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When Mad Max released, I was very interested in playing it but never saw the films. So before I acquired the game I watched the film series with Mad Max 2, otherwise known as The Road Warrior, and Fury Road being my favorites. The first film is not what I expected and Beyond Thunderdome is okay but I didn’t find it as atmospheric or exciting as its predecessor. Before I watched these films, I really knew nothing about the series other than it was about some post-apocalyptic world. In my eyes, The Road Warrior is what really set the tone and atmosphere of the franchise. Developed by Avalanche Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Mad Max the video game was released for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in September, 2015. I did beat this on PS4 once before and for this review, I played the PC version. Mad Max is an open world action game set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where it’s every man for himself. You play as the iconic Max Rockatansky, a highway patrol officer turned survivalist.
The story opens with Max being run off the road by a gang of War Boys led by Scrotus, son of Immortan Joe and ruler of Gastown. They steal everything from Max including his car, the Interceptor, and leave him to die. Max sets out to get revenge and meets up with a hunchback named Chumbucket who is in the process of building a car called the Magnum Opus. Max and Chumbucket travel through the wasteland together liberating Strongholds and dismantling enemy camps, as they upgrade and weaponize the Magnum Opus, and try to survive in the hostile world run by factions and lunatics. I feel the game perfectly captures the tone and atmosphere of the films The Road Warrior and Fury Road, but the character development is somewhat lacking and the story is pretty simple, really. The voice acting gets the job done with a few standout performances, Chumbucket being one of them. Many of the supporting characters are not fleshed out enough to remain interesting but they do a good job at immersing you into the world of Mad Max. This is a game that clearly favors gameplay over plot and as far as I can tell it does not disrespect the source material.
I would say Mad Max is a somewhat slow-paced game and Max, himself, doesn’t move very fast. He can walk, run, sprint, jump or hop, and perform an evade move but he doesn’t really move quickly. A good majority of your time navigating the world will be by vehicle. When you first start playing, Max has nothing but you’ll acquire some gear and a car soon enough. Max’s gear includes binoculars, a jacket, knuckledusters, wrist armor, and a shotgun. He also carries a canteen which can be filled up at water sources and drinking from it restores his health. Max can also restore health by eating dog food and maggots found throughout the world. You can eventually purchase a jimmy bar which can be used to pry open containers, doors, and hatches. As you play, you’ll complete challenges and as you complete challenges you’ll earn Griffa Tokens and rank up. Challenges include things like defeating a specific number of enemies, dismantling a certain amount of camps, finding a certain amount of items, and other basic things. When you reach certain ranks, you unlock upgrades that can be purchased to improve Max’s gear which affects his offensive and defensive abilities including fist damage, jacket armor, parry ability, ammo inventory, and the shotgun. You’ll also unlock skills that make you more efficient in melee combat. A character named Griffa can be found in various spots throughout the world and when you visit him, you can spend Griffa Tokens on what I’ll call character upgrades like increased max health, melee weapons do more damage, acquire more health from food and water, and things of that nature.
Mad Max employs a freeflow melee combat system, similar to how the melee combat systems work in the Batman: Arkham games. You press or hold the attack button to attack enemies and press another button when prompted to parry enemy attacks. You can build up a multiplier by landing multiple hits in a row without taking damage and some enemy attacks cannot be countered but you can use the evade move to avoid them. Sometimes you have the opportunity to sneak up behind an enemy to kill them instantly but there’s really no traditional stealth here. I really enjoy the melee combat but it does have some flaws like taking hits during an attack. I don’t mean just making a stupid mistake like not pressing the button in time, I mean Max will perform an attack like jumping in the air and kicking an enemy or picking an enemy up and slamming them to the ground, but you can still get attacked during the animation which you can’t cancel out of. But performing execution moves, which you also have no control over once activated, will prevent you from getting attacked so it’s kind of inconsistent. The camera can also be a little wonky during combat but you can control it manually. On the plus side, the melee combat is extremely satisfying. Every single attack you land feels heavy and powerful. As you engage enemies in combat you’ll build up Fury. Once you’ve accumulated enough Fury, Max enters Fury Mode where his strikes are more powerful but he will only remain in Fury Mode for a limited time. You can pick up melee weapons dropped by enemies or take them from them if you’ve purchased the appropriate skills. They will break over time but they can do a lot of damage and can be very helpful when up against a lot of enemies at once. Max can perform finishers to kill enemies like stabbing them with a shiv, snapping their neck, slamming their head into parts of the environment, and executing them with melee weapons. If you’re having a real tough time, you can use your shotgun to blow enemies away and when aiming, the gameplay will slow down, allowing you to aim accurately at your target. You can always quickfire as well. Overall, the melee combat is a lot of fun and it’s mainly due to its sense of satisfying brutality.
I think the game’s biggest highlight is the vehicles. The Magnum Opus can be fitted with different car bodies and upgraded with different parts that do effect its performance, weapons, and defense. You can upgrade the engine, exhaust, tires, armor, suspension, boost, and you can even apply different boarder defenses to make it hard for enemies to actually board your vehicle. Once you unlock and purchase the side burners, you can use them to burn any enemies near your vehicle. You do need to be aware of how the upgrades effect the vehicle’s performance. Acceleration, handling, and top speed can be affected by upgrades and finding a balance is key. If the Opus is heavily armored, it may not be able to move fast but it can withstand a lot of damage. You can swap out any upgrades with others you’ve already purchased at any time from your garage which can be accessed from the pause menu. You may have to configure your vehicle with certain upgrades to better fit specific situations. For example, you may want to favor speed over defense if you want to participate in a Death Run. But if you’re going to roam into enemy territory, you may want to increase your defense at the risk of speed. If you equip a specific combination of upgrades, you unlock what the game calls Archangels which are just iconic vehicles. In reality, they seem to act as presets of different combinations of upgrades and car bodies and you can switch between them quickly. Car bodies can be found throughout the world but don’t actually affect the vehicle’s performance. In addition to all the upgrades, you can also apply different paint jobs, decals, and ornaments which can be acquired from destroyed convoys. The Magnum Opus can be fitted with weaponry that can be upgraded. The harpoon is probably the most useful. It can hook onto things like NPCs, towers, and barricades. You can then pull them with the vehicle to break or destroy them or kill an NPC. You can even pull doors off enemy vehicles leaving the driver exposed and then just rip him right out of there or simply hook onto one of the vehicle’s tires and tear it off to stop the enemy vehicle from chasing you. It’s cool stuff. Eventually you’ll unlock the thunderpoon which is basically the harpoon equipped with an explosive projectile that can be used to destroy barricades, structures, and enemy vehicles, and it can be really helpful if you get overwhelmed. Finally, there’s the sniper rifle which allows you to snipe enemies from a distance. The thunderpoon and sniper rifle do consume ammo and if both run dry, you can always rely on your shotgun which Max will fire out the window. You can acquire ammo for your Opus weapons and shotgun from ammo boxes lying around the environments and from fallen enemies. While driving, you can lock onto targets before firing any of your weapons and much like aiming the shotgun when on-foot, the gameplay slows down allowing you to aim accurately and choose the appropriate target. If you take your time and unlock and purchase upgrades as you progress, there’s a good chance the Magnum Opus will basically be a death machine on wheels by the end of the game. But the Opus is not the only vehicle you can drive. You can actually collect a decent variety of vehicles that be accessed from any Stronghold. You can find them in specific spots in the wasteland, or by earning them as a reward for winning Death Runs, or by hijacking them from enemies and bringing them back to a stronghold. They can’t be upgraded but they are a form of collectibles.
As you drive around the wasteland, you’ll come across enemies and enemy vehicles and they will chase you if they spot you. If the Opus is fast enough, you can outrun them or you can engage them in vehicular combat using a combination of ram attacks and weaponry. Enemies will ram and slam into you and some enemies will jump from their vehicles onto yours but you can always blow them away with your shotgun if you don’t have any of the boarder defenses equipped. If the Opus takes enough damage, you’ll have to jump out and wait for Chumbucket to repair it. You can perform a quick repair by spending scrap but I never really felt the need to do that especially because you can command Chumbucket to repair it at any time. In fact, whenever you leave the vehicle, Chumbucket will automatically start repairing the Opus if it took any damage. He never leaves the Opus outside of cut scenes. The vehicular combat is actually a lot of fun. Much like the melee combat, the Opus has a sense of weight to it and each ram and attack feels impactful. Slamming or boosting into an enemy vehicle and watching it explode as a result can be an extremely rewarding feeling. Driving the Opus will drain its fuel and I can honestly say I never encountered a situation where I ever ran out. But it is possible. Throughout the world are jerrycans which are a source of fuel that can be used to fuel vehicles and vantage outpost balloons and generators. You can store one jerrycan in the back of the Opus but the one thing I don’t like is there’s no way to tell how much fuel is in the can. Sometimes you may need to fuel something up and you start the process only to realize there’s not much gas in the can so you’ll have to find another. Jerrycans also serve the purpose of creating an explosion. You can ignite or shoot a jerrycan which will cause them to explode and sometimes this is necessary to access certain areas. Some doors can only be destroyed by explosions but there’s usually always a jerrycan nearby. But if there are no jerrycans around, there may be explosive barrels you can shoot. Also, you can blow these up to kill enemies.
The wasteland or map in Mad Max is quite large and is broken up into multiple regions. There are several Strongholds that rule over different territories of the wasteland. As you progress through the story, you’ll visit all of these Strongholds and do missions for the NPCs that run them. Each territory has its own threat level which indicates how much of a presence the Scrotus faction has within them. Reducing the threat reduces the Scrotus faction’s presence and you can do this in a number of ways. Scattered throughout the wasteland are enemy scarecrows, snipers, camps, convoys, and minefields. You’ll want to destroy the scarecrows and convoys, kill the enemy snipers, dismantle the camps, and defuse the mines to reduce the threat level in a territory. The minefields are easily the worst because you need to drive your buggy which has a dog in it that will locate exactly where the mines are. Unfortunately, you can’t fast travel with the buggy or you’ll just revert back to the Opus so you have to drive to each location which can be tedious and the minefields just aren’t fun. They feel more like a chore. Lowering the threat levels is important because as they lower, new Magnum Opus upgrades are unlocked. The Strongholds are full of projects that can be completed to not only improve them but also benefit Max. Each project requires parts that can be found throughout the wasteland. You can visit a project in a stronghold and track where the parts are on the map which is really nice. Once you acquire all the parts you can complete the project which results in rewards like a cleanup crew that automatically acquires scrap from vehicles you destroy in the territory, a scrap crew which means you accumulate scrap whenever the game is not running, a maggot farm which restores your health whenever you enter the stronghold, and other useful stuff. Every stronghold has the same projects and the project parts are usually found at scavenge locations or inside enemy camps.
Scrap is the currency in Mad Max and you will need it to upgrade Max and the Magnum Opus. Some upgrades will be locked behind specific missions, ranks, or threat levels and once they’re unlocked you need the scrap to buy them. Littered throughout the wasteland are scavenge locations which include scrap. Enemy camps usually include a lot of scrap and you may come across scrap vehicles that can be delivered to any Stronghold, rewarding you with a ton of scrap. Any camps you’ve dismantled are taken over by a friendly faction and you’ll automatically receive scrap in intervals and the amount you receive depends on how many camps you’ve dismantled. The scrap crew project in the strongholds is probably one of the most beneficial because every time you turn off the game, you’ll accumulate scrap as long as you’re still connected to the internet. You’ll come across NPCs throughout the wasteland that usually provide helpful information on something like intel on camps or loot. Every now and then you’ll have to watch out for storms that are extremely dangerous and you’re always encouraged to look for shelter if one is approaching. These storms can make it hard to see and cause damage to Max and the Magnum Opus. However, storms usually result in MUTHALOOT crates flying around and if you find and break one, you’re rewarded with a good amount of scrap. The wasteland can be pretty overwhelming, especially when you see all the icons on the map. But the good thing is, there’s always something to do everywhere you go. Whether it’s visiting scavenge locations to acquire scrap and other items or engaging convoys, competing in Death Runs, dismantling camps, or driving off epic jumps, there’s always something to do. Scattered throughout the wasteland are vantage outposts which act as fast travel points. But unlocking one as a fast travel point isn’t as simple as just visiting it. You need to jump into the balloon and ascend into the sky where you can use your binoculars to locate points of interest that will then become visible on your map. Some of the balloons or the generators powering them are out of fuel so you will have to refuel them or complete specific objectives before you can get the balloon into the air. History relics can be found everywhere and these are just pictures and/or text from people and events that pre-date the apocalypse. They add a little backstory and lore.
As much as I enjoy Mad Max, there’s no denying it’s a repetitive game. All story and wasteland missions have you either retrieving items, killing NPCs, infiltrating enemy locations, and a few other things like that. The most interesting thing about the missions is probably the locations they take you to. You’ll get to navigate through an airport and a Church buried under the ground, among some other unique locations. Outside of missions, you’ll primarily traverse through camps, caves, underground hideouts, and destroyed buildings and structures. Not that these are bad, they actually help to make the world feel post-apocalyptic and as atmospheric as it does, but they also make some of the more unique locations that much more memorable. There are several wasteland missions you can complete, otherwise known as side missions, and they are worth it because the rewards can be anything from unlocking new upgrades to new vehicles for your collection. There’s not a huge amount of variety when it comes to the mission design but it’s obvious that the game focuses more on the stuff you can do in the world rather than the missions and progressing the story. In fact, there’s not really that many story missions total. Story progression and length is just padded out with everything you can and should be doing in between. If you just try to blow through the story as quickly as you can, you’ll probably be ill-equipped and underprepared for the threats in the later missions. But taking your time in between missions to collect scrap, complete wasteland missions, lower threat levels, and purchase upgrades for the Magnum Opus will make things a lot easier later on. But that means doing the same things all the time. Lowering the threat levels and improving Strongholds requires you to do the same exact thing in every territory. And as you progress through the wasteland, the enemies get tougher and enemy vehicles have better armor so the challenge increases, almost forcing you to take your time so you’re properly prepared. It always comes down to this; complete missions, scavenge for scrap, lower the threat levels, upgrade Max, upgrade the Magnum Opus, proceed to the next territory, rinse and repeat. If the gameplay wasn’t so enjoyable, the repetition would be a serious problem. The only reason I didn’t give up on the game sooner is because the developers managed to create some of the most satisfying melee combat and enjoyable vehicular combat I’ve ever seen in an open world game like this. Plus, unlocking upgrades is addictive. So even if I have to repeat the same stuff over and over again, doing it is always fun with the minefields being the only exception.
The enemy camps may be one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game. Every camp requires you to do something specific to dismantle it like blowing up tanks or defeating a top dog for example. Each camp has a difficulty level and getting into them is not always easy to do. There’s usually an NPC near a camp that can provide you intel on it like if there’s a another way in besides the main entrance, if there are project parts or history relics inside, and other useful information. You honestly don’t need this intel, especially if the Magnum Opus is properly equipped for the perimeter defenses and you take the time to explore the camp once inside. Perimeter defenses include things like sniper towers, hazards like fire blocking the entrance, and/or enemies hurling thundersticks at you. You may have to use the harpoon to break through the camp’s barricade, maybe ram through it instead, or find an alternate way in. If the camp is alerted to your presence you’ll need to eliminate the perimeter defenses quickly otherwise they become buffed after a certain amount of time. Once inside the camp, you’ll have to find your way to your objectives. You’ll engage enemies, blow through doors, and to find all the scrap and items in a camp requires a little exploring. You have to watch out for War Criers that will alert enemies to your presence and buff them after a certain amount of time so the War Criers should always be priority targets. Camps will include branching paths and out of the way rooms housing goodies so you should always take the time to look around. There’s always a certain amount of Scrotus insignias scattered around each camp, some of which are not always in plain sight and you’ll want to destroy these. Completing the objectives, collecting all the items, and destroying all the insignias will result in the camp being one hundred percent completed. Dismantling a camp lowers the threat level in a territory and it can be used as shelter during storms. Much like the rest of the game, the camps, too, can become repetitive. While each camp requires you to complete an objective, they all seem to play out the same, the only difference being the camp layouts. Some are rather large and intricate while others are small and easier to navigate.
At various spots throughout the wasteland are Death Runs you can compete in. They’re basically races but not only do you have to reach the finish line first, you have to do it before the timer reaches zero. If you can beat the legendary time, you’ll be rewarded with a Griffa Token. Most race types don’t allow you to drive the Magnum Opus but instead, you’ll be forced to drive another vehicle that will be added to your collection upon winning the race and some Death Runs allow you to win more than one. There are different types of races like Scatter Run which requires you to reach the finish line first. Time Bomb forces you to race against time and enemies will try to destroy you. Opus Wars is the only race type that allows you to drive your own Magnum Opus and you can race against your best times and the best times of your friends. And then there’s Barrel Bash where you need to drive into any of the barrels located at every checkpoint. Scatter Run and Time Bomb don’t force you to stay on the recommended route but Barrel Bash will. I enjoy the fact that Death Runs are more than just traditional racing events and I like that they contain a bit of action and vehicular combat. But, honestly, I wouldn’t participate in Death Runs just like I wouldn’t participate in any races in other open world games voluntarily if there wasn’t a beneficial reward. Regardless, if you enjoy racing and/or combat racing, Death Runs can be fun.
I would say Mad Max is a good looking game. The texture work is excellent, animations are great and fluid and compliment the action, the skies look amazing, and everything is well detailed. Dirt and debris kick up as you navigate the sandy environments. When a storm is approaching, you can actually see a massive cloud of dirt and sand heading your way before being shrouded in high winds and deadly lightning strikes which, by the way, look incredible. As you beat enemies to death you can see parts of their faces smeared with blood. You’ll come across destroyed car bodies on fire throughout the world. Dead bodies will be lying on the ground, or in cages, or hanging from structures. Maggots can be found on carcasses. Tires, car parts, and garbage will be littered all over the environments. And Mad Max includes some of the best looking explosions and fire effects I’ve ever seen in a video game. You can utilize the capture mode to pause the gameplay, allowing you to apply different filters and effects and take pictures which I did often when I played this on PS4. The game does a great job at capturing the look and feel of the films and there’s a gritty quality to it all that helps to make the world feel like a truly violent and hostile place. When it comes to the music, I found it easy to drown out but the tunes sounds tense and dramatic although I can’t say any songs stuck with me. The sound effects here phenomenal. From the roar of the engines to the booming sounds of explosions, everything sounds great. The shotgun just sounds beastly and intimidating when fired and the sounds of the punches, kicks, and melee weapons sound satisfying. Every strike landed and neck snapped looks and sounds painful. On the technical side, the game ran pretty smooth. There were some hitches like random pauses here and there but I can’t say the frame rate ever really dipped from what I noticed. The only significant issue I encountered was the game freezing on me which only happened once.
I really enjoyed my time with Mad Max and it has become one of my favorite open world games of the generation. Unfortunately, there’s no real end game. Once you’ve acquired everything and lowered all the threat levels to zero, there’s not much left to do. Unlike other open world games where you can still mess around in the world and just do your own thing even after you’ve completed everything, all the fun in Mad Max is tied to activities and locations. The wasteland is exactly that, a wasteland. It’s a desert. It’s a post-apocalyptic world that’s run by crazies and lunatics and once the enemies are eliminated so is the fun that goes along with them. Granted, it will take you a while to complete everything this game has to offer but the replay value is kind of low unless you enjoy replaying through it all and unlocking everything again. I don’t really see it as a huge issue just due to how long it would take you to complete everything anyway but one of the things I like about open world games is that they can keep me coming back, allowing me to do shit or cause chaos like the GTA titles for example. I really wish this game had a New Game Plus type of mode or at least allowed you to repopulate the camps. Regardless, what’s here is extremely enjoyable and even though it’s repetitive, I found it hard to stop playing at times. What makes Mad Max stand out is the satisfying melee and vehicular combat and all the upgrades. But other than that, there’s not a lot here that we haven’t seen before. Mad Max is a perfect example of a game that highlights my opinion that gameplay is the most important aspect of any video game. More so than anything else. It’s fun to play. Mad Max doesn’t revolutionize the genre and the story is basically average, but the gameplay is the real driving force behind it that kept me playing. The world is well crafted and detailed, the melee combat feels brutal and rewarding, and the vehicular combat is fun and has some depth to it. The vehicle and character upgrades made me feel like I was always growing and progressing and acquiring new upgrades is an addictive process.
I would absolutely recommend Mad Max to fans of the film series and open world action games. If you don’t enjoy the freeflow melee combat system, you may have a very different experience playing this than I did. Vehicular combat and freeflow melee combat are what make the game what it is so if you don’t enjoy either of those things, this may not be the game for you. Visually, Mad Max is quite the spectacle whether it’s watching Max pin an enemy against a wall and beat him to death, watching something explode, or just stopping to look around at the detailed environments, there’s always something to admire. But it’s the gameplay that kept me going and despite its flaws, I never felt like I wanted to rush to the end. I thoroughly enjoyed every combat situation I got myself into and would always seek out new camps and locations to explore. Mad Max is a repetitive but fun adventure. Definitely check it out.