As a fan of the Mad Max movies (I saw the first one when I was just eight years old) I’ve been wanting a game based on the series for just about as long as I’ve been playing video games. It was a nice surprise, then, when Avalanche Studios turned up a few years back with the announcement that it would be transporting Max from the silver screen to the living room telly.
So, how has Max’s journey from the cinema to consoles turned out? Not too bad, actually. In fact, it’s a decent effort from the Just Cause developer who has managed to take what it has learned from the open-world carnage of Just Cause and its sequels and apply it to Mad Max, although there are a few bumps and skids along the way.
Now, it should be known that the Mad Max video game is completely unrelated to the movie – so cast Tom Hardy out of your mind and submit to what the developers have presented to us.
You play as the titular character Max: an angry (maybe even… mad?) guy who inhabits the post-apocalyptic wastelands (think Rhyl, if everyone wasn’t on crack) while scratching away to survive the harsh and brutal environment. The story doesn’t hold up too well, but maybe that’s because the movie did a great job in that department, but it’s still a good effort and thanks to some decent performances from the voice talent, it’s perfectly serviceable.
You’ll buddy up with Chumbucket and as a duo you’ll traverse the wastelands, scavenging whatever you can get your dusty paws on and kicking the arse of anyone who gets in the way. Max is pissed, see, because some big ugly dude at the start decided to be a bit of a bully and took Max’s jacket and car. The rest of the game is simply Max wanting to exact revenge on the bad guys, so him and his chum (geddit?) make their way through the world, scrounging, killing and driving around in one of the most bad arse cars in popular culture. It sounds simple – and it is – but it’s still highly enjoyable to live out a childhood fantasy.
Unlike most open-world games, Mad Max is all about the driving. I was actually surprised to find that most of my game time was spent driving around in the famous Magnum Opus, but it didn’t feel like a drag – at least not at first. For the first couple of hours it’s a thrilling joyride to go belting down the dusty landscape, ramming mother huggers and harpooning mother lickers when the situation allowed. Hitting the right bump in the road sends Max and his slighty less handsome companion hurling through the air like a magnificent metal death bird…thing. It really is a sight to behold.
Upgrading Max’s trademark vehicle plays a big part in the game: it’s basically you’re life line in this inhospitable world and without it you’re as good as dead. Unfortunately it’s not all that deep and once you’ve gotten the hang of car combat and have a few upgrades under the hood, the progression system does feel a little bit shallow. That being said, the car combat is pretty good. I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy the vehicular combat (cheers, Arkham Knight) but it’s actually pretty damn decent, but it does suffer from time to time with massive frame-rate drops when the action gets heavy.
The game’s a looker – for sure – but with a very, very inconsistent framerate the car combat does take a kick on the chin and can become a bit of a pain in the neck; sometimes it borders on downright bloody annoying. Numerous times I found myself turning the air blue due to the choppy frame rate that caused me to miss some crucial shots which, in turn, ended up getting me killed. Mad Max isn’t supposed to die. He’s a hero.
Still, it’s not all terrible and when the frame rate stays steady it’s a genuine joy to put the pedal to the metal and whip around the desolate wasteland. There’s a lot of to see, too, in the world that we’ve been given to muck around in. That being said, the colour palate isn’t all that varied, but it’s the desert, so what do you expect? It does take its toll, though, and after an hour or two of playing it can seem a little dull, but that’s all subjective I suppose and in fairness to the developers, it is in line with the source material. I guess I just like my colours to be bright and varied.
Max isn’t just a glorified taxi driver; he’s actually pretty proficient with his hands, too. While the majority of the game’s combat takes place behind the rickety wheel of the Magnum Opus, there’s plenty of room to get out and stretch your legs – or flex those digi-bi-ceps.
If you’ve played any of Rocksteady’s awesome Batman games then you’ll be instantly familiar with the hand-to-hand combat in Mad Max – it’s essentially the same but it works so well that I never thought for a moment that it was a little cheap – even if it is. But once again the general experience is marred by the choppy frame rate which, again, caused more frustration as the game slowed down. Often I’d find myself just spamming the parry button as my well-timed button presses just didn’t register quick enough to save Max from being shamefully sucker punched. When the frame rate isn’t having a nervous breakdown, it’s perfectly enjoyable and quite brutal. Mad Max may utilise the same fighting system as the Arkham games, but our lad Max certainly isn’t any Batman. He’s a rough and tumble kinda guy who throws his punches with a purpose: to kill. It’s not as slick as Batman, but that’s because Max is essentially a brawler, the kind of man you’d see down the pub on a Saturday night, picking a fight with whoever looks like they’d be up for it. Max really does belong in Rhyl…
Visually, Mad Max looks the part and it’s easy to see why the PS3 and Xbox 360 version got canned, but there are still more than a few blurry textures that have no place on the next-gen consoles. Despite the low-resolution textures that make up a lot of the landscape, it’s still a magnificent looking game and it’s at its best when you’re floating above the world in one of the many hot-air balloons that you’ll be visiting in order to unlock the game’s map. Sound familiar? Of course it does, because Mad Max is a by-the-book open-world game; there’s a story, there’s a huge world, there’s different bases you have to attack and there are towers you have to climb to reveal the map, though at least you get to go in a hot-air balloon at the end of the trek. If you’ve played any of Ubisoft’s open-world games in the last five years – and enjoyed them – you’ll find Mad Max to be in a similar vein. Honestly, if I was sat in front of a telly and made to play the game without being told who made it, I’d put money on it being a Ubisoft title – though from one of its smaller studios, perhaps.
Mad Max isn’t the best game you’ll play this year but if you’re a fan of the movies and you’re still not sick to death of the open-world formula that’s been done to death by now, then it just might be your cup of tea. There’s no shortage of things of to do once the story has run its course, but you’ll soon find yourself going through the motions as you go from one repetitive side quest to another.
Disclaimer: This review was conducted using a retail copy of the game that was paid for at the reviewers expense because somebody forgot to send us a code.