“Falling Into Madness”
There’s a subtly that manifests during Mad Max despite it’s forward execution. The wasteland is a place void of all hope and retribution, filled with those driven mad. It’s a theme that has remained at the core of the Mad Max license since its birth, acting as a simple, yet layered device to the deranged characters and wild action. With the recent success of the extraordinary Fury Road, there hasn’t been a better opportunity for a Mad Max licensed game to drop. Behind the project is Avalanche Studios, a team with a resume that perfectly aligns them with such an undertaking. The result is a game that contains a lot of solid variables, such as gorgeous visuals and strong vehicle combat, though it’s one that ultimately falls victim to unavoidable design blunders.
The journey opens with Max, a lonely wanderer with a troubling past and helpless future, having a near fatal run-in with some of the wasteland’s most monstrous bandits. Left for dead and without his iconic car, Max is sent on a warpath to bring down those who have wronged him. With Gastown’s Scabrous Scrotus–the son of the Immortan Joe–in his crosshairs, Max embarks on a fury-infused trek hoping to retrieve his lost car and gain revenge. Aiding Max in his daring endeavors is Chumbucket, an unusual mechanic who perceives Max as the prophet of his car-rooted religion. Together, the two craft the Magnum Opus, a vehicle so powerful it can forge through the Plains of Silence with ease. Though the road to get there is no easy task, Max and Chum face death around every corner of the wasteland in search of what will bring them closer to their ultimate goal. It’s a simple, straightforward narrative that maintains the same beats throughout, with a few twists towards the latter half. Mad Max boils down to scavenging, fighting, and doing favors with the goal of building the best car imaginable. These pillars of Mad Max’s structure are nothing new, encompassing all that is to be expected from open-world games of its likeness. It’s in the constant obligation Mad Max forces upon itself to give the player something to do, whereby spinning its wheels in the trappings of the genre. Mad Max lacks at sticking to its guns when bringing forth new ideas, often tasking the player with arbitrary objectives while it ponders which direction it wants to go next. There are moments where Mad Max is impressive, but those moments are quickly exhausted, leaving a plentiful void between where the fun stops and the credits roll. Packing large amounts of side content into a game is never a bad thing, though that is exactly what it should be, side content. To spread out the scale of the narrative, Mad Max tends to force the player down the rabbit hole of what boxes there are to check, often times resulting in experiences that feel like chores. Eventually, once Mad Max musters enough confidence to give the story it’s undivided attention, glimmers of hope arise, alluding to something more. The wasteland is ripe for the picking when it comes to stories to tell, though Mad Max gets so caught up in trying to tell multiple ones, that it struggles to tell a single, compelling one.
The same thought process is taken into Mad Max’s combat, which is broken up into car and on-foot sections. The best of the two is the explosive vehicular warfare that recklessly ensues throughout the wasteland. It’s a tense and exhilarating affair, full of electrifying encounters as you dodge death. Vehicles smash together with exorbitant and satisfying force, weakening one another in an attempt to remove the other from the equation. The means to successfully scrape by in such demanding scenarios are plentifully, with an abundant offering of tools at your disposal. One effective way to weaken enemies’ gas guzzlers is a harpoon in which Chumbucket fires from the back of the Magnum Opus. It advantageously resorts to transforming your rivals’ junkers to scrap, disabling or destroying them in the process. Tools from Max’s arsenal can also be used for other actives, such as tearing down countless sniper towers, elaborate intimidation totems, and gates. Thanks to Mad Max’s exceptional visuals, the destruction that transpires is believable and often breathtaking; it’s a good thing for frantic, lethal road encounters are something Max stumbles upon each and every time he ventures into the wasteland. The high-speed clashing of metal is easily the strongest aspect of Mad Max, as viciously demolishing those around you manages to stay fresh throughout the entire experience. Stepping away away from the wheel, drains much of Mad Max’s momentum, replacing it’s initial intrigue with repetitive, dull systems and structure. When not tearing through the desert manning the Magnum Opus, Max resorts to hand-to-hand combat to get the job done. There’s a flare to the desperate throwing of punches and kicks, but the glimpses of promise do nothing to capitalize or expand upon it. Melee combat is a simple, mundane dance of brutal attacks and parries, and systematically does very little to differentiate one fight from the next. Putting the beatdown on enemies can make for a satisfying ordeal, though the excitement quickly wears off when the depth of on-foot combat is revealed. When compared to the much more exciting and complex car combat, Mad Max’s shallow ground encounters feel like a redundant chore that could have been better realized. Depth is attempted to be interjected by way of combo attacks, weapons, gory executions, and Fury Mode, all of which furthers the brutal reality of the fights Max gets himself into. However, none of the aforementioned evolve over the course of the game, in terms of player interactivity. The moves are upgradeable, though fail to ask more of the player, instead only increasing the effectiveness of the base inputs. There’s very little to look forward to when it comes to Mad Max’s ground combat, aside from getting it over with in order to move on to something more interesting.
Upgrading and customization play an integral part in Mad Max, both to cars as well as Max himself. It’s a somewhat traditional progression formula that incentivizes you to check all the boxes the world presents. Doing so will reward you with scrap, the game’s form of currency, which goes directly toward upgrading Max and the Magnum Opus. From there, upgrades can be made to Max, such as combat abilities and cosmetic looks, and to the Magnum Opus, with spiked tires and flame throwers. The various gameplay changes are noticeable, but aren’t the make or break for Mad Max’s combat systems. While it certainly furthers the enjoyment that comes from the explosive, energetic car combat, it fails to strengthen some of the game’s weaker elements. The repetitive nature of its missions, ground combat, and overall gameplay loop isn’t revamped as you progress throughout the upgrading system. In fact, the deeper you explore the wasteland–uncovering the links between its gameplay and systems–the more underwhelming wandering the creatively crafted wasteland becomes. Perhaps one of the biggest flaws of Mad Max is that it neglects to fully get behind some of its strongest ideas. The imaginative environmental world-building is one of Mad Max’s more robust elements, as it creatively portrays a world so incredibly desperate for survival. It’s conveyed through abandoned airports that instill a sense of bustling past and gorgeous canyons repurposed as shelter. Subtle aspects of storytelling struggle to shine through, for the moment to moment gameplay tends to undermine some of the greatness buried beneath the sand. Logical inconsistencies such as damage consumption also take away from the experience, as they contradict the unforgiving reality the world paints. Getting ran over by a vehicle at high speeds reduces a small fraction of health compared to what a few punches will do in a fistfight gone awry. These logical missteps constantly led me to game over, as the seemingly established rules of the world shifted from under my feet. This lack of consistency was never too far off from my time in the wasteland, jumping in every once and a while to derail what Mad Max had been so diligently working toward.
Conclusion: There is enjoyment to be had with Mad Max, though that time shortly fades and fails to encompass the lasting impression it deserves. Avalanche Studios has constructed a beautiful game that nails its style, though is one that also suffers from overt and repetitive game design flaws. Mad Max is too concerned in constantly generating new tasks for the player to complete, so much so that it overlooks making them memorable. Behind the wheel Mad Max has a lot going for it, but stepping out into the wasteland poses a conflicting experience that quickly wears thin.
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