Ah the movie tie-in, usually a game that has had little thought put into it or released just to milk some extra money from cinema-going gamers. It’s with this in mind that some may have already judged Mad Max, which is a shame because it’s far from your usual movie tie-in and a rather decent game with only a subtle link to the events of Fury Road.
The game starts in a similar way to the film, Max has been doing what he does best – pissing people off – and this time he has stolen fuel from the wrong person, the affectionately named Scabrous Scrotus, the son of Fury Road’s Immortan Joe. Hunted down by Scrotus and his War Boys, Max is stripped of his most prized possession, his car, but he is a hard man to put down, and even though he has been left for dead, naked and without weapons, he jumps onboard Scrotus’ War Rig and swiftly embeds a chainsaw into his skull.
Thrown from the rig, Max awakes believing he has had his revenge – oh how wrong he is – and after seeing his beloved motor torn to pieces, he has to find a new ride that’s suitable to carry on his pilgrimage to the Plains of Silence. This opening set of cutscenes creates the backdrop to the world of Mad Max – a crazy, messed up land with characters that you wouldn’t ever want to bump into.
The next character you meet is less vicious but definitely messed up – a religious fanatic named Chumbucket who is not too dissimilar from Ephialtes, the deformed hunchback who approaches Leonidas in the film 300. Chumbucket worships a deity he calls Angel Combustion, believing he has to build the Magnus Opus – the perfect vehicle – and that Max has been sent to him by the Angel Combustion to help him achieve his goal.
The game is split into two, driving and on-foot. The Magnus Opus, and the vehicles you steal, handles well although I recommend you switch to first person. Chumbucket makes repairs while you are parked and mans the harpoon, which can be used to pull down camp defenses or to strip off the armour of attacking vehicles. As you aim, the game goes into slow motion so you can pick apart each one, revealing their soft spots, ready for a shotgun blast. You can also rip off car doors and pluck out the driver with the harpoon. The vehicular combat is intense and great fun, particularly when you go up against large convoys, but like the hand-to-hand combat, it’s all too easy and never develops further than ramming and firing harpoons.
The hardest part to the hand-to-hand combat is the camera, which often leaves enemies off-screen giving you no idea when or where the next attack is coming. Combat is a flurry of punches via a single attack button; another is used for blocking attacks. The combos may lack the finesse of the Dark Knight, but each punch feels just as brutal and satisfying as the Arkham series, particularly when you pull off odd school wrestling moves when Max enters his Fury state after a successful chain of punches.
For the most part you travel the wasteland running errands for each region’s War Chief; often a camp needs ‘taking care of’. Each camp herds you through a linear path of twists and turns to your goal of taking down a boss, beating up all the inhabitants or blowing up parts of it. Each one also has a heap of items to collect and loot, and although finding them isn’t too challenging, I really enjoyed exploring the rusting ships, submarines and airplanes.
Other wasteland activities include destroying scarecrows and sniper towers, hunting for mines, destroying convoys and scavenging for scrap – the game’s currency, which is used to buy upgrades for your car and extra abilities for Max. Outposts can be used to mark some of these on your map, but first these hot air balloons must be freed from their shackles or refueled before you can ride them. Instead of automatically marking your map, you must use your binoculars to tag each point of interest.
You can also chase various challenges that will increase Max’s ‘legend’ and reward you with a Griffa token – traded with a mysterious shaman for extra ability buffs – he does like to belittle Max first though, picking holes in his past, present and future.
Every effort you make in each region reduces the influence Scrotus has over the area and makes the wasteland plains safer to travel. Unfortunately this influence mechanic isn’t fleshed out enough, making it feel disjointed from the main story, as does the objective of strengthening each Warlord’s fortress – sure you get access to additional side stories, and as each location is upgraded you are able to replenish your supplies – it’s just a shame the fortresses didn’t have more bearing on the main story.
I feel another missed opportunity was the use of water and fuel – water can be gathered and stored in a flask, providing a source of health when you’ve taken one too many smacks round the head. And fuel… well fuel makes the world go round, but it’s never in short supply as you might expect in a world that’s fighting over its control. Both elements could have been far better used; instead they are mediocre mechanics rather than something that needs to be managed efficiently.
Even though there’s the odd graphical glitch where cars and enemies disappeared, and the area around Gas Town suffered from pretty bad slow down, the landscapes look superb. Sweeping deserts and vast moody skies that albeit a limited palette, look beautiful with some great environmental effects during the day/night cycle, particularly during storms, which are as brutal as the game’s combat – striping you of health or damaging your car. Shelter is the best option for survival, although it’s worth venturing out in the Magnum Opus to go fishing with your harpoon for Muthaloot crates, which are loaded with scrap.
There’s an absolute ton of stuff to do in Mad Max, and although the majority of side activities and missions aren’t tied to the main story, you’d be wise to invest some time in them. Ignore them and not only will you miss huge chunks of the wasteland, there’s also some great stories to be heard. The final Acts are also rather tough if your car (and Max) is missing vital upgrades that are only available by completing certain side missions.
The on-foot objectives keep the gameplay from becoming too solely focused on driving, although this does take up the majority of the game. Each one could sink into monotony, particularly as Mad Max is a long game, but together they kept me from becoming bored by either one – even though they vastly remained the same regardless of upgrades.
I’ve had a lot of fun with Mad Max. It’s an enjoyable romp through a desert full of things to do and destroy. The vehicular combat is spot-on and while the world of Mad Max may not be as well-rounded as those of Mordor, Arkham or Kyrat, it’s just as playable with the mechanics it mimics done so in a way that makes them its own.
Thanks to Xbox, Warner Brothers and Stature PR for their support
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