While watching some of the spectacular moments in Mad Max: Fury Road, I thought to myself, “How cool it would be to play out some of those heart-stopping set pieces in a video game?” With my curiosity piqued, I searched to see if there were ever any Mad Max games made over the years. Predictably, there was one made in the 90’s for the Nintendo Entertainment System, but all of the information I found made it clear that it was a terrible cash-in on the franchise. Were my dreams of roaming the wasteland in the shoes of Max Rockatansky going to blow away like so much sand?
As luck would have it there was, in fact, a brand new game based on the franchise coming out from Avalanche Studios and Warner Bros., Mad Max. Originally set to be a direct tie-in to Fury Road, it has since become its own beast but does have subtle nods to the blockbuster film, like the visual style and main villain Scabrous Scrotus being a third heir of Immortan Joe, the antagonist of the movie. Beyond that there are no cameos of characters from the film series whatsoever. Dinki-Di dog food is still Max’s meal of choice, however.
This independence from the familiar might turn some players off, but after getting into the game I found myself genuinely enjoying the fact that everything about the story and game world is new and somewhat fresh. The setting is what you’d expect from such a game – a desert wasteland peppered with colorfully exaggerated gangs of psychotic ne’er-do-wells. There are various tribes of these over-the-top punks and within each faction are several leaders that Max must destroy over the course of his adventure.
The story is serviceable at best. During the opening cut scenes Max loses his famous Pursuit Special Interceptor and sees it completely junked. Shortly after he meets a lumbering hunchback mechanic named Chumbucket who offers to help Max build an even better vehicle he dubs the Magnum Opus. This character is Max’s permanent partner in the adventure, sitting in the back of the car to perform spur-of-the-moment repairs, and treats the vehicle as if he were Gollum coveting the One Ring.
The setting might not be what fans of the movies wanted but the gameplay certainly is. Mad Max is presented as an open world game much like developer Avalanche Studio’s Just Cause series. A lot of Just Cause 2 can be felt within the confines of Max Rockatansky’s world, from the map and fast travel system to the somewhat clunky way Max jumps to a higher platform. The movement on foot feels extremely robotic outside of combat, and slipping off the edge of some rock can feel like dropping an action figure. Many times the player will fall to his doom because of sloppy interaction between the character and the world. It’s not a huge problem but can be frustrating at times.
Where Max shines a bit more on two legs is when he’s presented with hand-to-hand combat, the mechanics of which are directly copied from titles like Sleeping Dogs and the Batman Arkham games. Personally I feel that if you’re going to copy gameplay, at least take a page from good games which Avalanche Studios did. While not original in any sense, the combat flows well and feels satisfying. The thick crunching sound of someone’s neck being broken while watching your punch follow through really gets the blood pumping.
Fists and kicks aside, the thing that lifts this game up from a run-of-the-mill sandbox to something truly special is the driving and all things related. You could assume that any game based on the series would involve cars to a large degree, and you’d be correct. It’s obvious that a great majority of the developer’s efforts went into the driving, car customization, and vehicle combat elements of Mad Max. As the bread and butter of the game play, the driving doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. The guttural sounds of a V6 or V8 beast thundering into high gear as you rip over the barren expanse feels just as cool as I’d imagined it would. Slamming into a rusty war machine dripping with screaming War Boys is so gratifying and exhilarating that it’s very easy to lose yourself in the game and just drive around, looking for trouble. The game does a great job letting you know what your next main objective is, but much like in Just Cause 2, there’s almost too much to do that you can stray from the story for days and not lose an ounce of fun.
Car controls are buttery and feel very natural without going too far and feeling sim-like. Customizing the vehicles is also very fun without heading into Need For Speed territory, letting you pick from upgrades like ramming grills, tire styles and armor but nothing too fancy. Everything you can do to your “Magnum Opus” looks and feels like it belongs in the world you’re in.
Being an open world game there are loads of side missions and collectibles to ferret out. Everything from racing to infiltrating rival tribe camps for their resources to finding project parts that upgrade your main bases of operations. At first the limitations of having to find fuel for your car and water to restore health seem at odds with the open world dynamic. I mean, why give the player all that freedom if you’re going to punish them for exploring? The short answer to that is that it’s not the case at all.
The whole premise of the Mad Max universe is that resources are so scarce that people resort to barbarism to obtain and keep them. Things like fresh water and gasoline are rare and precious treasures. They seem to have forgotten this bit for the game and I feel it’s for the best. Water is rather common to come across and gas is all over the place. There are parts of the world where Max is knee deep in Texas gold, trudging through the stuff like it was mud. Gas cans used to refuel vehicles or blow up structures are strewn about in nearly every location like they were nothing.
I see a small tear here in the logic behind the design, but I think it works better than any alternative would. I speculate that originally they had intended for Max to need to hoard these commodities like he would in the film series but then realized it’s too limiting to make them as rare as they should be. The tradeoff is the illusion of scarcity while handing over the goods as much as is needed. Heck, a character could very well be in a swimming pool surrounded by gas cans screaming “Just hand over the guzzolene!” In fact, the only thing I ever had a difficult time coming across were shells for Max’s sawn-off shotgun and even then with the right upgrades this ceases to be an issue at all.
So all around I would heartily recommend Mad Max, and any fan of the movies will have an absolute blast playing, but be prepared to overlook some strange design choices and platforming that’s less than perfect. I wholeheartedly give Mad Max four out of five stars.