Of all film franchises that have had any influence of videogames, the one that I can imagine have made the deepest contribution has got to be the Mad Max series. Games like Borderlands and The Last of Us have painted gorgeously distopic experiences, each on their own unique way, based somewhat on what Mad Max has settled before.
So when a game based on a particularly popular movie franchise comes out nowadays, you can expect a variety of things. Usually, the source material doesn’t get nearly the amount of love it deserves, the opposite or somewhere in the middle, where it’s just a fun game with no particularly ambitious goal to impress. Mad Max falls in the middle one.
Similarly to Indiana Jones and how the Tomb Raider series, which was deeply based on that franchises core tenants — and was in itself ironically surpassed by another game franchise, Uncharted — Mad Max is quite simply a victim of the success of the open world games that have come before it.
It’s basically a game like Grand Theft Auto or Saint’s Row set in what’s supposed to be a much less populated world that is anything but. For a desert, Mad Max‘s setting is pretty lively, which is just the tip of some of the issues this game has in comparison to the iconic movies it’s supposed to be based on.
Another element that’s characteristic of the films is the overall lack of resources. Max is always after the next little bit of fuel that will get him to whatever haven he’s heading to in that particular movie. Nothing really is scarce in the game, though. Fuel cannisters are aplenty, as well as ammo for his trademark shotgun. Luckily, that’s practically the only divergence from the movies that helps gameplay somewhat, ironically enough — his gun never fails.
In fact, Max’s gun comes into play brilliantly throughout the game. As you drive and are bound to run into baddies, you’ll be able to defend yourself and have free aim to whatever part of the enemy’s car or person you want, to devastating effects. If your gun proves to be a weak match against a particular set of foes, your car’s weapons are bound to do the job, if you unlock them, that is. Avalanche Studios’ very own harpoon gun makes an appearance in this game, and boy is it brilliant. It allows you to hook into just about anything, tearing said part in order to send it flying.
Still, like it was aforementioned, you’ll have to unlock said armaments. That’s when dealing with the game’s factions comes in. The main baddie named Lord Scrotus (haha), who happens to be the son of Fury Road’s villain Imortan Joe — basically the only character reference to that movie, aside from Gas Town being part of the map and the War Boys you fight against — is threatening a handful of different war chiefs in the land. So every time you enter a new territory, you’re tasked with meeting and making friends with the local militia, who in turn, give you missions to partake in, in trade for schematics for you to upgrade your car with.
Upgrading the Magnum Ops, your aptly named ride after the destruction of Mad Max’s fantastically fragile (all things concerned) V-8 Interceptor, is a matter of gathering said plans and accruing an insane amount of scrap. That continuing curve of evolution is perhaps Mad Max‘s most fun feature, after its combat. Chum Bucket, Max’s companion for the game and mechanic, a weird mix between Quasimodo, Gollum and Igor, blended in with a religious zealot or two, rides around and keeps your car in shape after every battle, as well as give you tips on how you can improve its design.
It bears mentioning that the car design in this game is somewhat creative, if limited. You’re given a choice of a handful of body types, on which you place all the necessary bits for a car to run in a post-apocalyptic world, like shocks, tires and of course, spikes all over. The enemy’s fleet, though, is somewhat more inspired, even though it lacks the tacked on, improved, desperate feel of the vehicle designs seen in the movies. There’s also no bikes, which is slightly disappointing.
Still, Mad Max wouldn’t be a Warner Bros open world game without a tad of Batman’s combat system. Okay, there’s a LOT of that in this game. But that’s perfectly fine, because it’s probably one of the most fun aspects in this game. The combat in Mad Max is violent, cringing and completely over the top. More often than not, like in Batman: Arkham XYZ, you’ll face against a large number of foes, and that’s when the counter system will come into play. If you’ve played any of those games or even last year’s ridiculously entertaining Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, you’ll know what to expect, that is, counter icons to pop up and the ridiculously satisfying hits that come after it.
On the other hand, fist-to-fist doesn’t usually come into mind when thinking about Mad Max, past his infamous bout with Master Blaster within the Thuderdome in Mad Max 3, but that’s beyond the point here. We might not have asked for that much on foot combat in this game, even said we didn’t need another one like this, but it’s welcome nonetheless. With that reference out of the way, it’s worth noting how generic everything else in this game feels.
As an open world experience, it feels like Mad Max‘s designers were going off a template of what should be in a game of this type, without really thinking of its source material. For one, like mentioned before, there’s too many people in the wastelands. They don’t feel like wastes, for as beautifully rendered and varied as they are. And that blemish isn’t remedied by any variety in the side missions you’ll be doing. After your first couple of strikes at fuel refineries under Scrotus’ (haha) control or completing a few races, you’ll quickly realize there isn’t much else to do in Mad Max aside from getting through the story. And even then, what you do in the game besides experiencing its by-the-book revenge plot is just plain boring. Yeah, you don’t climb a tower in order to “synch” locales, you ride a balloon instead. And hey, sometimes it’s out of gas. Innovative!
Okay, okay, there’s plenty to go on about how much unfulfilled potential this game happens to have, and as a huge fan of the movie franchise, it’s easy for me to keep listing them. But I’ll keep from doing so by instead trying to enumerate its qualities. Graphically, Mad Max is extremely impressive. The desert environs you drive through are absolutely awesome, as well as the weather effects within them. One in particular is a chaotically rendered lighting-filled sandstorm that tears through the wastes time to time, forcing you to take cover or get swept up. Characters, vehicles and buildings look about as dirty as you’d expect, and the handful of named persons you’ll meet during the story are visually interesting, even though you’ll probably have to make a special effort to care about them.
Unsurprisingly, neither Mel Gibson nor Tom Hardy have lent their likenesses to the game’s version of Max, but even so, he still looks the part, even though he’s kinda like an empty shell in comparison to that character’s portrayal in the movies. There’s very little of the game that deals with the ‘Mad’ part of Mad Max, and even when it does, it’s so cheesy that we would have probably done without it. The little there is of development in his personality is thrown out the window by the end of the game, thanks to a baffling decision by whoever wrote this game’s script. Still, for a guy that sits in the car that you zip around and blow stuff up, brain turned off, fun fun videogame, I guess he’s okay.
If you’re expecting to find a fun and dumb game to play and have no expectations that it might live up to its source material, you’re bound to enjoy Mad Max. As a fan of the franchise its based on but also as someone looking for a game to sit down and mindlessly play, I have to admit my time with it was not wasted. On the flip side, anyone aiming for anything other than just that, with any expectations it would be worth remembering, you’re better off driving away.