If open world games containing myriads of free-roaming content tickle your fancy, Avalanche Studios’ new Mad Max title might just fill the completionist void inside of you. A third person action game that takes cues from many others that share the genre, can Mad Max differentiate itself from its peers, or will the inevitable repetition set in before reaching its conclusion?
Those familiar with the Mad Max franchise in any way will instantly recognise the plight, and indeed tone of the game straight from the off. After some fun with an inordinately large fellow and a chainsaw on a stick, you’re left for dead in the sand without food, water and more importantly, your car. Fortunately for you, a hunchbacked wastelander called Chumbucket (of course bearing no relation to Plankton’s restaurant in Spongebob) sees potential in your driving skills and vows to help create the Magnum Opus alongside you.
After a brief tutorial, it won’t be long before you’ll see how potentially problematic Max’s momentum and inertia fuelled movement can be, combined with the games rather odd choice of control schemes. Not only is the layout itself bizarre, using L2 to jump for example, in a game where I’ve never once needed to jump, is strange in and of itself, never mind when you consider that you’ll hold X to climb all of the games’ ledges. Amongst other things, X is used for general interacting, shiv finishers, executions and more, meaning that at some point, Max will perform something unintentional at the worst possible time.
Speaking of some awkward controls, Max’s interactions almost entirely rely upon holding a button to do something, whether it be getting in your car, switching to the sniper rifle, refuelling, healing, no matter what task you perform repeatedly, you have to hold a button. Now this shouldn’t really be as big of a deal as it is, but it just makes almost everything you do, a little more laborious than it needs to be and eventually starts to grind.
There are three main facets to Mad Max, and as you might expect, they come under driving, fighting and scavenging. What with your Magnum Opus essentially being as large of a stage presence as the titular Max himself, driving and the combat associated with it, needed to feel good; thankfully it is. Not only can you steal enemy rides and store them at strongholds, you can take them for a spin whenever you fancy, they’re potentially useful too due to their inherent ‘disguised from X faction’ abilities. But of course you’re not playing this to cruise in someone else’s spikey monstrosity; the game revolves around your car and its many possible upgrades that range from defensive armour, quicker acceleration and of course, Boadicea wheels. The handling model is surprisingly fun; it feels heavy and bulky at low speeds, giving you time to watch your exhaust sputter droplets of fire onto the floor, before feeling much more darting and twitchy at higher speeds.
This plays well when going up against other vehicles during the game, the ways of dispatching your enemies always seems to feel fresh, mainly in part because you’re encouraged to do so however you want. An exposed tank on the back of cars create opportunities for vast and exciting explosions via a careful shotgun blast, whilst harpooning an enemy straight from his vehicle and watching it helplessly crawl to a halt are endlessly entertaining. One of the games many side quests involve taking down convoys; rarely easy, yet they do provide some of the more memorable segments.
After the infectiously good vehicular warfare, the on-foot combat unfortunately doesn’t stack up. Despite feeling oh so satisfyingly brutal when you’re enraged and in slow-mo, almost every fight you get into will at some point irritate you. Whether it be the struggling, overly zoomed in camera that relies on constant rotary micromanagement, or the frustratingly unresponsive buttons that’ll have you seething through your teeth and arguing that, ‘I did actually press that’ before declaring shenanigans and moving on.
In terms of content, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Ubisoft had a hand in this. The map is littered with enemy camps to assault, places of interest to scavenge, scarecrows to pull down and sniper nests to irritate you whilst you’re busy with something else. The map-revealing mini game here is at least vaguely entertaining, you’ll pull up at a hot air balloon, maybe have a quick ruckus and a scavenge before ascending up and marking points on the map with your ‘long lookers’. Whilst none of it feels particularly unique nor original, there’s still that addictive yet therapeutic feeling you get when clearing the map on open world games.
Graphically, this has all the hallmarks of the company that brought us the excellent Just Cause 2. Being that whilst ancillary characters, enemies and NPC’s don’t look particularly exciting, it’s all about the landscape and over the top explosions that keep your eyes glued to the screen. It was the same case for Rico, it’s now the same case for Max, any opportunity to unnecessarily blow something up to see the resultant carnage is taken; along with any prospect of driving into a sunset, I daren’t combine the two in case my eyes can’t handle the glare and bloom effects.
In essence, Mad Max is almost entirely what you might expect, yet with some things being better and some unfortunately being worse. It features combat that could capably hold a candle to some of Assassin’s Creeds latest efforts, but will still ultimately fall short of denting Batman’s cowl. The vehicles handle well, and blowing up indescribably spikey cars never seems to get old. The vast, unforgiving scope of the landscape looks fantastic, along with the smaller details such as Chumbucket’s movement across the car, and his animations whilst leaning into corners and going over crests look great too. The audio is fantastic, engines growl and explosions shake your subwoofer, there’s also plenty fan service in terms of biographies and other unlockables to peruse too. What lets it down, and at the end of the day, could determine your enjoyment of the game are the controls, the camera, a decent possibility of repetition and for some, a story that frankly barely attempts to get your attention in the first place, never mind trying to hold it.