Mad Max is a complete paradox. I takes place in a barren wasteland, but its chock-full of incredible stuff to do. The hand-to-hand combat isn’t necessarily unique if you’ve played the Arkham games,Shadow of Mordor,Sleeping Dogs etc.,but the unique brutality of it still makes a well-worn combat system incredibly satisfying, no matter how many times you’re forced to fight your way out of a situation. Customizing a car and using it on the open road is far from a fresh idea in the gaming industry, but the amount of detail that goes into customizing your personal car makes your vehicle truly feel as if it’s an extension of yourself. Even the story, which plays out familiar tropes from both the Mad Max-verse and Hollywood feels memorable thanks to some great performances. In essence, Mad Max is a game that lacks fresh concepts, but (ironically enough, since it takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland) is resourceful enough to recycle many well-worn themes in the gaming industry and make them feel fresh again. Should it work? Absolutely not. But when it shines, the game really is something to behold.
There’s really not much to explain here; after a stellar opening cutscene, Max is bereft of his signature gear and black-on-black Interceptor, and must work with a new companion Chumbucket (who believes Max is a saint in his personal religion), who is obsessed with helping Max build a vehicle capable of crossing the only place Max believes can give him peace, The Plains of Silence. Again, as story goes this is an Avalanche Studios game; it’s light, and it’s clearly not the focus of the game. Avalanche has always recognized their own specialty in beautiful, albeit mindless action-centric gameplay. The story is short enough that you could beat it in about ten hours but you won’t want to, simply because of how much effect the side-content has on the world, but more on that in a second. Were it not for Bren Foster’s truly remarkable performance as Max, the story would have truly been forgettable. He does a fantastic job of acting out a mentally tortured and morally conflicted character who isn’t sure if there is such a thing as right or wrong anymore. Aside from him, the story (especially the ending), leaves more than a little to be desired.
Story gets a 6.5/10
This is where Mad Max shines without a shadow of a doubt. Again, nothing in the game is necessarily original; the combat has a strong Sleeping Dogs/Batman influence, but it sets itself apart by adding a new twist to the familiar, “counter this, punch that” by adding chain strikes, which have the player press the attack button repeatedly, then hold it down for a brutal K.O. move if enough damage has been inflicted. There’s also disposable shivs, and the optional use of Max’s signature sawed-off shotgun, but but these are last minute options; the game adheres to the idea that resources are limited, and even if you improve your ammo pouch to the maximum, it all falls pretty fast. Vehicular combat oddly enough plays a very small role surprisingly; the game encourages you to personalize your own signature vehicle, the Magnum Opus, but it rarely requires you to actually use that vehicle against enemies.Oddly enough, this actually works for the game. The Magnum Opus can be customized to look and function exactly how you want it to, but there is no perfect vehicle. A Magnum Opus that has little to no armor gives you time to save for a faster V6 or V8 engine and larger exhaust pipes, but it means if you get attacked by a roaming group of bandits, you’ve only got whatever weapons you have on board, and considering that said weapons only have so much ammunition, your options are limited. On the other hand, investing in turning it into a tank means that the Opus is practically impregnable, but is far slower than the former option. This is probably the most unique feature of Mad Max, and easily one of it’s best; the game rarely forces you out of your comfort zone, and has plenty of activities for any type of player. And you’ll want to do the side content; neglecting it and mindlessly pushing through the story will spell disaster as there’s not a lot of reward in completing a main story mission, and the more enemies you take out within a region, the safer it will become. So it’s in your best interest to take out as much side content as you can, not just for upgrades, but to ensure there aren’t any unexpected surprises in the middle of a mission. And honestly, the amount of content in the game is a little overwhelming; it’s not a “large” large world per se, but exploring the wasteland or searching through a massive half-buried airport can give anyone chills; not because of the sad atmosphere it leaves, but because the attention to detail is staggering. It was frightening how real the world felt exploring areas from before the apocalypse, especially when you find an old church or suburban home buried beneath the sand dunes. The rest of the game repeats familiar open-world tropes; here’s an outpost, conquer it to lower the threat in the area, oh hey look a secret entrance, look at how secret it is because we gratified the entire thing bright yellow so you’ll never find it, etc. etc. But again, it doesn’t matter that I’ve seen this before in every video game; Mad Max does just enough to feel familiar and at the same time distinguish itself fro its peers.
Gameplay gets an 8.5/10
In the end, Mad Max is exactly what a Mad Max game needs to be; it’s not perfect, it doesn’t try to tell a powerful story, and it encourages you to wander in the Wasteland to see what secrets it has to offer. It’s a flawed gem, and I’m more than ok with that. In an age where every game constantly tries to do everything and appeal to every kind of player, it’s nice to play something that understands it’s flaws as much as it’s strengths. It’s not a game for everyone, but everyone will find at least one interesting thing about the game. There’s so much more I could mention, but it’s better to see for yourself just how many maggots you can eat, how many vehicles you can blow up, and just how long you can survive in a world fueled by insanity.
It’s an 8/10, and I definitely recommend getting this one down the road (pun intended).
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