You’ve got to feel for the Mad Max video game.
After a fairly tumultuous development cycle that involved last-gen versions of the game being canned and the re-casting of Max’s voice actor after fan protests against his initial American accent, the producers behind the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid V moved their game forward to the same release date, and there was no way Avalanche Studios were going to win out over Kojima’s magnum opus.
However, I’d always been much more excited to visit the virtual wasteland after the surprisingly fun action romp that was Fury Road in cinemas earlier in the year, and although this game stands alone and is no way a tie-in to that film, gameplay demos had shown just enough to spark my interest. Plus I’ve never played a Metal Gear game in my life and don’t intend to start any time soon.
So I trotted off to my local video game store with a spring in my step and picked up a copy.
Reviews have been split pretty much down the middle for Mad Max. I tend to fall on the more positive side, while retaining a cautious eye not to look over the game’s fairly frequent flaws. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a least fun enough for me to see through to completion, and when it gets things right it’s a blast.
It’s also one of the few games I think I’ll actually go through again to mop up all of the arbitrary collectibles, such is my enjoyment of roaming the wasteland. And that doesn’t happen very often.
I also believe that Mad Max (like games such as the first Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs) provides an exciting glimpse into just what future iterations of the game could hold in store.
Here are nine reasons why Mad Max is a gaming franchise with a lot of potential – even if it still has room to improve.
1. The vehicular combat is a major selling point
The vehicular combat in Mad Max – when it all comes off – is great, and a definite selling point of the game.
One minute you’ll be driving along nicely when a plume of dust will come rolling over a distant dune, signalling the arrival of an enemy convoy.
It takes a bit of getting used to with a control scheme that isn’t exactly obvious, but after a while you’ll be using [trusty sidekick] Chumbucket’s harpoon to rip the protective covering away from an enemy’s fuel tank before blasting it with Max’s shotgun in one fluid movement.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that there isn’t actually enough combat in the game. Maybe it’s because we’re avid users of any kind of fast travel system a game throws at us, but I probably spent more time in our play-through dishing out pain to enemies on foot than in cars.
2. The hand-to-hand combat gets a bad rap
Much derision has been levelled at Mad Max‘s hand-to-hand combat, but when up against the brilliance of the in-car stuff it was always going to have a hard time.
Yes, it’s not particularly nuanced, and yes it’s basically just a copy and paste of the Arkham series of games’ combat system (X to punch, Y to block… repeat), but all in all it feels satisfyingly weighty.
Like most things in Mad Max, things only start to get really good once you’ve spent some time upgrading. Where in the beginning you’re punching and dodging ad infinitum, in the latter stages I was pulling out all sorts of moves.
You can’t help but wince a little when Max plants an enemy on his head with a picture perfect German suplex.
3. It’s a beautiful game
Again, reports would indicate that The Phantom Pain muscled in on the same territory here, but Mad Max is one of the best looking games I’ve played so far.
Sure, things get a little drab once the sun goes down (an Assassin’s Creed: Unity style option to lock the day and night cycle to a particular time of day would be nice), but when the sun is blasting down on you and the desert expanse is sprawling out in front, everything looks very good indeed.
The developers have said that to combat the dreariness of a post-apocalyptic landscape they had to invest all of their vivid colours skywards, and Mad Max presents reliably excellent dusk and dawn lighting effects.
4. Desert storms are amazingly visceral
At random intervals as you traverse Mad Max‘s game world, you’ll get a warning flash up on screen that a storm is approaching. “SEEK SHELTER” the game cries at you in a panic.
Upon seeing this for the first time, I couldn’t have cared less. “How bad can it be?” I thought naively to myself.
That’s until I pulled a 180° into a screen-filling vortex of dust, everything was plunged into darkness, and bolts of lightning exploded into the ground around us.
Mad Max‘s storms are some of the most brilliantly visceral experiences you’ll have in a video game this year, and as our bucket of rust slowly but surely got stripped to scrap by flying pieces of corrugated iron to a soundtrack of howling wind, I wished I had found some shelter in time.
5. It can be surprisingly funny
War Criers are members of the enemy’s legion who are strategically placed in the middle of your foe’s base camps, hanging from a crane and ready to whip their fellow nasties with the beating of a drum and a heck of a lot of noise.
They’re all business when you’re battling a horde of bad guys beneath their feet, but as soon as you defeat everyone and it’s just you and them, they soon change their tune. It’s probably got something to do with realising they’re just hanging there, helplessly looking the fool while a dangerous wasteland legend patrols below them.
“Oh, there’s a rule. You don’t kill the war crier. Not sure if you’re aware.”
It’s just one example of the game’s deep rooted black humour which, along with the odd Airplane! reference, forces a wry smile when you least expect it.
6. There are one too many glitches
After the horror stories of game release like Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Halo: The Master Chief Collection late last year, it seems no big current-gen release goes by without its fair share of glitches and bugs appearing.
Mad Max‘s quirks are by no means as frequent or as game breaking as some of those though, but it’s a shame to see such an otherwise polished game let down by silly little glitches.
I went through a phase where talking to any of the random wastelander NPCs would send me flying hundreds of feet in the air only to come crashing back down to Earth comically (if a little fatally too), and while it’s a bit of a giggle the first few times, it does get quite annoying when you’re just trying to play the damn thing.
7. The driving is plain awful
For a game that is “60% driving”, the actual driving sections of Mad Max are for the most part downright awful.
Yes, I know we’re inhabiting a virtual wasteland, so we’re not exactly going to have access to nimble little sports cars that drift nicely around every turn, and I can’t expect much from a start-out vehicle which is essentially a roll-cage on wheels, but come on guys.
It takes an absolute age to upgrade your car to anything that even closely resembles something that’s fun to drive, and by the time you have mined enough scrap to get the handling feeling at least mildly realistic, you’ve spent so much on suspension and deep tread tires that to undo it all adding weighty wrought iron defences to your ride feels counter productive.
The generic cars that enemy grubs drive feel more powerful than the ‘Magnum Opus’ you spend most of your time building.
8. The sound design needs tweaking
Don’t get me wrong, the actual sounds you hear when playing through Mad Max are pretty well realised. Max’s trusty shotgun sounds especially beefy once you upgrade it to the four-barrelled monstrosity it can become, and though very few of the war machines you get to drive around in will be having car lovers cooing over their purring engines, they do sound suitably raspy for bits of old scrap found lying around a barren desert.
The issue comes with the sound mixing. Too often, the sound of the on-screen action (the cars, the explosions, the shotgun fire) becomes far too overwhelming for everything else. This becomes particularly grating when your trusty sidekick Chumbucket is trying to relay important plot points to you over the sound of a daring enemy encampment escape.
We’re dead against turning the subtitles on (it just makes things less cinematic), and I’ve experimented with every audio option the menus will give to us.
9. The story’s pacing is maddening
While a game as fun as Mad Max doesn’t really need to rely on a blockbuster story to pull it through, the pacing of the narrative arc is more the issue here.
Early in the game, our nemesis’ hideout Gastown is sold to us as a dark place only the bravest souls dare to go. So when the game takes you there just a few missions in and allows you to wander freely among its inhabitants outside of the story missions, it doesn’t sit quite right.
So there you have it, nine things to either keep or improve upon for a Mad Max sequel that could frankly be brilliant. But this first instalment is by no means a bad game at all, and is definitely worth picking up.