Max Rockatansky, to most of my generation, is a household name and regardless of your opinion of the actor who originally played him, the Mad Max series stands proudly among my favourite movie franchises. So when Warner announced the video game release that was scheduled in conjunction with, but not directly tied in to, the Mad Max reboot I was both excited and apprehensive. Throughout the years, we have all seen the disastrous movie tie-ins that have plagued the consoles of years gone by.
Avalanche have taken to re-imagining the road warrior with their own vision, albeit with striking similarities to George Millers 1979 original and his 2015 reboot.
Mad Max opens with Max, in his recognisable black on black interceptor, running from Scabrous Scrotus, Ruler of GasTown and son of Immortan Joe, after stealing fuel for his long trek across the wastelands Plains of Silence. Although putting up a good fight, and managing to fatally wound Scrotus , he is left to die in the wastes and all his belongings are taken by Scrotus’ war boys.
At this point, you encounter the first of many “unique” characters that you will discover in the area. Chumbucket, a deformed hunchback with a gift for mechanics, and a strange religious fervour identifies you as the saint, destined to help him complete the magnum opus, a vehicle of epic proportions and the ability to survive anything the wasteland throws at it. With your interceptor now stripped for parts, you venture out into the wastes with Chumbucket to obtain the parts required to finish the Opus and continue your pilgrimage across the plains. In order to do so, you must barter with the small pockets of survivors controlling the lands and help them remove the influence of Scrotus, his lieutenants and their war boy raiding parties.
Disposing of Scrotus influence comes in many guises; you can remove his grotesque scarecrows that mark his territory, take out his sniper towers strategically placed throughout the wasteland, ambush and destroy his convoys, or take over and destroy his fuel distribution lines by securing his war camps.
These war camps form the main avenue to reduce the threat in each subsequent sphere of influence, which is tied directly into bigger and better upgrades for the Opus. Typically, each of these camps are heavily defended with snipers, molotov towers, Thunderpoon towers and war criers along side the regular denizens of the camp, that must be taken out in order to “cleanse” the area. More often than not, an allied wastelander can be found that will grant you insight into the camp at large, including any alternative means of access.
These breach points are typically marked out in the same way as other interactive elements of the environment, with yellow paint signifying a platform that can be scaled or a small crack that can be squeezed through. With Max’s rather lacklustre jumping ability, and the lack of scalability found in most modern open world games it was a slight shock to return to this old school method of interaction.
Within the first few hours of the game, you begin to see the heavy influences previous games have had on the design decisions within Mad Max. Slow motion mechanics activate when aiming your harpoon or shotgun that is reminiscent of the other Max, while combat has a heft to it, while still retaining the rock/paper/scissors style of the Batman games. One button controls all context sensitive attacks, both light and heavy, another your obligatory soft and perfect counter ability, which is timing related, and a third controls your dodge. Combining these three controls with situational animations, Max’s fury ability (which adds damage and heft to each blow), your trademark shotgun, and an upgradable combat path for additional passive abilities, allows each fight to play out in a symphony of pugilism that will bring a smile to your face.
Graphically, Mad Max is a bit of a mixed bag. Although both the wasteland in which you adventure, and the cars in which you drive and battle look crisp and appealing, the character models themselves leave a lot to be desired. Max himself, styled after the original character and equipped with his MFP leathers and leg brace as seen in Mad Max 2, seems atypically generic and is primarily redeemed by the voice work of Bren Foster with his interpretation of the Road Warrior.
Throughout the wasteland, you will recover relics of the past that give you insight into the world before the events that caused this dystopian nightmare, as well as scraps that can be used by Chumbucket to upgrade the Magnum Opus as well as be used to upgrade Max’s apparel. Although at first this seemed a little ridiculous, when the cobbled together upgrade appears, it made perfect sense. Whether it be a second or third firing tube on your shotgun, or bolts sewn into your gloves to improve your punching damage, they look like they have been assembled using the odds and sods found throughout the badlands.
In the bleak wilderness of Max’s world there are two further main resources besides the scrap you collect, fuel to keep the magnum opus turning over and water to do the same for Max. While initially this felt like a burden that would make voyaging out into the desert a challenge unto itself, sadly the resource management is too flexible, with fuel found throughout and water in good supply throughout the world at large. As such, both of these mechanics ended up feeling more of an inconvenience than a core, essential mechanic.
This is in no small part due to the character leveling system. Completing missions and eroding the influence of Scrotus throughout the land will cause your Legend to grow, acquiring you greater reputation among the free citizens of the wastes. This will earn you points to spend with the wandering mystic Griffa. Attending to him will allow you to increase Max’s abilities including being able to get more mileage out of the fuel you have in the opus, gather more water when tapping its sources, or even do more damage with melee weapons. This simple levelling system quickly renders the management of those, not so elusive, resources obsolete.
The story has been kept relatively simple although there are a few imaginative set pieces and cut scenes that lift it from obscurity. Each of the characters he encounters are merely means to an end, and to them so too is Max. Chumbucket, Jeet, Pink Eye, Gutgash, Hope and Deep Friah; they are all simply resources to be used and then cast aside when they are of no further benefit. This is the law of the land, survival is only assured while your usefulness remains. Max has a single goal, to cross the Plains of Silence and each of the people he meets has some primary function in facilitating this goal. What he is running from or to is never truly revealed, but then in this land where madness grips most of the inhabitants, reason is not something that is in ready supply. The bleakness of the world permeates every aspect of the game, from the characters attitudes to the environment at large.
This said, the typical flaw of the open world game is self -evident throughout. Random encounter spawns tend to vanish while you are still in relative proximity, and in certain sections, should I follow the story too rigidly, characters who were in one location would reappear without explanation or context in a subsequent story beat minutes later. Coupled with the side quest system these characters provide sometimes creates a disconnect between the main story beats and the optional objectives, rather than drawing all the parts together in one seamless whole.
Each of your host warlords strongholds are upgradeable by collecting project parts distributed throughout the wasteland, each of which benefit you in some fashion; whether it be refilling your fuel or water supplies, sending scavengers out into the wastes to pick over the carcasses of the enemy vehicles you have destroyed or even refilling your ammunition.
In Mad Max the task of travelling from one objective to the next is the most enjoyable section of the game, and through that the drudgery and repetition that would normally occur in an open world game of this type is nullified by the sheer spectacle of traversing the wasteland in your customised, super powered death machine. The roar of the engine reminding you of the breakneck speeds at which you are driving, and the addictive, brutal car combat combine to make you forget what you are doing and just enjoy the power of the magnum opus at its finest.
Besides the flaws highlighted above, Mad Max is a huge, enjoyable and utterly enveloping world which, although mostly devoid of life, is full of collectables, side missions and people to encounter.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 7.5/10 Format: Xbox One/PS4/PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Mad Max by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.