Driving around in circles: Mad Max Review

The Mad Max game, released about a year and a half ago now, capitalizes on the excitement of the rebirth of the franchise and the success of 2015’s Fury Road movie. It translates the film’s setting, characters, and overall viscera into a free-roam experience, so basically we get to see what Grand Theft Auto: Aussie Wasteland would be like. The visual presentation captures the intense, moody cinematographic appeal and oddball art direction of the film, and the action sequences match the ferocity and looniness as you would hope for. With exploration and questing added into the mix, it’s a rather intoxicating concept of a game, with just a few aspects holding it back.

The free-roam gameplay is actualized very well. This is one of those games you can easily lose track of time with, because it gives you that sense that there’s always something more to do and fills you with constant gratification and accomplishment for doing them.

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With skill trees, unlockable attire and vehicle mods, side-quests, discoverable locations, and bonuses and achievements and such with which to quench your thirst for progression, romping around the wasteland proves to be a very compelling hobby and definitely keeps you busy!

The name of the game here ends up being: excellent gameplay structure, excellent visual presentation, but ultimately not the Mad Max game we really want. While the game is excellent in its own right, the action the game goes for doesn’t really meet up with the spectacle or the action of the film. While its drenched in Mad Max’s style, it’s not a good representation of the film’s emotions or situations. I think I may have actually preferred a more linear type of game if were to offer something similar to what the film offered – a long, high-speed chase where your character climbs onto the outside of vehicles and evades flames, bullets, and spikes trying to desperately repel the scoundrels that follow, keeping in mind the dire reason for your character’s efforts. The game doesn’t have any of that. Like I said, the game does have a lot and it’s all designed pretty well. It’s just not really what I wanted to see most from a game based on Fury Road.

In the game, the “war parties”, that were such a big deal in terms of intimidation in the film, are used as fodder for bonus objectives whenever you are feeling bored. They drive around these predetermined paths and never stray from their route. They just keep driving around in circles, never getting anywhere, never coming from anywhere. The player’s objective is to hop onto their path and start running them off the road and trying to explode their vehicles. They will of course try to do the same to you, because they are on an important mission.

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So you go around and around until the last of them has been ravaged. When it’s all over, you get to take the hood ornament of the lead vehicle… Kinda sounds like a dick move to me, that the main character would invade this pack of cars who were minding their own business and kill them all just for a piece of fancy jewelry for their car, which they already have a trunk full of. It’s stuff like that that caused me to lose interest in this game after a few days.

It’s not exactly rich with narrative, like the films. In fact, there’s next-to-shit to care about story-wise. It’s got one of the most uninteresting main characters of all time, and that’s not an insult to Mad Max in general. Mel Gibson was awesome, and Tom Hardy was compelling. The lead in the game is a dull thumb. I dressed him shirtless with a beard just to make him slightly more interesting. There’s much more interest in the vehicles than the characters.

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There is a lot of good here, don’t get me wrong. The environment is beautiful, enhanced by the occasional camera and lighting effects. Like I said, there’s a ton to do, and it’s all designed pretty well. The land is exciting to explore. In fact, my first day of playing the game, I had an unforgettable experience when I literally drove from one end of the map to the other just to see if I could. In classic free-roamers like Vice City, there would have been a bridge construction or ocean or something to keep me from getting to the part of the map that they wanted to be unlocked by story progression. I loved that I could actually travel to that flaming refinery that’s always apparent in the distance. The moment I realized it wasn’t just a piece of set dressing and that it was an actual thing I could visit, that filled with me with wonders… Much like the concept of No Man’s Sky being able to fly from one planet to the other without load screens; only here, going to the Gas Town actually offered new things to see and experience. That brings me to my conclusion that this game is actually a model example of how exploration should be done in games. It should be as free as possible, there should be interesting things to find every time you reach a new location, there should be a lot of ground to cover, and you should happen upon cool things that were never your original intent… Mad Max is superb in that regard. One of the best feelings of exploration I’ve had.

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It’s a shame that I don’t like much else about the gameplay. The driving feels good enough, no complaints, but the vehicle combat is clumsy. OF ALL THINGS, the vehicle combat should not be what feels clumsy about a Mad Max game. Trying to hurt other cars was usually just a bother for me, I didn’t enjoy it. But I can see where it could have been one of the best aspects of the game if they gave it more of a story-related point from moment to moment and made it a little more grounded. In the film, there’s a sense of fear every time an enemy vehicle approaches, and the character decisions are always a result of that fear. In this game, you’ll have no more fear for enemy vehicles than you did cop cars in Grand Theft Auto. They just aren’t intimidating. The enemies overall are more goofy than scary. Unless you are in a tough situation with one of those hand-to-hand fights in which case they are just a frustrating bitch.

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Speaking of hand-to-hand, doesn’t it seem kind of random that they would go the Arkham Asylum/Spider-Man route with combat in a Mad Max game? Unlike Spider-Man and Batman who have always traditionally fought with their hands and special abilities, Max is just a dude with a leather jacket and a shotgun. Why on Earth does he find so little shotgun shells that he must go around punching people for a living? In any other game, finding a single shotgun shell is like big whoop, but in this game, you’ll be barfing rainbows when you discover one. It’s because if it gave you anymore than that, then it’d be a shooting game, but they clearly want it to be a brawling game (at least when you are on foot). And my question is why does it have to be either? I know every game needs a core mechanic to hold it together, but I think driving should be enough to serve as that. Not saying I want it to be one of those driving-only free-roam games like Burnout or something, but I think it’d be more compelling to use the character’s cunning to route enemy bases rather than just screaming bloody murder and running at them with a fistfull of hate. There’s already a interesting dynamic to breaking down the base defenses, crippling their supplies, gathering intel from nearby scouters and whatnot. I wish the base infiltration was all about that and had a bit more of a realistic way to unravel. But I am seriously digressing here…

There’s more I could go on about regarding the story, random-ass tornadoes, giving water to the homeless, and freaking Chumbucket… but I think I’ll wrap things up here. I’ve said all I really needed to say.

My rating for 2015’s Mad Max for PS4 is…

★★★

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