At its core, Mad Max is a fun, if straightforward, open-world game that not only manages to offer an interesting world to explore, but fun and exciting things to do in it. Throwing in a few changes to the standard open-world formula, like scarcity and an emphasis on car combat, Avalanche Studios actually takes a handful of chances with Mad Max, some panning out better than others. The end result is an enjoyable take on the Mad Max character (Australian accent and all) that fans should be pleased with, and a solid, though slightly flawed, game of punching, smashing, and blowing things up to your heart’s delight.
The story here is simple. Max wants to be elsewhere. But to get from where he is to where he wants to go, he needs a car, specifically a car with a V8 engine. This is made a bit more difficult when a warlord, Scabrous Scrotus, son of Fury Road’s Immortan Joe, not only steals Max’s car, but then immediately scraps it for parts. Quickly meeting up with a mechanic, or blackfinger, named Chumbucket, Max sets out to build himself a new car and get himself a prized V8 engine to drive it. And for the most part, that’s it. In classic Mad Max fashion, Max refuses to help anyone else unless there is something in it for him, but it just so happens that the good people of the Wastelands need lots of help, and are willing it give Max parts and weapons in exchange.
Even as simplistic as it is, the story, dotted with creative and distinct characters (think Borderlands, but much darker) does its job, and the player is set loose to tackle the challenges of the Wasteland with relative freedom. While a few of the character names tread a bit too closely to the line of decency, a woman named Tenderloin for instance, most are clever and add a sick sense of humor to the desolate wastes. This is only made better by the surprisingly well-written dialogue, mostly from Chumbucket, painting Max’s post-apocalyptic Wasteland as just as mystical and absurd as it is dangerous, adding an interesting narrative layer to a genre that is well worn at this point.
Other than a handful of frame-rate dips or texture glitches when loading into an area, the game looks great and runs smoothly. Dust spins up from tires, explosions ripple out, and sparks fly as cars mash together. Aesthetically, Mad Max even manages to make empty wastes look beautiful, each zone actually feeling a bit different from the next, each progressively more urbanized and grotesque looking the closer you come to the fabled Gastown.
The gameplay is split between on-foot and vehicle portions, the transitions between the two quick and as easy as getting out of the car. With Chumbucket as your trusty mechanic and gunner, the car combat is made up of ramming other cars, and eventually, harpooning them, setting them on fire, and blasting them to bits with explosives called thunderpoons. Where these mechanics shine the brightest is in pulling down camp defenses and in the numerous chase scenes throughout the game, hunting down convoys and destroying them, where constant movement is encouraged and enemy vehicles do more than just aim to destroy you.
Where the car combat does falter however, is in the other instances, where enemies are only gunning for you and nothing else, such as any of the patrols which will find you throughout the course of your time in the Wasteland. Often leaving you outnumbered, these tight encounters more often than not involve an enemy ramming you from nowhere, you driving away just to get a little breathing room, and the fight continuing from there. While at some points this did become tedious and more of an annoyance than it should have been, overall, the highs of the car combat did greatly out way the lows.
From the onset, the player is given the choice of what body to take for Chumbucket’s Magnum Opus, meaning customization is a substantial element of the vehicle portions gameplay. As you accumulate more scrap and take out enemy camps, more pieces become available. Everything from the armor, engine, tires, and even weapons, body color and decals is open to the player to change and mix and match, making your personal Magnum Opus just that, yours.
While the obvious appeal of Mad Max does come from its crazy car combat, the majority of the time is actually spent on foot. Instead of only fighting hordes of warboys in the Arkham-style counter-and-strike combat system, your time on foot also includes exploring each of the surprisingly different and unique camps, finding scrap, historical relics, and project parts.
While some may find the simplified hand-to-hand combat lacking when compared to the Arkham games that made the system so popular, a single shotgun and melee weapons taking the place of Batman’s gadgets, there is an appeal to the more brutal depiction of fistfights in Mad Max. Slower, more grizzly, punctuated with the sound effects of breaking bones, the fights have an entirely different feel when compared to those you find in the Arkham games.
Out of everything however, even given the unique feel of it, hand-to-hand combat ultimately measures up as Mad Max’s greatest weak spot. Though melee weapons could have been a major, defining aspect of the combat, they are in fact, more of a hassle to hang on to than anything else, as Max only has the ability to hold one thing at a time. Picking up scrap or a fuel can, turning a valve, or even getting in your car makes Max drop the weapon he is holding, forcing you to repeatedly pick it back up as you explore camps, or simply leave it and not bother.
The primary problem with on-foot combat doesn’t become apparent however, until the encounters with large groups of enemies. While the Arkham games allow you to take on multiple enemies with ease, pulling the camera back and even having the ability to do multi-counters, Mad Max fails to do these things, making greater numbers of enemies not only feel difficult, but simply unfair. Keeping the camera tight on Max, conceivably to maintain the brutal intensity, there are far too many times when a counter or dodge marker triggers off screen, giving the player little, or often no time to react accordingly. As the game went on, the larger fights became more about simply making sure all the enemies were on the screen than anything else.
If there is one thing in particular Mad Max gets right, it is in the content it offers. Following a similar style to many other open world games, such as Red Faction Guerilla and even the Infamous games, you are tasked with destroying enemy emplacement and decreasing the enemy control rating of each individual zone. Playing back into unlocking more customization options for Max and the Magnum Opus, taking out camps feels rewarding, but more importantly, it all feels different. Each camp, even each scavenging location, smaller outposts of scrap and enemies scattered everywhere, feels unique and interesting. One camp is built out of the ruins of an ocean oil refinery, while another is built on the barely standing remains of a bridge.
It’s therefore unfortunate that the acts of getting into the camps are always so similar. Though there are secret passages into some of the camps and ways around the perimeter defenses, the artillery and snipers will continue to shoot you even inside the camps after you are detected, which you will be, because there is no actual stealth option.
Overall, Mad Max is a fun, solid open world game. Even with its flaws, there’s a lot to enjoy in the beautiful Wasteland. Scarcity of ammo and health items adds a new element most games of the genre never really explore, and the car combat and brutal violence of the hand-to-hand combat sell the crazed nature of the setting. It is rare to find an open-world game where the world itself has so much character. It’s true, Mad Max isn’t the best game ever made, but it does have fun to offer. And for those looking for an enjoyable game to just run around in, be they fans of the Mad Max universe or not, they are much worse choices out there.