I have to admit, I was surprised when I heard Mad Max was going to be released the same day as MGSV. It looked like a decent open world game but certainly not a real competitor to the absolute beast that is The Phantom Pain. It also runs into an age-old problem for video games in that while not a direct adaptation of any one story, it is based on a film series. A cursory look at other games based on films will paint the kind of picture a drunk with no hands might produce, so Mad Max had quite a hill to climb right out of the gate.
Set before the recent and excellent “Fury Road”, Mad Max starts with Max being chased down and stripped of his iconic car, one-sleeved leather jacket and sawn-off shotgun by son of Fury Road’s villain Immortan Joe and left to die. Fortunately he comes across a small, hunchbacked man named Chumbucket who thinks Max is the prophet in his car-based religion. He just so happens to be working on the best car ever made, he wants to make it for Max, Max wants to kill the villain and ride off into the sunset. That’s pretty much the whole plot; “Max needs a new car.” To be fair to it though that’s all the framing the game needs really; a framework on which to hang the car combat and pattering gangs of Australian cancer patients. The one thing that does really stick out about the story parts of the game (the cutscenes in particular) is the jarring lack of Australian accents. Before the game was released public pressure got Max’s accent changed from generic American to Australian, but the rest of the characters in the game have stayed Yanks. Mad Max is a series that’s been deeply routed in Australia from the start, so to encounter enemies with broad Southern American accents seems really odd, particularly when Max growls back at them in a half-Gibson, Half-Hardy drawl. Speaking of half and half, that’s the best way to describe his character design as well; his face is a mixture of the two, his jacket is straight out of Fury Road but the rest of his outfit is more Gibson. Anyway the story is light, and contrasts the films by having loads of different characters who recognise Max’s skills and want him to help them, as opposed to one or two who are skeptical of him but come around after a while.
Gameplay wise, it’s remarkably similar to Batman Arkham Knight, but in the desert and you murder people. Car combat makes up less of the game than I expected discounting free-roam, but what there is is functional enough. The car Chumbucket is building- dubbed “The Magnum Opus”- is completely customisable; armour, spikes, Boadicea wheels, even flame jets of all things, as well as aesthetic things like the body type and paint. Car combat largely consists of using harpoons to tear things down/tear things off cars and lobbing explosive spears (unironically called “Thunderpoon”) at things. The only time I really needed the car was to remove defenses from gang camps and outposts, which is where the other main gameplay element comes in. The game has what was originally a “Batman Arkham” combat system, though with its striking system it’s more like a “Sleeping Dogs” combat system; combos made from repeatedly tapping the attack button and holding it at various times, and another button to counter. The countering works fine for the most part but your the timing can be frustratingly specific, but the moves have a satisfying, simplistic brutality to them. Well, except for the occasions where Max pulls a flying armbar out his arse, which just seems out of place. It all plays like a Ubisoft game- there are hot air balloons with which to scout out unexplored parts of the map, gang camps to batter your way through and liberate, and of course, the open world itself. The map fits the tone of Fury Road very well- desolate, brutal desert stretching as far as the eye can see, the only structures monstrosities cobbled together from scrap.
Overall, Mad Max is a solid, enjoyable game. It plays it very safe, but then that’s no bad thing given the aforementioned mountain it had to climb. The story is forgettable but by no means bad, the driving is functional and the hand-to-hand combat is brutal and fun. If you’re a fan of Mad Max, there’s definite enjoyment to be found here, and if you’re looking for a decent game to mess around with this is a good shout.
By James Lambert