Prior to getting Mad Max on PS4 I had never seen any of the Mad Max films (sad, I know). After only a few hours of playing I ran out and bought the Mad Max Anthology and watched all four films in a single sitting before playing the game again. This way I could understand the lore, world, and Max himself a little better. I can honestly say the game does the film series justice.
The game opens with Max on a journey to the Plains of Silence when he is attacked by a group of War Boys lead by the main antagonist, Scrotus (son of Immortan Joe). They steal everything from Max including his iconic vehicle, the Interceptor, and leave him to rot in the desert. Now with nothing, Max is forced to traverse the wasteland searching for his Interceptor. Along the way he meets a hunchback named Chumbucket who is obsessed with building the ultimate vehicle called the Magnum Opus. Max and Chumbucket join together in the wasteland in search of food, water, and scraps to improve the Magnum Opus. Needless to say Max meets an interesting cast of characters on his journey but, Sadly, most of them are not memorable. The story in Mad Max is weak but is accompanied by addicting gameplay.
Most of the time you will be roaming the wasteland looking for scrap to upgrade your vehicle and Max himself. There’s no shortage of things to do but some may find the game repetitive. You’ll raid camps, fight top dogs (you may even call these boss fights), participate in death races, disable mines, and more. The game world is huge, beautiful, and may even seem overwhelming at first but you’ll soon know what to expect when entering new territories. Camps are littered throughout the wasteland and to take them over Max must kill all the enemies, blow up some fuel tanks, blow up the oil refinery, or kill the top dog. The camps all feel unique in design but nothing about the process of taking them over changes. The combat is almost exactly the same as the Arkham series (freeflow combat) but much more brutal. From stabbing enemies with a shiv to blasting an enemy away with Max’s iconic shotgun, the combat is always satisfying. All the basic elements of freeflow combat are here, you press and hold buttons to attack, when enemies are about to attack you you have a few seconds to perform a parry, some attacks you can’t parry so you must dodge. None of the fights are too difficult and that applies to the top dog fights as well which is disappointing. Basically they are all bark and no bite. Top dogs can absorb more damage than regular enemies and all of the fights play out the same but in different environments.
It seems the biggest focus of the game is collecting scrap. Scrap is used for upgrading the Magnum Opus and Max himself. You’ll always be on the lookout for scrap so you can purchase that next upgrade. You need to be careful as too much armor will make the Magnum Opus top heavy affecting performance. There is a lot to upgrade including suspension, tires, armor, side burners, exhaust, and more. Offensive upgrades like spikes will make it harder for on-foot enemies to board the Magnum Opus and upgrading the tires will improve handling and make it easier to drive off-road. As for Max, you want to be sure he’s upgraded adequately. Even though the hand-to-hand combat is not that challenging when you’re up against several of enemies at once you may want to have Max equipped with some decent armor so he can withstand a few blows. Any upgrades to Max’s appearance don’t cost any scrap which is good because you’ll need all the scrap you can get for more important things. With the Magnum Opus and Max himself, there’s plenty of things to upgrade and not once in my playthrough did I ever find myself with an overabundance of scrap.
Not only is scrap used for upgrading Max and the Magnum Opus but it can also be used to improve the four strongholds throughout the wasteland. Each stronghold acts like a base allowing Max to store the Magnum Opus, restore health, ammo, fuel, and more if the appropriate projects have been completed. The strongholds are all pretty much the same and contain the same projects to complete. For example building a “maggot farm” in a stronghold will allow Max’s health to be fully restored whenever he enters that stronghold. Each project requires the project parts and these parts are scattered throughout various camps in the wasteland. Luckily you can walk up to an incomplete project and press a button to mark which camps have the parts on your map. Completing projects improves the strongholds and when a stronghold is “improved” it is indicated by a brief cut scene and you will notice visual changes within it. They can also be improved by donating certain amounts of scrap, usually large amounts. This is all fine good but nothing really differentiates the strongholds as they all contain the same aspects.
One of the coolest things about Mad Max is the vehicular combat. You’ll frequently encounter enemy vehicles in the wasteland and they will try and kill you. When you first obtain the Magnum Opus it’s pretty weak and you’ll find that any enemy that rams into you will cause a significant amount of damage. Once you start upgrading the Opus you’ll be able to decimate enemy vehicles with ease. The most effective offensive weapon you will obtain for the Opus is, by far, the harpoon. It can rip off doors and tires of enemy vehicles, take out enemies, as well as bring down towers and gated doors. Luckily you get the harpoon early on and it would be wise to upgrade it immediately. Destroying enemy vehicles is another way to obtain scrap and never seems to get old. Mad Max even includes a photo mode which allows players to pause the gameplay and take cinematic pictures that can be shared via social media. The photo mode comes packed with different filters and camera effects that can make for some really amazing shots.
Mad Max definitely has it’s fair share of issues including muted sounds, repeating sound effects, technical issues, and frame rate drops. Sound issues seem to plague the game. The sound of the Magnum Opus would frequently cut out or become muffled for a brief period of time. At one point I was driving around and could only hear the sounds of wind as if Max was just standing out in the open. It seems that after playing for long periods of time the frame rate would start to drop and seemed to get worse over time. Every now and again I would pause the game or view the map screen and a sound effect from the gameplay would endlessly repeat. I found pausing the game again resolved that issue. The biggest detriment to the gameplay is the on-foot camera. Objects would obscure my view, especially in combat which can become frustrating. Many times during a fight with multiple foes the camera would zoom in making me unable to see enemies about to attack. I really hope Avalanche Studios releases a patch to address these issues some time down the road.
Mad Max is a game that has a lot going for it. It sticks to the source material rather well while delivering fun and addicting gameplay. It’s repetitive nature and lack of multiplayer may not appeal to some and it’s technical issues can be hard to ignore at times but it’s the gameplay that really drives the experience. From the excellent brutal hand-to-hand combat to the fast and fun vehicular mayhem, Mad Max kept me coming back for more. Fans of the open world genre and even the Mad Max films will find a lot to enjoy here. Hopefully there are plans for DLC and maybe even a sequel.