Following the success of Mad Max Fury Road, it was likely that we would be getting a movie tie-in game, and while Mad Max certainly stars the main character, the game takes a different road thanks to Avalanche Studios who made the amazing Just Cause 2. Despite that pedigree, Mad Max doesn’t quite hit the same mark as Just Cause 2, but the game definitely has scrapped together the best parts of recent popular genres to create a serviceable game.
Despite coming out around the same time as Fury Road, Mad Max the game has very little to do with the movie itself. In keeping with the theme of having Max always being in the wrong place at the wrong time, his prized car the Black on Black is stolen and chopped up thanks to Lord Scrotus and his band of War Boys. Max ends up meeting a crazed mechanic who is obsessed with creating the ultimate car: the Magnum Opus and sees Max as a divine figure to help him realize his dream.
This of course leads to some good old fashioned open world gameplay as you must go around completing missions to help realize the ultimate car. After a few minutes of playing Mad Max, you can definitely see that the developers were taking notes on other popular AAA games. You’ll be spending your time tracking down collectibles on the map, taking back territory and getting into one on group fights with enemies and unlocking upgrades via completing side-quests.
If that sounds a lot like games such as Batman Arkham City, GTA and Farcry 3, you wouldn’t be mistaken. The wasteland itself offers some differing points for Mad Max. Finding scrap will allow you to upgrade Max and the Magnum Opus; adding increase functionality for both.
You’ll be doing a lot of driving in the game and vehicular combat plays a role. Fighting other cars relies on you ramming them from the front or side and using various weapons you’ll find and upgrade to take them out.
On foot, Mad Max features a basic combat system similar to Batman; where attacks are assigned to one button and you have a parry move to counter attacks.
Further upgrades are handled via Legends; by completing specific tasks, you’ll be able to passively upgrade Max in various categories from a mysterious stranger who follows Max around.
One thing I do have to complement the developers on is the art direction, despite taking place in a desolate wasteland, the game has a good look to it. Just like any good open world game, there are enough things to do to distract you from the main quest. With that said, while Mad Max has all the elements of great AAA titles, it doesn’t come together to create an amazing package.
While there isn’t anything that I can point as a wrong or bad design, the game for lack of a better term, feels scrapped together from other popular games. Instead of trying to do something unique, it feels like I’m playing a mash up of other titles instead of one unique game. The world is vast, but your actual interactions are kept very minimum and there isn’t much room for unique situations. Shadows of Mordor despite copying from other games had the brilliant nemesis system and gave the player a lot of leeway in approaching situations.
After about 30 minutes of driving, finding collectibles and getting some upgrades, I could feel myself getting bored with the proceedings. The mechanics simply aren’t engaging on their own, which is a huge departure from the excellent Just Cause 2. There is a whole lot of stuff to do in the game, but it’s hard to feel motivated to actually do them, despite the game having a great progression model.
Completing camps, scavenging sites and more will unlock new upgrades and you’ll slowly turn Max and the Magnum Opus into awesome displays of bad-ass-ness. However, all the great progression models in the world won’t help a game if there just isn’t anything to do with them. The world is full of these pockets of things to do, but there’s nothing tying everything together.
In Batman Arkham City for instance, the environment and missions came together to help present the world and gameplay to the player and made you want to explore to find out more.
For example, finding mementos or lore bits about Batman and his rogue’s gallery and doing the Riddler missions to rescue people. There’s just nothing like that in Mad Max and it’s the same problem that Just Cause 2 had.
Where Just Cause 2 succeeded was that the mechanics gave the player a lot of variety in how they approached missions and situations; not so much in Mad Max. Because everything is grounded by vehicle-based combat, you don’t have the number of ways to get through a mission or explore that you did with the grapple hook/parachute combo of Just Cause 2.
There’s just nothing pushing me to keep playing; the story is very bare-bones and has nothing to really do with the movie itself. The game mechanics behind the various systems of explore, hand-to-hand fighting and car-based combat never grow or change beyond their initial uses; despite having upgrades from the progression model.
This is a similar problem that the Assassin’s Creed series has had (at least the ones I played,) where the main story feels so detached from the world and progression model that it feels like you’re playing two different games: Exploring for side quests that are open-ended and the linear story missions.
I know I say this a lot, but I think I would have preferred the game to just be open-world exploration instead of trying to tie it to a story and just try to do something similar to Spiderman 2’s design of being a day in the life-type game.
Finally, there is an all around lack of polish with the various systems. With driving, the system wasn’t fleshed out enough to really let you tweak and customize the magnum opus; instead it’s just a flat progression curve of bigger and more powerful parts with exception to armor that slows you down. In combat, the enemy designs became very repetitive without new enemies to fight and the camera had a hard time in keeping pace with what’s going on.
There were plenty of times I was attacked off camera with no indication of a threat. Car-based combat while interesting, never evolves beyond basic strategies no matter how you build your Magnum Opus; due to both the limited weapon and car types available.
All the different side quests and points of interests on the map all behave the same way: Clearing one camp is the same as clearing all the others and there is nothing in terms of game mechanics that differentiate them. In an open world game like Skyrim, the world offers a lot of variety in what you’ll do in it, here, not so much.
After about an hour of playing Mad Max, you’ll see everything in terms of game mechanics and there are still hours of exploration without growth left to play.
Mad Max is by no means a bad game; the progression system for Max and the Magnum Opus are amazing and did a lot to carry me through the game. However, it’s lacking that combination of the world and things to do that made other open-world games work so well.