I’ve been thinking for a few days now about how I was going to approach my Mad Max review. I’ve found it an incredibly difficult game to review, for a number of reasons. It lacks the punch of Mad Max Fury Road and the vision of Shadow of Mordor. But it’s not bad. In fact, Mad Max is the most average game that I just seem to keep playing.
Mad Max begins with a short vignette in which Max’s beloved V8 Interceptor is taken from him by a warlord called Scrotus (played by Travis Willingham, Critical Role). Scrotus has his war boys pull the car apart and Max immediately swears cranky, sweaty, gravel-voiced vengeance. Aided by a deformed Wastelander called Chumbucket who becomes a near constant companion, Max begins to assemble a new vehicle dubbed the Magnum Opus, a rolling weapon of utter devastation constructed to his exacting specifications. Together, he and Chumbucket will take the Wasteland back from Scrotus and make him rue the day he ever crossed paths with Max Rockatansky.
The game borrows liberally from last year’s excellent Shadow of Mordor in terms of its expansive map, collection of side quests and objectives that must be completed and variety of enemies (usually in the form of cars moreso than war boys), and some very Batman: Arkham-style combat but the one thing it doesn’t bring across is Mordor’s genius Nemesis system that saw the game remember your tactics and playstyle, and counter you accordingly. It feels like that system would have been a perfect match here but sadly it’s nowhere to be seen.
The Wasteland itself is very beautiful and enjoyable enough to drive around – and you’ll be doing an awful lot of driving. What all this driving about brings home, however, is just how empty the map really is. Aside from the occasional fort or convoy, there’s not much going on in the Wasteland overall and it only becomes emptier with every objective you complete.
Speaking of objectives, I found that Mad Max isn’t especially clear about what you need to do next a lot of the time. Your objective marker is often a small blue dot on the overworld map but there are so many other icons up there that it can be easy to lose it in amongst all the tumult. This led to me driving aimlessly around the Wasteland for a few hours, not getting very far at all.
The upgrades on offer are varied and a lot of time quite fun to seek out and apply. Upgrading your harpoon gun will allow you to move from spearing war boy snipers and dragging them about to pulling pieces of armour from enemy vehicles, all the way up to tearing the wheels right off anyone fool enough to try and chase you down. The Magnum Opus can be covered in spikes to repel boarders, have its engine upgraded (Max gruffly insists upon a V8 the moment the option is presented) and even have spikes added to its tires to allow for greater damage when grinding up against another car. This is easily the most fun part of the game and the vehicle combat is a lot of fun – it just doesn’t happen often enough for my liking. All of this is really strange to me because the developers of this game – Avalanche Studios – are the same ones who created (and continue to make) the crazy Just Cause series, games built around doing insane things and pulling crazy stunts 100% of the time. That commitment to lunacy is perfect for a license like Mad Max and yet it’s nowhere to be found.
Max himself is, with a couple of rather bizarre exceptions, fairly easy to control. Hand-to-hand combat is performed much the same was as in Batman or Mordor with the triangle button being used to counter, square to punch and circle to avoid or dodge. Well, it is if you change the controls up a little bit. You see, the default control scheme mystifyingly places the shoot button on circle meaning you’ll frequently waste precious shotgun ammo while trying to back out of a menu or through sheer force of habit. Even then, if you do change the controls the shoot button migrates to the R1 button rather than obvious R2, which is itself used for sprinting. Sprinting, usually the purview of the X button is so placed because literally everything else is bound to the X button. But wait – if you use the sniper rifle mounted in the back of the Magnum Opus, the shooting controls are bound to R2 instead of circle or R1. I honestly don’t know what the developers were thinking when they were putting these controls together. So strange.
I’ve done a bit of complaining in this review but the reality is that Mad Max isn’t a bad game. Far from it, it gets a lot of the fundamentals right and I generally found it to be quite a pleasant way to kill a few hours. I couldn’t say that I really enjoyed those hours, however. It feels like the devs know how to put a great game together here but for whatever reason are utterly lacking in any real ambition. There’s lots to do but none of it is very interesting. The car combat is great but it doesn’t happen often enough. The survival aspects, like scavenging for scrap, food, water and petrol, are welcome in this kind of game but the devs don’t really commit to the concept and they ultimately fall a bit by the wayside.
What you’re left with is the video game equivalent of vanilla ice cream. It’s fine and you’ll probably come away satisfied but it isn’t anything to write home about either. There’s nothing about it that makes you sit up and pay attention. This, to me, is the real problem with Mad Max – there’s such potential, a legitimate kernel of something great here and I hope the devs get another chance to unearth it.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Pretty; Lots to do; Car combat is a lot of fun
Lowlights: Unimaginative; rather dull; surprisingly rudderless
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
Released: September 1, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4