I wanted to like Mad Max. I really did. It had guns, explosions, fast cars, interesting characters, an open world and a hell of a lot of personality.
But despite all that, I simply could not recommend this game.
The Mad Max universe is all about the death race, the thunderdome, the roaring and barking of a machine powered by controlled guzzle-ine explosions. It’s a fun idea, full of potential for a little bit of the old ultraviolence as well as a story that doesn’t have to follow the same old apocalypse cliches (though you could say Mad Max is the origin of some of those cliches).
The problem is getting this sort of game right. When you think ‘Mad Max’, you think of something completely off-the-walls insane and batty, something that evokes the animalistic side of the human spirit. How do you translate something so intangible into a video game?
I’ll commend them for trying, but Avalanche Studios managed to turn a gut-wrenching, wartorn desolate universe into a boring, repetitive grindfest that is really just a chore to finish.
First things first. Let’s talk about the absolutely horrific progression format.
In order to get a large number of upgrades for your burgeoning death car, you are required to reduce “threat” in a region, or kill a certain person, or complete a certain mission. While not inherently a bad system, it is easily abused by game developers wanting to stretch out their gameplay. Why make three unique objectives when you can make ten of basically the same thing and spread them all over the map? It forces the player to travel from place to place, taking time to do so, enabling you to say that your game has X hours of gameplay. Meanwhile, in reality, the player is simply repeating the same task over and over and over again just to continue with progression.
Even worse, sometimes the main plotline is indirectly locked behind these repetitive “optional” missions. For example, there comes a point in the main story where you are required to build your car into a certain configuration to take part in a race. But those parts have a threat level requirement. So you have to spend ages driving around the map, and blowing up or tearing down pointless bullshit. It isn’t fun, it isn’t engaging, it makes the game into a chore.
Had the designers instead given you a single objective, perhaps to steal an already premade car from a big stronghold, that would have been far more reasonable. A main plotline should not require you to essentially grind out reputation points. When the major story amounts to the same crap that you’ve been doing as side missions, it turns the game into one big game of go here, blow that up, kill that guy, go here, blow that up, kill that guy, repeat ad infinatum.
Even the base upgrades are just repeats of themselves for different regions. Some of them, such as the bullet replenishment, are excellent because they make you complete a mission that is actually relevant. The others just force you into exploring one of the many “optional” scavenging locations to get your hands on the project parts. You collect 2-3 of these parts to unlock a bonus, such as free water or fuel. Then you have to do this 3/4 more times for each of the strongholds on the map. It is tedious, repetitive and grindy.
While having some seriously lazy progression design, the base game is still entertaining – in short bursts. It takes some of the best parts of many other games and sort of glues them together into a new, unique Frankenstein’s monster. It has a bit of RAGE, a bit of the Last of Us, a smattering of Assassin’s Creed, a touch of Grand Theft Auto, a winkle of Batman Arkham Asylum – it’s a bastard child of a lot of great games.
I do have some issues, however, with the physics system, in particular the cars. Vehicular combat is the whole schtick of Mad Max, and while it certainly feels solid and brutal, there are occasions where the physics engine just doesn’t hold much water. Driving cars, regardless of your level of handling, often feels like you are piloting a tanker truck. Small movements send you into huge spins, enemies constantly knock you into oblivion while your own attacks do nothing, and races become more of a game of desperately hoping the enemy hit those rocks instead of you. I’m not the best driver in the world, but when a game is based mostly around cars and driving really fast, it would do well to not make the experience feel too heavy and clunky.
A fantastic part of the game, however, are the characters. From Chumbucket’s insane ramblings about the Angel of Combustion to Griffa’s accusations and pseudo-psychoanalytical diatribe about Max, you will play this game for the characters. Each major character has a fleshed out backstory, and even the copy-pasted physical assets of the Top Dogs still provide you with a unique mini-plot about who they are and how they came to be Top Dogs. It’s entertaining, everybody is unique and memorable, and even Max has a few good interactions (though most of them are just excuses for him to be extra super edgy and 2dark4u).
Graphics-wise, it’s alright. Nothing spectacular, and has some serious ugly moments at times, particularly with Max himself – not exactly a great look for the titular character. Explosions are pretty, cars are genuinely gorgeous, each of the factions have their own look and the landscape gets a beautiful heat-haze treatment that adds to the whole Wasteland Weirdness aspect. While nothing to write home about, the graphics and animations do an adequate job.
Overall, we expected a lot more of Mad Max. It’s a brilliant franchise, but the grindy nature of the essential gameplay and progression really turn us off this one. When you can only play a AAA game for half an hour at a time before getting bored, then it has failed as a major league game.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know your experiences with Mad Max in the comments below. For more reviews, check out our Rad Reviews section here.