I have very little investment in the Mad Max franchise. I’ve never seen the new movie, only ever saw beyond Thunderdome, and don’t remember any of it anyway because it’s been so long. Suffice it to say playing and buying this game wasn’t a decision based in any way on an interest in the source material.
That’s not to say I dislike Mad Max or don’t like the idea. In general, I’ll take a gander at anything post-apocalyptic in setting, whether it’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Metro, Fallout, Wasteland, the upcoming Escape from Tarkov or hell even endless borefests like Nether or 7 Days to Die or DayZ.
Mad Max is an open world action adventure game, with a mildly interesting story overshadowed by slightly more interesting game play. It bears many similarities in gameplay mechanics to games like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Batman Arkham series, and Sleeping Dogs, which is little surprise because two of those series are also published by Warner Brothers. Even though all of these games have different developers, at least one aspect of them plays exactly the same: the melee combat.
In Max just as in Arkham or SD, you have a very simplistic yet satisfying combo and combat system that relies on your ability to basically press 3 buttons. One button does all your punching goodness, another counters, and another is used for ranged weapons. Toss in another button for dodging, and another for execution moves, then you get five buttons. Anyone who has played Remember Me or Batman or Sleeping Dogs will be completely at home with the combat system, especially if they’ve played Mordor, so the combat should honestly be a walk in the park. As easy as it is, though, it is still satisfying to see Max dispatch his enemies in brutal fashion, gutting, stabbing, incinerating, shooting and bone-crushing them to death. Once you upgrade max’s finisher abilities all the way, you have a variety of fun animations at your disposal.
Upgrading is accomplished through a run of the mill story progression/mission completion/ challenge completion system. The upgrades for each category are spread among the different unlock methods, meaning in order to experience everything you are forced to participate in side content.
Mad Max shines in one aspect, above all others, which is an accomplishment for a title with such an undeniably drab and visually unappealing setting. The graphics are beautiful. They aren’t top of the line, latest GPU melting technology, but Avalanche produced an aesthetically pleasing game that is as much fun to look at and take pictures in as it is to actually play. Everything may be covered in sand and dirt, rocks and dried up dead coral, but at the same time the desert landscapes, smokey sky and constant fires are eye candy.
Mad Max is not amazing by any means – it does not break new ground, it doesn’t do anything particularly better than any similar game has done before. However, as much as it seems counter-productive to lower the bar when analyzing a game, Avalanche deserves credit where credit is due. The game runs flawlessly on Ultra graphics, with everything pumped as high as it can go, keeping up a solid 200+ framerate no matter what happens or where you go. Another thing that earns my respect for sure is that, again like other Warner Brothers games such as Shadow of Mordor and Arkham Knight, Mad Max includes a built in photo mode. Nvidia Ansel support would be preferable, but photo mode does everything Ansel can do exceot 3D/supersample/panoramic shots.
As stated, the story is really nothing special. Max is on a quest throughout the wasteland to get his car back and seek revenge, meaning he must build another car to get it. Another car which ends up being far better anyway but exists only as a plot device to drive Max towards his revenge. He meets a few characters along the way, about thirteen of them actually, all of which are just ancillary. Most of them are quest givers who always agree to a quid pro quo, some of them friends, but none of them amount to anything after long.
Unfortunately, as a story split into 5 “acts”, Max sort of falls apart at the end. A totally predictable plot twist happens – it isn’t even deserving of being called a twist – and then everything goes to hell. The game ends in a disappointing bout of catharsis, in fact basically returning Max to the beginning of the story, runs its course and then plops you back into the game world to do the stuff you didn’t feel like finishing, as if you didn’t just experience a crap ending.