May 4, 2019 at 4:19 PM #1347
Rating: 3.5 – Good
Let’s Go For A Ride
Recent years have seen a resurgence in post-apocalyptic video games, with the Bethesda’s return to the Fallout series, a Kickstarter sequel to Wasteland and even big name new IPs like The Last of Us and Horizon Zero Dawn taking place in a post apocalypse setting. One thing that all of these games have in common is that they are at least partially inspired by the movie series that made the apocalypse cool, Mad Max. Despite this, the godfather of the wasteland hasn’t had a video game version since 1990 on the NES, so it was both exciting and unsurprising when Warner Brothers and Avalanche Studios announced their new take on Mad Max.
Mad Max sees players taking on the role of the titular Max Rockatansky as he gets ambushed and has his precious car, the Interceptor, stolen by the War Boys of Scabrous Scrotus. Max then has to travel the wasteland, making new allies and enemies as he gathers parts to build the Magnum Opus, a powerful and customizable new car. It’s not a particularly elaborate plot, amounting mostly to a series of collect the McGuffin missions as you slowly piece together a car capable of achieving revenge. The story isn’t going to win any awards for quality as it’s mostly a short, circular plot that serves mostly as an excuse to funnel the player from area to area while they spend most of their time exploring the wasteland. Luckily, exploring the wasteland is the most fun part of Mad Max.
In each region of the wasteland Max can ally with a warlord in charge of a local stronghold. It’s in these strongholds that Max meets most of the games supporting cast, a series of characters who bring back memories of the over the top characters of Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road. Once allied with the leader of a stronghold, Max can help to outfit the stronghold with different stations that give Max benefits when returning to the stronghold, such as refilling his health and ammo or automatically collecting scrap (the games money) whenever you destroy an enemy vehicle in that region. Some of these upgrades can be bought with scrap or earned through wasteland missions, the game’s side quests, but most of the upgrades need to be built by finding multiple components spread throughout enemy camps in the wastes. For completionists like myself this is where players will spend the majority of their time. Scavenging sites and enemy camps litter the wasteland and it’s hard to drive more than a hundred feet without finding something to destroy or loot. Thankfully scrap is always needed, giving players a reason to keep scouring the map for every last piece. On top of upgrading strongholds, both the Magnum Opus and Max himself can be upgraded, which not only makes them more likely to survive the dangers of the wasteland, but offers up visual changes as well. This really feeds the sense of being rewarded as Max goes from a bum in a ripped up shirt to a bad ass protagonist covered with in leather and metal while the Magnum Opus goes from a rusty basic car to one loaded with harpoons, flamethrowers and other weapons and packing armour on the outside and a powerful engine on the inside.
In order to get to this point in Mad Max, players will have to take on the enemies strewn through the roads and sands of the wastelands. Hand to hand combat serves Max as he loots scavenging sites and assaults the insides of enemy camps. Anyone who has played one of the recent Batman games or Shadows of Mordor will be immediately familiar with the counter and attack style of Mad Max’s combat. As you pound on an enemy and someone else goes to attack you, you can hit a button to immediately counter and continue your combo on the new enemy, switching effortlessly between groups of up to ten or more enemies. Combat remains smooth and fluid, even as upgrading Max adds disarms, shotgun attacks and finishers to his repertoire. The one main issue with this type of combat is that once you fight an enemy and see the timing of their attacks, they pose very little challenge in the future. This is true in Mad Max as well, and I found that after the first couple hours I was rarely ever challenged in combat and only died a few times in the last fifty hours or so. Despite this, the combat remains entertaining as the heavy reliance on counterattacks and disarms means players will always have to pay attention.
Unlike hand to hand, the vehicle combat in Mad Max is what sets the game apart. Avalanche stated that car combat is meant to be about 60% of the total combat in Mad Max and that feels about right to me. While I spent a lot of time punching and body slamming mooks, I spent even more time cruising around the wasteland while pulling down scarecrows, t-boning trucks and ripping wheels off of cars with my harpoon. The difficulty in car combat fluctuates wildly depending on which region you’re driving through and how much time and scrap you’ve spent on upgrading the Magnum Opus. The harpoon is destruction in the first region, able to tear tires off of cars and sending drivers flying across the sands, but even upgraded it has a hard time standing up to the armoured cars of the later areas. This causes players to have to really think about the best way to attack certain vehicles, especially when attacking convoys, which can see Max taking on between five and ten cars on his own in order to take out a lead car. These convoy attacks provide some of the most difficult, but also most satisfying, combats of the game, but by the time the Thunderpoon (a sort of homing rocket launcher) is unlocked even convoys become a cakewalk as cars can be destroyed in a shot or two. I guess that’s probably the best way to describe combat in Mad Max. It can be a lot of fun and never really gets boring, but at the same time it rarely provides any real challenge.
At least while you’re out punching and harpooning wastelanders, Max is driving through a rather impressive looking wasteland. While the post-apocalyptic setting doesn’t always lend itself to gorgeous visuals, Mad Max makes the best of the situation. Characters are well designed, with most of the main characters having some unique feature that sets them apart and reminds players that life after the apocalypse is hard and only the strong survive regardless of their physical conditions. This applies to the protagonist as well as Max’s leg brace from the movies is present on his character model and his movement animations are affected by it, with Max favouring his good leg at times. Locations, like the people, are worn down as well with years of sand and wind leaving everything broken down and rusted. The underground remnants of the time before, such as an airport and some buried houses, are suitably creepy and serve to change up the style from the empty nothingness of the wastes to tight, dark hallways where enemies could be hiding around any quarter. This is also one of the places where the sound really excels in this game with an excellent use of sound effects and distant voices to turn an action game into a horror game for a few missions. While the sound effects are extremely well done, especially the sounds of the vehicles and the crunches and smacks of hand to hand combat, the music itself is rather plain. Nothing on the soundtrack really stood out to me, but honestly most of the time, I never even noticed the music over the sounds of the Magnum Opus’s engine roaring. Maybe the music was actually great and I just could never hear it, but hearing the sound of metal on metal as I slammed into another vehicle was too fun to bother fiddling with the sound levels.
The one last thing that should be mentioned before wrapping up is the odd glitches that can happen while Max is moving around. Several times I’d be involved in combat when Max would get hit and suddenly spiral thirty feet into the air before crashing down. Thankfully, it didn’t deal falling damage, but it did really throw off the pace of combat and give the enemies several free shots while Max got to his feet. At least it looked hilarious. Also there seems to be an issue with the Magnum Opus’s harpoon refusing to target anything, keeping players from firing it. This one was a little more deadly, removing one of Max’s best tools in vehicle combat and making it impossible to destroy gates, scarecrows, etc. This one seemed to appear randomly and go away just as randomly, but it was frustrating while it was happening. Finally, for our readers playing the Xbox One version there is an issue where the game will freeze on a loading screen and when you restart the game the saves will not validate. If this happens to you a hard reset to the Xbox should solve the problem and hopefully you won’t need to swear and panic and run around trying to figure out what’s gone wrong, like I did.
The world of the Mad Max movies are responsible for bringing a love of the post-apocalyptic setting to a lot of viewers and the Mad Max video game does a great job of recreating that world in a way that lets players explore and feel as if they are actually there. While it lacks for challenge and suffers from a few glitches, for players who enjoy open worlds or the idea of booting it around the wasteland in a sweet ride, Mad Max does a good job of fulfilling the desire to make the apocalypse your sandbox while providing a chance to bust a lot of heads and smash a lot of cars. All in all, what I call a good time.
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