I crest a dune and survey the wasteland before me. The sun is setting behind the decayed hulk of an old ship, long since beached and cleaved in two. The smoking ruins of a tower stand near by. Headlights race across the dusty plains in the distance. The hunchback behind me mutters something about the Angel of Combustion.
I don’t think I could actually survive in a post-apocalyptic future. But if I could, I’d want to do it like Max.
Welcome back to Boter Reviews Something: a weekly feature where I babble on about a game, or something related to a game, or maybe not even that, and then give a ridiculous review score at the end. Today’s target – Mad Max. I’m Boter. Let’s review something.
It seems like the standard style of game nowadays is what was, in my mind, spearheaded by Assassin’s Creed. Take an open world, with sections cut off that you unlock as the game progresses. Add in a dash of unlockable skills and equipment. A heaping helping of collection and side missions to give texture to the area, and you’ve got the basis for many action-adventure games of the last decade. It doesn’t always work, as you’ll see when I get around to reviewing the game in my console right now. But sometimes it does, and Mad Max is one of those times.
The first three entries in the Mad Max franchise, with Mel Gibson as the man himself, weren’t exactly the most consistent films, with timelines being fudged a bit between movies, but they were still more or less a single continuity. Changes were made though in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road as Tom Hardy took on the titular role. The spirit, however, stayed the same – a single, hypercompetent man in a post-law world just trying to get by.
The video game from the same year simply titled Mad Max continues this trend. Max Rockatansky looks like neither Gibson or Hardy. The game references events and characters from Fury Road and its atmosphere seems most closely tied to that film. Theoretically it’s a prequel to Fury Road but there are enough inconsistencies that you can take it as a closely related, but still separate, interpretation of the setting.
Right, okay, that’s the continuity stuff unsnarled. Plot-wise, you start by shoving a chainsaw into a dude’s face. The dude is Scabrous Scrotus, one of Immortan Joe’s sons and ruler of Gas Town. Of course, this doesn’t kill him; it just makes him angrier. He kicks your ass and steals your car. The rest of the game, story mission-wise, is down to that narrow focus: get the car back. The V8 Interceptor. The Pursuit Special. The Black on Black.
In the meantime, you find help from a hunchback named Chumbucket. He’s spent a few too many days in the sun and has some crazy ideas about deification in this post-calamity world, but he sees you as a prophet, and your car as a holy artifact. With his help, and the help of the various lesser warlords of the wasteland, you end up navigating your way to Gas Town to finally get your car back – and maybe see what’s become of Scrotus with that chainsaw still embedded in his skull.
Of course, the most help you’ll find is from the Magnum Opus. This is Chumbucket’s pride and joy, the vehicle he’s been building for years. Starting with a lowly V6 and nary a body panel upon it, you upgrade it throughout the game – more engine, more spike, more armor, more death. And weapons – sniper rifles, grenades, spinning spikes of doom, there are endless ways for your vehicle to carry your enemies into Valhalla. Truth be told, after finally getting the Interceptor back (um, spoiler alert?), the Opus is still a better vehicle, but that’s what happens when gameplay and story are told that it’s okay to be different.
And it really is. While avoiding spoilers, the end of the game hits a pretty hard “This Is Over” button – but then resets it so you can continue to explore the open world and complete missions. It’s jarring, but I’m okay with that. The various side missions are mostly fun, and there are enough that the few you don’t enjoy (I actually wasn’t a fan of regular races) can just be ignored. My favorite was probably convoy hunting – taking down escort vehicles and finally destroying the guzzoline supply truck supplying the area, cutting off Gas Town’s influence to the zone of the map. In addition to this, tasks like destroying signal towers, defusing mine fields and claiming enemy camps also decrease Gas Town’s influence and increase Max’s.
Everything moves at a great pace. I rarely felt rushed and guilted out of doing side missions and collecting scrap for my car, as most characters agreed that upgrading the car was needed to face Scrotus when the time comes. And at the same time I never felt like I had to sit back and grind for hours just to get upgraded. I was allowed to move at my own pace – sometimes breakneck, sometimes just cruising the wasteland, admiring the view.
If I had to nitpick – and I truly am reluctant to do so – it’s that the game ends. The plot ends, and you’re left with the wasteland and whatever side missions haven’t been finished. They you finish those. And… that’s it. Sometimes you’ll run into a roving band of Buzzards or some War Boys, but they are weak and you are strong. There are no more convoys, no more strongholds. There’s really just one thing left to do.
Start a new game and introduce Scabrous’ forehead to his chainsaw all over again.
The Mad Max films are a lot of fun, and it’s always fun to ponder how well one might do in a post-apocalyptic world. Mad Max steps it up, puts you in Max’s shoes, and while it does point you in a direction and whispers, “Go,” it doesn’t get mad at you for just being a part of the wasteland, for being one with the dunes. You can set out and just survive, no need for any specific goal. And what’s more Max Rockatansky than that?
Final Score: 7.5 out of V8
A great game that uses the open world action-adventure trappings to the fullest. Colors and characters paint a beautiful picture of the setting while controls and game mechanics are pleasing to take on. Continuing gameplay peters off and replayability is low aside from story.
Platform: Windows / Xbox One (tested), PlayStation 4
Price: $59.99 on release, approx. $29.99 as of September 2016
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: September 1, 2015