I played Mad Max on PS4. I encountered a few issues. Sometimes Max would glitch into places I couldn’t get out off. The game suffers significant slowdown occasionally when in the car. Sometimes the text for what a contextual button does is not correct.
On September 1st, an absolutely seminal video game was released. It captured the imagination of gamers across the world and redefined what an open world experience could be. Sadly, that game wasn’t Mad Max. In fact, on all counts, Mad Max is the antithesis to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the evil brother hiding in a corner twisting its moustache. It’s generic, repetitive, janky and almost entirely mindless. However, it also manages to have flashes of fun mixed in to the monotony.
Mad Max is based on the movie franchise of the same name. After an apocalyptic event, the world has dried up and cars now rule the deserted wasteland. Water and gasoline have become the currencies. Everyone who survived is insane, including our hero Max, who is just pottering around aimlessly. One of the key aspects of the films is the lack of any kind of hope. There’s nothing to be done, only survival. Another aspect is the fact that Max is often not the main character. These two things combined make Mad Max a weird proposition for a video game.
Avalanche Studios (of Just Cause fame, although this is not the Just Cause team) took a punt and Mad Max is the uneven result. You play as Max as he clashes with gang leader Scrotus and loses his wheels. He meets Chumbucket, a mechanic who believes Max is part of a prophecy that will lead him to salvation. Chumbucket promises to help him, crafting a vehicle called the ‘Magnum Opus’ to help them on their journey to a place called Gastown. That’s the story, and that’s fine. Mad Max is always light on story, being more about the atmosphere and the action.
In the gameplay department, Mad Max takes lots of cues from Ubisoft’s open world formula. You know, that template that is kinda utterly boring in 2015. Mad Max’s map is a litter of icons and exclamation points, and each of them is something to do. There are scavenging locations, where you go around picking up scrap. There are snipers and scarecrows, that you can take down to lower threat in the area. There are enemy convoys and races. And to cap it all off, there are hot air balloons which act entirely as Ubisoft’s towers do. All these things are fine once or twice, but you have to do them over and over again which is incredibly tedious.
It doesn’t help that the main progression of missions occasionally gate off the story until you have lowered the threat in a particular area, forcing you to do these ‘optional’ objectives. By the end of the game, you’ll have knocked down more scarecrows that you’ll care to admit. And you won’t have felt a thing.
Mad Max has two main gameplay styles: one on foot and one in vehicle. When you leave your car, you’re exploring the wasteland and fighting grunts with a loose Batman-esque combat system, although it doesn’t seem anywhere near as precise.
In the car, you’d expect Mad Max to be the most refined. In a world all about cars, the car combat and driving should be sublime. It’s not. It’s as loose as the on foot combat. While in your car, you can use a harpoon to attack enemy vehicles, picking off their armor or even pulling them out the driver’s seat. You also have a thunderpoon, which is basically the Mad Max brand of rocket launcher. Those are the weapons (there’s a shotgun, but it’s not that effective). It’s fun initially, engaging enemies and taking their cars for yourself, but soon it just gets as repetitive as everything else. When you’re in the car, you’re tethered in the seat. I have no idea why you can’t maybe jump onto enemy cars and take them over that way or maybe you could get on the hood and shotgun enemies that way. You could hang off one side to avoid an enemy ram. It could have been so much more interesting, and all this is showcased in the Mad Max movies. This is also baffling because Avalanche’s flagship series Just Cause has all this stuff and does it fantastically.
Unfortunately I haven’t even talked about the worst aspect of Mad Max yet. The controls. The control scheme in this game is possibly the most baffling thing I have ever seen. It’s just terrible. And I’m actually surprised why more people aren’t talking about this in reviews. On foot, you have a contextual button which is X. So this button changes function depending on where you are. However to do all of these things, you have to hold X. Everything is hold X. To get in the car, you have to hold Triangle. Why? Nothing is tap Triangle. So why do I have to hold Triangle?? What the actual fuck is the point of that? You have to hold X to climb, hold X to pick up scrap, hold X to pick up weapons. What’s more, the things that you would expect to be a contextual ‘hold’, such as holding your canteen under a water fountain, or holding a fuel can up to refuel your car…yeah those things are just tap the button.
One last control mention. Jump. Jump is L2. Once again, jump is L2. In a game where you never need to jump. Jump is L2. Piss poor stuff. Also, there’s no handbrake while in the car.
On the positive side, Mad Max is a pretty game. There isn’t much to work with in the Mad Max universe, the world basically being a never-ending desert. But it looks really good. The colours really help brighten up the world and make it weirdly beautiful. Sometimes, while driving across the desert, you’ll encounter a sandstorm, which entirely engulfs you in sand whipping around your car. It’s an exciting bit of emergent gameplay as you try and find shelter to preserve your car. Lightning storms are even more fun, as you dodge lightning bolts which could prove catastrophic if they hit you.
There is fun to be found in Mad Max’s world. History relics (basically one form of collectible) are interesting as you find postcards and photos from the old world. There are also a few environments which show sparks of brilliance. An old underground cavern turns into a wrecked airport. A beached container can house a hole down to a dead civilisation. When you stumble upon something like this, it’s actually really endearing and also slightly disappointing that there isn’t more like it.
It’s hard to look at Mad Max and see anything but a disappointment. Quite why Warner Brothers decided to release it on the same day as one of the most anticipated games of the year is baffling, but it only serves to show Mad Max’s pitfalls. It feels old and tired and decided to flaunt mechanics that should have been retired years ago. That coupled with the most moronic control scheme I’ve perhaps ever seen makes Mad Max a chore to play
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