Just a Raggedy Man
Mad Max is hot property at the moment, what with the critically acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road and the re-emergence of the post apocalyptic hero at the right time. We've been waiting for a Mad Max game for ages now, ever since Fallout, and Carmageddon et-al. Avalanche Studios has taken on the mammoth task of trying to make a video game based on the Mad Max property, and wisely they tied it into the Fury Road universe - not the film. There are references sprinkled throughout the game's journal/lore, the game shares a lot of the movies aesthetic designs and rather like Batman Arkham Knight, it does for Mad Max what Rocksteady did for Batman.
It proves you can have a decent IP tie-in without relying on the movie to sell it.
This review isn't about numbers, it's about having fun. It's based on retail code from the Xbox One version. The bottom line is: the game's fun, the car combat is fun, the ground combat is akin to Sleeping Dogs or Batman: Arkham. It can get a bit repetitive, but so can modern shooters like Call of Duty, which I hear people raving about - when all you're doing is shooting the same dudes over and over again.
The code was supplied by Xbox, so thanks guys and gals!
The Future Belongs to the Mad
Mad Max has its own story and room to grow within the film's universe, Max loses everything at the start of the game whilst he's trying to make his way to the Plains of Silence. The intro feeds directly into the menu screen and it's probably one of the neatest ways to kick off a game for a while, throwing you right into the opening cut-scene the moment you fire up a new game. After losing his car, his shotgun, his jacket and being beaten to a pulp by the game's villain: Scabberous Scrotus, Max survives and is hell bent on revenge.
That sums up the Mad Max plot in a nutshell, and whilst there are some more layers I won't go into - this is chiefly a story about revenge, building a new and better four-wheeled spiky death machine and ripping into the plans of Scrotus and his Top Dogs. Max is assisted on his journey by Chumbucket, a wasteland Blackfinger - a sort of mechanic who views Max as a holy warrior and his car - the Magnum Opus as an Archangel sent from heaven.
It's a brilliant little hook that injects an interesting story element into the whole thing.
Shiny and Chrome!
If you like Avalanche's brand of gameplay, or you've ever played an Assassin's Creed game there's a certain similarity to the open world. Some of the gameplay becomes a bit repetitious, but honestly I didn't actually mind this since there's enough variety elsewhere to keep me extremely entertained and the various camps that dot the wasteland all have a unique design and set of challenges. The chief thing you'll be doing is collecting scrap, scrap is currency here and with it you can buy upgrades for Max (better Armour, skills, weapons and the usual suspects) and the Magnum Opus, the new replacement for the lost Black on Black - Max's beloved Interceptor.
The customisation for the Magnum Opus (accessed by the menu) is pretty impressive, each part will have an impact on the machine and how it handles. This allows you to design a car that's tailored to the way you like to play. Are you into knock-em-down, crash-em-up Carmageddon style smash-battles. If so, you'll want to layer on armour, a decent ramming grille and probably beef up your handling (tyres), engine and a few other things. It's easy to see what effects each part has on the car, you're never left in the dark.
What a Lovely, Lovely Day!
The star of the show for me, and this might be because I love Burnout, Carmageddon and many of those types of games, is the car combat. It's meaty and full of options, from the grinding rippers you can stuff onto your tyres to shred enemies with ease, to the burners that pour out gouts of flame, to the harpoon (it's an Avalanche game - what do you expect) which can dissect an enemy car one part at a time, even pulling drivers from their seats once you rip off the door. Car combat in Mad Max is never boring and becomes highly tactical since some of the enemies can tear into the Magnum Opus' armour even when you're strutting around in the top end stuff.
Target weapons, like the shotgun and harpoon for example, cause slow-mo to kick in and give you a handy set of targets to aim for. A quick tap on the right bumper fires a shot off.
Chum can repair the car (up on the D-Pad) when stationary, but in combat, you'll either have to duke it out or try and run. Should the unthinkable happen and the Magnum Opus reach critical condition, you'll have a few seconds to bail Max out and go on foot. Hopefully you've got shotgun ammo (ammo is quite sparse to begin with) and the enemy isn't armoured to the eyeballs. Tyres, tanks of fuel, other weak points become targets for Max when facing enemy vehicles on foot.
Destroy the enemy and you can collect the scrap. Leave the car in one piece and you can steal it to add to your vehicle collection in a Stronghold.
The camera is pretty solid in car combat and auto tracks the target when you lock on.
People get in my way...
Talking of Strongholds, Max is going to meet other wastelanders and some movers/shakers out there in the massive map (a thing Avalanche are good at) and post apocalyptic sandbox that makes up the play space. These people aren't going to trust him right from the start, he'll need to do them favours, build projects to help improve the strongholds and thus improve his quality of life.
Build projects give Max a helping hand when he goes back to the stronghold, he can get full health (the only way to heal is via his waster flask), full ammo (which is still scarce) and so on. If you take over enemy camps, you'll get a bunch of scrap from time to time per camp overtaken. This encourages an aggressive style suited to the Road Warrior and fits in nicely with Max's overall revenge motif for the game.
Just a mess of parts and smoke
There's an impressive lot of things to do out there when you're driving around, beyond just exploring and collecting various things - scrap, history relics, project parts and so on. There are enemy convoys to rip asunder, taking their hood ornaments (these give the Magnum Opus a boost) and wrecking their rides for lovely, lovely scrap. Each territory that you erode begins to lessen Scrotus' threat in that region and eventually unlocks more upgrades for the Magnum Opus, also making it safer to explore.
Balloons (with their own associated little puzzles) provide a handy way to see a region from aloft, marking targets of opportunity with Max's binoculars. These replace the Assassin's Creed vantage points and showcase the game's incredible vistas at the same time.
It can be here where things feel a little repetitious, but the same can be said for Metal Gear Solid V and many other open world games. I don't mind it, and as I previously mentioned, there are the camps which have their own unique designs and challenges - the outer defences need to be studied in Max's binoculars or the scope of his sniper rifle, picked apart, or bypassed by a secret way in via zip line, hidden caves and other sneaky tricks.
I've had great fun slowly working my way through Scrotus' territories, getting scrap and finding secrets.
Max, the Legend
Everything you do in Mad Max can lead to a challenge, car combat, ground combat, exploration, eating Dinki-Di Dog Food and even Maggots. Max has a Legend system, it tracks his level, each rank has 1-10 and each challenge advances Max one level. Get a level and you get a point you can spend at Griffa, your wasteland spiritual guide and deliverer of wisdom - these points can be used to raise Max's RPG like core skills, letting him use less fuel when driving around (yes, vehicles use fuel) and giving him more damage in melee combat.
Eventually (sooner rather than later) you're going to get into a bout of fisticuffs, Mad Max has a meaty combat system that riffs off Shadow of Mordor, Sleeping Dogs, Batman: Arkham and feels desperate, this is in keeping with the theme that Max is a brutal brawler, he's not a kung fu god like Wei Shen, or an orc slaying badass like Talion, he's not a balletic battler like Batman.
X can deliver light attacks, holding it down becomes a heavy attack and combos are performed by alternating light and heavy. Context sensitive moves become available based on Max and his enemies location in the environment and can lead to some pretty brutal takedowns against walls and cars for example. Weapons can enter the fray, enemies can be insta-killed by a shiv and once you build up enough Fury, you can dish out savage beatdowns with back-breaking violence and jaw-shattering fist-love. Y counters, and timing it right delivers a nasty perfect parry that can leave enemies reeling.
Max can also use his shotgun (rb when close and personal) to deliver a nasty gut shot, thunderpoons (awesome explosives on sticks) and good old red barrels (just don't get too close) by shooting at them in combat. There are a few camera problems now and then, but it's still just as fun as Sleeping Dogs, Batman or Mordor.
Just look at that Sky...
There's a lot of stuff going on with the design of Mad Max, it's perfectly kept the feel of Miller's universe, it's grimy, gritty and everything is cobbled together from scrap and scavenged pieces. As you level Max up and buy his personal armour upgrades, he becomes more and more survivalist in look and feel with Kevlar and various bolted on attachments, especially his knuckle-dusters. It looks great, it runs smoothly and the skyboxes are some of the prettiest I've seen.
The environments are stunning, there's a day/night cycle and dynamic weather (the Mother of All Storms) which can range from simple dust clouds to a full blown post-apocalyptic hell storm, lighting, black skies and thunder with high winds. Stay out too long and Max and his car are likely to be destroyed - yet there are Muthaloot crates in such storms and the rewards can be worth it.
Night is creepy, eerie and takes on a savage splendour that's different to the daytime.
Avalanche have also built in photo capture mode to the game, with video capture as well as an option - a second controller can be plugged in allowing a friend to act as cameraman for those perfect Mad Max videos that'll pop up on Youtube.
Mad to the Bone
Mad Max is a great game and one that is faithful to the subject matter, the look and feel of the post-apocalypse in the universe has been replicated nicely and between a mix of simple side activities and challenging camps to take on, there's a lot to see and do. I certainly put it up there as a must buy if you're into this kind of game, and if you hated the Batmobile sections of Batman: Arkham Knight, you'll find that the car combat in Mad Max is never unfair or as punishing as the fight vs. The Cloudburst tank - it's a breath of fresh air after lack-lustre car combat in many open world titles.
A slightly wonky camera doesn't really spoil the hand to hand, I've quickly learnt to rotate it as the fights going on to compensate for the occasional twitch.
I'm going to ride all the way to Valhalla for a long time to come, building my ultimate Magnum Opus and messing about with other designs via the garage - there's a lot there and with unlockable body types I'm not going to get bored with the look/feel of the machine.
The game's map doesn't end either, you can drive off into the Big Nothing - be warned, it will eventually destroy you though.
Which reminds me, there's a scavenger location out there on the horizon and a storm's rolling in. Time to drive!