Following in the footsteps of a successful film franchise is never easy for a video game, but Avalanche Studio’s Mad Max does a decent job of holding its own against the hugely popular film, Mad Max Fury Road. Beginning in a similar sequence, Max is a loner who is continuously on the run from the War Boys led by Scabrous Scrotus. After an action-packed car chase Max manages to fend off his attackers and eliminate their leader by means of a chainsaw to the skull. This sets the tone for what will be a brutal and violent journey through a lawless wasteland.
Having lost his car, clothes and supplies, Max must rebuild himself with the help of a hunchback deranged mechanic known as Chumbucket. He sees Max as some kind of prophet in his car-worshipping religion and becomes your faithful companion throughout the entire game. Mad Max keeps up the stern and largely silent demeanor of its eponymous lead character, but Chumbucket is full of quirky dialogue and huge personality. Together they set out into the wasteland searching for scrap parts to build a new car known as the Magnum Opus, which Chumbucket assures Max will be the greatest in wasteland history.
Mad Max’s story has a very strong start, complete with a promising premise and engaging characters. As it ventures into an open-world scavenging journey, some of its storytelling is lost in repetitive gameplay and seemingly endless fetch quests. It is not all bad, as the atmosphere always delivers on its bleak promise of a disgusting world filled with terrible people out for survival of the fittest. Through all its effort, the game does also manage to end on a very high note, which made me feel like my journey was worthwhile. Story-wise it delivers a strong conclusion.
The wasteland has a lot to offer the lone wanderer as he works to eliminate faction threats and mod his car into a more efficient killing machine. Character design is as over-the-top and creative as in any of the films and you’ll be impressed by enemies who use human heads as shoulder pads and drive cars literally covered in spikes. It becomes clear early on that everybody in this wasteland must throw aside any real ethics and become a brutal savage in order to survive. It doesn’t hurt that this also means looking extremely cool while doing it.
Each territory in the wasteland is ruled by a different faction leader or warlord. Characters like Jeet, Gutgash, and Pink Eye are your menacing new allies that you must strike deals with in order to accomplish your ultimate task of getting into Gastown. These whackypeople you meet along your journey are downright entertaining and will add some context to the overall lore.
As you raid enemy bases, you’ll collect scrap which is the general currency across the wasteland. Scrap collection will always pay off, as it leads to significant upgrades to armour, weapons, cosmetic appearance, tools, and combat moves for both Max and his Magnum Opus. Much of the fighting is hand-to-hand combat. Max will go up against groups of enemies using timing-based button prompts in order to counter attacks. Press one button to do punch attacks, another to counter, and another to dodge out of the way of heavy attacks that can’t be countered. If this seems at all familiar that is because it is almost identical to combat in Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series.
While combat is pretty solid, often times bad camera angles will throw off your rhythm. Some of my greatest combos were disrupted by the fact that I could not see button prompts due to the camera being stuck on a wall. Players may have opportunities to pick up various melee weapons such as spiked clubs and crowbars to increase attack damage. Shotguns can also be used during these brawls, though their ammo is very limited and should be used sparingly. Controls are a little confusing and I often had trouble remembering that guns were not fired using the triggers, but rather by pressing a face button.
Holding down the action button performs most non-combat feats such as climbing, looting enemies, and smashing down doors. Though it is relatively simple, it can get a little frustrating to keep having to stop and hold this button down at every step of the journey. Climbing also becomes frustrating when Max lacks the ability to climb up anything that doesn’t have designated hand-holds. Exploring on foot proves to be a bit tedious and formulaic. Searching caches and clearing out enemy outposts begins to feel like a chore fairly early on, even though there is no lack of side content.
Of course, much of your time playing this game will be spent in a car. Mad Max’s map is fairly large and it’s always fun to drive across the desert in a combat-fitted muscle car complete with a roaring V8 engine. It should be noted, however, that for a game focused around driving and worshipping cars, the driving mechanics are pretty wonky. It takes a lot of getting used to as cars tend to oversteer and you’ll find it difficult to straighten out your car. Navigating through narrow canyon roads is excruciating since cars don’t respond quite the way you want them. Inaccurate handling can prove very frustrating on winding paths.
Car combat against rival factions proves to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of this game, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the franchise.
Whether it’s side-swiping the car next you, shooting out their tires and gas tank with a shotgun, or ripping off their armour with a harpoon, car combat is always fun. Since Chumbucket is always on board for the ride, he can help take down enemies and repair the car after a battle. He’ll be screaming in the back, encouraging you to take down your enemies with no mercy.
After 10-20 hours in Mad Max, I began to feel some fatigue with numerous fetch quests and “threat elimination” tasks in which you must secure each wasteland territory by destroying enemy defences. My interest was reinvigorated when I came across what I consider to be the best part of the game — the airport. Driving my car through the dark remains of an abandoned airport proved to be exhilarating and wholly different from any other part of the game. For the first time I was not driving across a desert to make a deal with a warlord. This was a new variation on the familiar gameplay and it came as a complete surprise.
Mad Max excels at delivering a lengthy open-world experience in a bleak desert hell. Even after the conclusion of the main story, I found myself left with many more tasks to complete and places to explore. Countless hours can be spent customising Max and his Magnum Opus, though some of the means to doing so are often repetitive. Its faults are bad camera angles, “boat-like” driving mechanics, clunky controls, and an inconsistent story. I wanted to spend time in this gorgeous world, which tonally matched that of the films it is based on. I loved its aesthetic and most of its characters but found myself a little exhausted with a lack of variety in my 30+ hours of playtime.
• Beautiful, bleak atmosphere
• Good cast of characters
• Rewarding upgrade system
• Good length, full of content
• Story is inconsistent
• Repetitive “fetch quests”
• Clunky controls
• Poor driving mechanics
• Bad camera angles