Usually when there’s a video game based on a motion picture or TV series I start to have heart palpitations. Or just stop caring about myself for a day or three, because games based on movies or series’ are almost universally terrible. There have been a few exceptions but those just prove the rule at the end of the day.
So when Mad Max ended up on my desk the most remarkable thing about it was that it didn’t immediately send me into a panic attack. Part of that was because it was pretty under-the-radar (as far as I’m concerned), and part of it is that it isn’t based on the movies. Not the original with Mel Gibson, nor the Fury Road incarnation with Tom Hardy. This Max is a creature all of his own, roaming a slow-moving apocalypse in a fruitless search for solitude.
Mad Max uses a attack by villain Scrotus, and the loss of Max’s iconic V8 Interceptor, as a pretext to get players to traipse around an end-of-the-world wilderness where there’s far more oil and petrol than there is water, locating parts for another car. This vehicle, called the Magnum Opus, is the creation of Chumbucket, a hunchbacked blackfinger (car mechanic) who talks to his car with the fervour of a religious nutcase in the presence of an angel.
Also on the cast are the heads of three strongholds, all of whom have suffered at the hands of Scrotus’ legions. Max spends his time helping people, for a given value of ‘helping’. A slave woman, the only legitimately attractive female character in the entire game (and who seems to have a thing for Max, of course) becomes quite important to the overall story as well…
Don’t go getting the idea that Mad Max has anything to do with feelings in the conventional sense, unless you subscribe to the idea that protagonist Max is purposely isolating himself from humanity to prevent having to feel anything for anyone ever again (he is, by the way). He’s all business, and a bit of a dick, throughout the whole of the game. He treats Chumbucket like a sentient engine tool, helps people only where there’s a clear benefit or when there’s no other option and… just don’t piss Max off. He doesn’t like it.
Rocking On Its Springs
When Max doesn’t like someone (say, they tried to kill him and they wrecked his Interceptor) then he finds a car and uses it to run over enemies or batter their vehicles into submission. That is, when he’s not wiping out camps on foot, for the greater glory of scrap collection (more on that in a moment).
Basically that’s what players are up to. Vehicular combat, driving to objective, wiping out enemy encampment, locating stronghold upgrades and increasing the durability of the Magnum Opus or of Max himself, rinse, repeat – that’s Mad Max in a nutshell, barring cut-scenes while move the story along to the ultimate aim of finding a V8 engine so Max can GTFO this wasteland and back to his journey
And it’s fun, even when it’s not all that fun any more. Rambling around the various locations demolishing enemy cars just doesn’t get old, especially when you have a scrap-screw on hand to clean up after you, but getting to the end of the story… that might grate on you somewhat.
Mad Max is an open-world game. Players have to complete story missions to progress but there’s a lot of distraction around. The aforementioned stronghold upgrades, which give players access to a full gas tank, health refills (from the lovely Maggot Farms) and ammo refills, among other perks, take some finding – at least initially. There are Intel encounters where players can learn more about the world around them, Legend encounters where players complete specific tasks (jump over ramps, wipe out specific camps, that soft of thing) and then Wasteland missions.
Wasteland missions are secondary objectives. Except that they’re not. Players will have to complete a specific number of random objectives (in order to collect large amounts of Scrap – used to upgrade the Magnum Opus – as well as to unlock specific missions) in order to progress. If you’re fond of wandering around fetching collectibles then this task isn’t very onerous but those wanting to just get on with it will find that they’re artificially limited. You need to do a certain amount of exploring, and clearing of side-objectives before Mad Max will let you move on.
Solid, If Dirty, Performance
And you’re going to want to move on – whatever its other faults, Mad Max tells a decent story. Why does Max care more about a dog than he does about Chumbucket? Where did Chumbucket get his inspiration from? What the hell happened to Lord Scrotus, besides that chainsaw to the head in the game’s opening sequence? Where do Hope and Glory fit in? Is Max really that big of a bastard and why do I like him so much in spite of that fact?
All of those questions are answered, in between bouts of on-foot and vehicular combat that will entertain for hours and hours. The on-foot sections… perhaps less so. Combat is simple and repetitive and players will quickly find themselves going up against permutations of the same handful of hazards. Standard enemy, armoured enemy, enemy with knife/stick/really big knife, sniper, enemy with shield and War Crier, who is supposed to buff enemy units and make them tougher. I wouldn’t know, though, since these dangling explosions never survived long enough to do so.
There are similar complaints about the in-car sections but the custom nature of the Magnum Opus and the insane contextual ramblings of Chumbucket make even repeatedly stomping War Boys, Buzzards and Stank Gum’s gimps a constantly-entertaining experience. It helps that the level design facilitates some spectacular on-road kills. That and the harpoon, Thunderpoon (don’t ask) and Max’s shotgun make for some nifty pyrotechnics.
The lengthening of the game doesn’t really detract from a mostly compelling experience. I’m the sort of person who is easily distracted so all of the side stuff was right up my alley. As a result, my rambles around the wastes led to Max almost being overpowered for the major points in the game but it’s easy to see how the impatient would be annoyed. You’re forced to do a lot that you might normally skip in order to get to the end but its worth becoming the Road Warrior in the end. Even then, your mileage may vary.