What a lovely game
Mad Max is not Fury Road: The Game. While developer Avalanche – a studio most famous for the stunt action filled Just Cause series – takes many visual inspirations from this year’s movie, you won’t see any of Tom Hardy here. Where Fury Road was a furious, focused chase across the wastes, this Max’s adventure is a huge, sprawling open world experience that sets you loose in gorgeous, visceral vision of post apocalypse.
This structural shift works fantastically well for a game, and its setup is relatively simple – Max gets left bloodied in the sand after a brutal confrontation with the warlord Scabrous Scrotus, who further rubs sand in Max’s wounds by stealing his beloved car. With less and less to live for, Max teams up with Chumbucket, a hunchbacked black-finger mechanic who quite literally worships everything that runs on gasoline. Together, they aim to build the Magnum Opus, the car to beat all cars, with Max’s end goal being to drive to the Plains of Silence.
The Max you play here is a classic take on Miller’s original - a gruff, brutish Australian who delivers one-line melodrama rather than remaining mute for the majority of the plot. His reasons for going to the Plains so are pretty unexplained throughout, and the main story takes a major backseat for most of the game’s runtime. This works mostly in the game’s favour, providing you with context for your actions without over complicating matters. You’re left to get on with things, doing favours for the wasteland’s minor warlords in exchange for new parts and upgrades for your car.
Max’s missions themselves are repetitive, but this rote open world thrives on a satisfying upgrade loop that keeps you doing basic but enjoyable tasks for new rewards and upgrades. By taking down Scrotus’ minor camps and killing his Top Dog lieutenants, ripping down intimidating totems, killing snipers and clearing minefields throughout the wastes, you’ll lessen the warlord’s influence in the world. This opens up new upgrades and modifications for the Opus and for Max himself, which you can purchase using scrap, the game’s currency.
Taking the Opus from a piece of bustling scrap to a legitimate war rig is immensely satisfying, and the car combat you’ll get stuck into as you traverse the desert dust is some of the best around. Chassis crunch and petrol tanks explode as metal machines collide on the open road. There’s an exhilarating sense of speed, and the sand, dust and rubble feels hot. You can modify the Opus with spikes, tougher armor, greater nitro, flamethrowers and more, all of which benefits you in taking down feral wastelanders. There are different car specialties to build out of unique parts, and completely different cars to steal from other factions to use as your own. It’s a deep, fabulously rewarding customisation system that keeps you pushing forward.
Setting off on a long drive takes you through a beautiful and surprisingly varied range of environments, from the salt-flats of an evaporated seabed with shipwrecks protruding from the dust, to an international airport half submerged under enormous sand dunes. There are coastal highways, crumbling overpasses and gas stations, as well as enormous strongholds fashioned out of the ruins of the old world. The sky is a beautiful mix of blinding light blues and deep reds, and the world transforms as the day/night cycle progresses. The game also takes cues from one of Fury Road’s best scenes, with a dynamic storm system that sends apocalyptic winds and lightning strikes your way.
Much of the satisfaction that comes from upgrading the Opus also applies to leveling Max with new gear and better abilities, but the melee combat is a slimmed down, simplified version of the Batman Arkham series’ brawling that doesn’t compare to the wheel-to-wheel action. It relies on a two-button attack/parry system, and while Max’s fisticuffs have been slowed and made weightier to match Max’s physique, the combat still falls short. Fighting goons is meaty but basic. Further survivalist elements like searching for food, water and fuel are perfect for rooting you in this harsh world, but never become too prevalent to guide the action toward having to soullessly hunt for resources.
Mad Max is repetitive but an altogether satisfying adventure through one of the meatiest post apocalyptic settings ever. A heavy reliance on basic mission structures detracts from an otherwise wonderfully authentic setting with exhilarating car combat, and in a year filled with such exemplary open worlds as The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V, there’s definitely a sense that Mad Max has been released at the wrong time. But at its core, Mad Max’s fabulous sense of progression and the carnage of car combat keep its engine running.