The Mad Max franchise delivers one of the more grim what-ifs of a potential post-apocalyptic world. Never is there the promise of government restoration, peaceful co-existence between the forsaken surviving populace, or even just a respite from the hardships of life. Instead, the Mad Max films have painted a picture of the savagery and brutality inherent in the hearts of men who have to fight each day for their lives.
Mad Max’s Australia is a lonely desert, with miles of sand and wreckage punctuated only rarely by a speck of life. There are bastions of society, devolved into tribal castes, that cling together in fortresses built of salvage and ruins. The latest movie in the series, Mad Max: Fury Road, took us to the territory of the warlord Immortan Joe and his War Boys, an army of death-worshiping warriors who viewed Joe and his progeny as gods.
Although Mad Max the game takes place in this same territory, it’s not a full tie-in. Instead of taking on Immortan Joe, you tangle with his son Scabrous Scrotus ,the ruler of Gas Town. Although you’ll get the same vibe that the movie had, there doesn’t appear to be any continuity between Mad Max: Fury Road and Mad Max the game.
This isn’t at all a bad thing. Without being forced to replicate the movie’s story, the game is able to shine on its own, and shine it does. The story starts with Max attempting to make it to a location he calls “The Plains of Silence,” a place he believes he will finally know peace from his haunting past. On his way to Gas Town to get the fuel he needs to travel to the plains, Scabrous Scrotus and his War Boys attack Max, and capture his vehicle.
Although he’s able to fight his way free, Max ends up in the wastes with no supplies, no vehicle, and no hope. Fortuitously he soon runs into Chumbucket, a savant mechanic who was cast out of Gas Town for his odd automobile-centric religious ideas. Chumbucket believes Max is a saint sent by “The Angel of Combustion” to help build the ultimate vehicle, the Magnum Opus. Without much of a choice, Max agrees to help and thus their partnership is formed.
It’s hard to say which is the star of the game, Max or the Magnum Opus. You’ll spend most of your time in the game driving the Magnum Opus and attempting to gather the material needed to further upgrade it. The versatile machine can be customized and upgraded to include harpoons, spikes on the body to repel enemies from boarding, and of course standard car equipment like suspension, engine, nitrous, tires, and so on.
Driving feels as good in Mad Max as any racing game, and the vehicular combat is a blast. Whereas a lot of games have issues with balancing the formula of speed and control of the vehicle versus control and aiming of weapons, Mad Max does this just right. When attempting to aim the harpoon for example, the game enters slow motion allowing fine control. A dedicated ramming button also allows you to keep your focus on moving forward while still being able to attack with the entirety of your vehicle.
Unfortunately, the on-foot gameplay isn’t quite up to par. It lacks the originality of the vehicular sections, and feels somewhat out of place. It controls well, and feels a lot like the Batman: Arkham series with timed parrying and counters being essential to hand-to-hand combat. The biggest issue is that the fast-paced furious driving just isn’t matched here. The on-foot sections are somewhat bland, can be difficult to navigate since Max can only climb in certain places, and just took me out of the game.
It’s too bad too, because the visuals are phenomenal. Sand is an always moving substance, and Avalanche did a great job with making the game feel gritty. From the footprints left, to the gusts of wind kicking it up, the sand and dirt effects make this game feel alive. The weather effects are also tremendous too, as is the day and night cycle. The colors and ambiance definitely display the capabilities of current-gen consoles unchained.
Altogether Mad Max recreates the desperate, gritty feeling of the movie franchise. Its vehicular combat is some of the most visceral and well-done that the gaming world has ever seen. I only wish that the on-foot portions would have received as much attention as the vehicular gameplay. This flaw can be overlooked easily though, as you’ll forget all about being on foot when you’re ripping down sand plains harpooning and ramming your way through the wasteland.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment