectives, but there are multiple moments where you’re forced to complete side objectives if you want to progress. What would become of this land if I didn’t stop everything I was doing to dismantle some more scarecrows? As soon as things begin heating-up, this game brings everything to a screeching halt.
Most of your time will be spent doing the same things over and over again…
Campaign missions are usually a bit more exciting. There’s one particular mission about halfway through that gives off a horror vibe, mixed with an awesome escape sequence. This sort of atmospheric, high-octane action is the highlight of the otherwise monotonous package. Adding a few more of these tense moments would have gone a long way.
For all of its openness, Mad Max doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The issues discussed above also occur towards the end of your adventure. There’s a certain spot where the game begins to build momentum towards its climax, and things quickly begin to rev up. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you must once again stop everything you’re doing to complete side objectives for no legitimate reason other than padding your gameplay time.
As for Max, he’s a bit slow, but his fighting techniques are brutal. It definitely takes inspiration from Batman and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, minus the speed and accuracy. Vehicular combat will take some getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll quickly be side-slamming, shooting the harpoon, blasting off tires, and taking out war boys without batting an eyelash. For the most part, the actual gameplay is a whole lot of fun. Experimenting with different approaches to vehicle battles is exciting, as you can display your own style. Another strange design choice made is that time slows down whenever you’re aiming to shoot the harpoon or your shotgun. There’s no limit on how long you slow time down, but it was clearly done that way because it’d be impossible to complete any attack at full speed. As a result, it takes away from the urgency of the action.
Max’s status as a legend of the wasteland is also something to look out for. The path to becoming a true road warrior requires you to complete different objectives, which help our protagonist on his way to being a lean, mean fighting machine. Different clothing can also be unlocked on your path to greatness, which will make you look fearsome.
Nothing beats kicking tail with a fully loaded Magnum Opus.
Traversing the map is enjoyable, and upgrading your wheels is even better. Nothing beats kicking tail with a fully loaded Magnum Opus. Even doing something as simple as cruising atop tough terrain is fun. It helps that everything about this title is visually impressive. Sandstorms come crashing down around you at random moments, choking your screen with dust with nary a hiccup. There were only a few moments which brought in frame-rate drops, but they were few and far between.
For all of its visual splendor, Max’s limitations can be fairly frustrating. He can’t really climb on anything, even if it’s only a couple of feet high. Only a yellow painting indicates a climbing spot, which is usually much higher than the few feet Max couldn’t handle before. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s annoying noticeable and can surely take you out of the experience. Opening any box, gated door, or even kicking in a door will require you to hold the action button, which is simplified too much for my liking. Even the micromanagement of resources like gasoline and water are too forgiving that you likely won’t even remember they need managing.
One final thing I’d like to point out is that there are certain story elements that are worthy of celebration. Trying to instill more complexity and humanity into Max is great. Some may not like the attempt to change the character, but it’s a great way of allowing the player to emotionally invest herself or himself in a personality that was a seemingly lost cause. Some story elements hit harder because Max isn’t just a brooding fella; he has a whole lot more going on under that perpetual scowl.
Imagine you find yourself with a brand new Lamborghini. This thing looks mean on the exterior, and opening the suicide doors reveals an interior to match. You pop the hood to take a gander at the powerful engine that powers this baby only to find that it actually has some low-end, not at all race-ready engine. That’s what you get with the third-person action-game version of Mad Max. Avalanche Studios was able to recreate the maddening wasteland from the films, capturing some of the white-knuckle action for which the series is known, but the game as a whole is simply lacking substance. This emptiness, combined with the repetitive nature of the gameplay, will have you wishing for a more fine-tuned experience. On the outside, things look the part, but not so much where it counts. With some more fine-tuning, this could have easily been an excellent title.
–Decking out your Magnum Opus is great. Nothing feels better than kicking some Wasteland tail with an upgraded car.
–A couple of campaign missions are a complete blast. Most of the campaign missions, and side-objectives are forgettable, but there are shining moments like racing out of a building filled with impending danger. There needed to be more of this.
– Scorched desert lands are beautifully brought to fruition. This is a visually pleasing title. Sandstorms are filled with debris, and lighting looks fantastic.
– Boring. There’s a lot of side-objectives to complete, none of which are much fun.
– Repetitive gameplay. Knocking down scarecrows, scavenging for scraps at a camp-site, and defeating enemy camp-sites quickly lose their luster.
–Combat attempts to mimic Batman: Arkham series/Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor with very little success. Combat is slow, and at times unresponsive.
Rating: 3 OUT OF 5 BURRITOS
This review was completed using a PlayStation 4 copy of Mad Max, provided by Warner Bros. Interactive. The game hit stores Tuesday, September 1 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.