Technology - 64%
Presentation - 83%
Design Theory - 14%
Gameplay - 42%
Story - 6%
Value - 25%
If you’ve seen Mad Max: Fury Road this summer, I hope you agree with me that it’s an absolute tour de force of exploitation cinema. Beautifully shot, brilliantly presented and with just enough story to justify two of the biggest, baddest car chases in cinema history. The game however is sorely lacking that bombastic Mad Max flavour.
If you need bringing up to speed, Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic story set in a gigantic desert wasteland which was once Australia. Civilisation has been reduced to feral tribes, living in shanty towns and eating cans of dog food. The cause of the apocalypse is a constant mystery, as is the amount of time since the fall of civilisation. The factors which give Mad Max its unique flavour is that nearly everybody is insane; petrol is the most valuable substance left on the world, with cars and machinery elevated to godlike reverence. The majority of people in this world are jabbering Aussie mentalists and everything is covered in spikes and skulls. The world of Mad Max has inspired everything from Fallout to Warhammer, and both Raff and I were really looking forward to this game.
Story may not be one of Mad Max’s strong points, but I honestly don’t remember what the story for this game is. Max is just pulled from pillar to post over the game’s enormous desert in fetch quest after fetch quest. If you know anything about Mad Max, it’s that he’s a stoic loner only doing what it takes to survive. Everywhere he goes in this game though, there’s someone asking for his help in retrieving something from miles away. Where movie Mad Max would just tell these freeloaders to piss off, game Mad Max is all too happy to help. Every story event is driven by fetch quests, and some are even the dreaded fetch quest within a fetch quest. I hate fetch quests anyway, but thematically they fly in the face of what Mad Max is all about. Further to that point, I have no idea where Avalanche Studios dreamt up the cringeworthy names for the people which Max encounters in the course of the story. Every character is a dick joke or occasionally an anus joke. Seriously, it’s that puerile. It’s like the locations and character names were thought up by a thirteen year-old boy. Lord Scrotus. Rim Jobbie. I really don’t want to go on, it’s embarrassing.
The disjointed relationship the Mad Max game has with its namesake franchise continues when Max spends so much time outside of his car. The car is as much a character as Max and has an upgrade tree several times bigger than Max’s. In fact, Max shouldn’t set foot out of the car. Far too much time in Mad Max is spent on foot. With a melée-heavy combat system which can’t hold a candle to even the first Batman Arkham game, the foot sections are bland and uninteresting but still make up the lion’s share of the game.
Side quests are liberally pinched from Far Cry with radio tower-style outposts, camps which need to be conquered and lost-letter mementos from the before-time. Mad Max diverts dramatically from Far Cry though, when some of the main story missions require Max to grind through a number of side quests before he can complete that particular story mission. This is commonplace and makes the game feel like a grind from start to finish. Dotted about the game’s massive desert though, are specific side quests which dwarf the main story missions in terms of enjoyment, and that’s the convoy routes. Once Max has upgraded his car with sufficient offensive and defensive options, the convoys become the glue which holds this game together. Roaring through dusty trails, fighting against a dozen armoured cars is exactly what Mad Max should be about. A convoy sequence will likely feature War Boys leaping from their trucks to board Max’s car, Max’s hunchbacked co-pilot firing their ghetto rocket launcher at a bespiked lorry before nitro-boosting into the car in front. The convoy sections are fun and creative but are sorely lacking in number. The game should have been mainly furious car-based combat, rather than bland, readily-served fetch quests. The convoys are the proper game! Why couldn’t we have more of this? Avalanche stumbled over the formula for the perfect Mad Max game, then relegated it to a series of side missions that aren’t required and can easily be skipped over.
I’ve spent close to 70-hours getting 100% on Arkham Knight recently, and one thing I can say about that game is that driving the Batmobile sucks. Mad Max feels like a breath of fresh exhaust fumes and rightly so, as the game should be about driving more than anything else. The open, sandy environments lend themselves to generally mucking about in Max’s ratty, dieselpunk car. Thematically, Mad Max is perfectly at home smashing into everything and being on fire a lot of the time. So whilst the driving may not be much cop in the grand scheme of things, it at least feels organic and part of the game experience, rather than something awkwardly shoehorned in to provide the illusion of escalation.
In closing, Mad Max is a series of boring fetch quests lashed together with a forgettable story and a handful of dick jokes, masquerading as a Mad Max video game. It steals ideas from every great franchise of the last five years and offers nothing original in return. For a franchise that inspired (among others) Fallout, it’s an awful irony that Mad Max feels so empty.