Review: Mad Max

As someone who was blissfully unaware of the Mad Max series until the recent release of “Mad Max: Fury Road”, my main reaction to watching that film was, and I quote: “What the hell is going on?”. Mad Max, in the most basic sense, is the love child of Fallout, the Batman Arkham series and Australia in general and for some reason, I love it: The action, the gore and the complete and utter insanity of the series makes Mad Max any action, post-apocalypse fan’s dream film series and Fury Road certainly encapsulated that. But does Avalanche Studios’ adaptation of the series do the same or does it destroy the Mad Max brand like the apocalypse has done to the setting of the game? Let’s find out.

The combat system is especially fun on places with long falls at the end, like bridges, as you can knock your enemies off the side.
The combat system is especially fun on places with long falls at the end, like bridges, as you can knock your enemies off the side.

One of the best ways to describe Mad Max’s gameplay would be that it’s Batman: Arkham Knight’s combat issues, except in reverse. Both games take the idea that you have two types of combat; on-foot and vehicular and Arkham Knight’s was regarded generally as the on-foot being as great as it always is and the vehicular combat being…well, not so great. Mad Max on the other hand, is completely the opposite; with its on-foot combat being a very average and unprogressive combat system with very obvious inspirations from the Arkham Knight series, but with an incredible combat system whilst in your car. The player can take down other vehicles in many ways, whether it be through ripping the wheels straight off cars to immobilize them or outright pulling the driver out of the car using the Harpoon launcher; shooting at the car with your ‘Thunderpoon’ Launcher, a more tribal RPG if you will; setting the car alight with your ‘Sideburners’ (flamethrowers on the side of the car) or the good ol’ fashioned way of just ramming the car until it explodes. The game offers such a wide variety of ways to defeat each of your enemies that If you were disappointed with Arkham Knight’s combat uses of the Batmobile, then I can certainly tell you that Mad Max’s car combat usage is far superior and may even rival that of Avalanche’s previous effort, Just Cause 2!

One of the other huge points about Mad Max is its vast amount of upgrades. You have two different upgrade screens: One for Max and the other for his car. Throughout the game, you earn scrap by doing various things whether it be something as minimal or helping a fellow wastelanders scavenge for scrap or for completely random objectives from wastelanders scattered across the wasteland or from completing any of the open world objectives. You use this scrap to upgrade both Max; with armor upgrades, skill upgrades and fist upgrades, and his car; with everything from the cars boosting power, exhausts, the body paint, decals, the list goes on and on.The constant upgrading keeps the game.

Mad Max Car Upgrades
The car upgrades menu, offering a large amount of customization.

The real meat of the game however, is in the open-world side objectives. For the first two-three hours of doing said side objectives, the game was incredibly enjoyable; I was driving around, tearing down sniper and brazier towers with my harpoon launcher, beating up War Boys and general wastelanders as well as generally blowing everything up, as I tend to do in any game made by Avalanche (cough Just Cause cough). However, after those first couple of hours, the allure of these objectives quickly faded, and the realization of how repetitive and frankly boring these objectives become after just a few hours of completing them came over me. Also, the game is so full with these open-world activities, that it gets to the point where it’ll leave you feeling as if you’re not making any progress whatsoever. At around my tenth hour of playing the game, I had only reduced the threat level (basically a set of levels that reduce each time an open-world objective is competed, which completely removes any presence of the main enemy faction from said area once the threat level reaches zero) of the first area by three out of the five levels and that’s just the first area…out of four. Even someone like myself, who loves doing repetitive open-world tasks (you can thank World of Warcraft for that), will get bored as very little changes in these activities, aside from the camps where the layout, defenses and objectives of the camps change and that’s about it.

Mad Max’s plot is somewhat of a hit and miss, which is a staple of the Mad Max franchise as a whole. The main objective of the game seems to be, at first, that Max is trying to get his car back that was stolen by the main enemy faction however, the car is seen to be reduced to nothing but useless scrap. So you’re introduced to a new car that your hunchback mechanic was building, named the ‘Magnum Opus’ and some plot elements occur where you and your hunchback are forced to appeal to the leaders of several strongholds for their shelter in exchange for Max’s aid. Then, the main objective becomes a but unclear and this is where the plot being to fall apart a bit: Your main goal at that point in the game is to get a V8 engine for the Magnum Opus  but what then? Sure, as the film series (and the game minorly) establishes, that his true aim is to get to the ‘Plains of Silence’ but the problem of the main enemy faction would still exist after Max obtains the V8 Engine so what exactly is Max going to do about the enemy faction? The very fundamentals of a narrative of a media piece is that the final goal of that piece of media is clearly displayed, whether that be to have the world returned to its original state of peace, rescuing the damsel in distress etc and I’m about 30 hours in now and I still have no clue as to what that is in Mad Max.

One thing that this game definitely has is its beauty. Admittedly, Mad Max is 90% desert but that desert quite possibly the most beautiful desert I’ve ever seen in a game. Avalanche are known for their incredible art design, especially considering all of their portfolio are open-world games and Mad Max certainly keeps to the studio’s usual standards.  The game touts a huge rendering distance, allowing the player to see for miles in front front of them literally, The game’s textures are very well done and the use of many PC-exclusive graphical options are taken advantage of to make the game look stunning. Mad Max looks at its best during any of the game’s frequent storms, which obscure the player’s vision significantly, but at the same time, push the usage of the game’s lighting to make it look beautiful, something I didn’t I even think storms could be until I saw the very first one in Mad Max.

Mad Max Visuals
Mad Max is mostly set in a desert, but isn’t that a pretty desert…

The sound in Mad Max is split in half for me: One end of the spectrum, you have the sound effects which are great overall and especially so (once again), in storms. On the other end however, you have the voice acting, which I personally find to be particularly weak, especially for a game that’s apart of such a well-regarded franchise as Mad Max. Now sure, Avalanche are known for not exactly having the greatest voice acting in their games, similarly to their reputation of not having the great narratives, but in this type of game specifically, good voice acting is needed and sadly, Mad Max just doesn’t deliver that for me. Max himself never seems to change his tone, staying in the generic rough, hardened male voice which could work some, as it is heavily hinted at that Max has been through a lot, however even a character like Max’s needs to have some sense of change tone-wise, especially 30 hours into the game. The only character who I find to have quite good voice acting would be Max’s hunchback mechanic, Chumbucket, who really displays his sort of maniacal and slightly religious character very well.

If there’s one defining feat that Mad Max has attained it’s this: Mad Max is one of the best PC ports I have ever seen and is easily the best PC port of this year so far. The game runs at a silky smooth 60FPS on an insane amount of systems, including my very own laptop which has a GTX 880M, a graphics card which is similar to the power of a seventh generation Nvidia card. If a graphics card that is two generations old can run Mad Max at 60FPS, then I guarantee you that any card released in the last few years will be able to run this game with ease.

So let’s head back to the original question I asked; does Avalanche Studios’ adaptation of the series encapsulate the Mad Max series well or does it destroy the Mad Max brand like the apocalypse has done to the setting of the game? Well, if you’ve read this far, then you’ll probably know that my answer is yes. Whilst I do feel that that game is over-burdened with its open-world side objectives, Avalanche did a very good job elsewhere at transferring the Mad Max feel from its many films to its first (of hopefully many) video game adaptions and made it very fun all the while. There are a few hitches here and there, mainly with the narrative and voice acting of the game, but overall Mad Max is a very fun addition to the open-world genre and any Mad Max and video games fan is going to have a good time with this title.

Mad Max is available on Microsoft Windows for £34.99 through Steam.

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