Mad Max: A Vast Wasteland Full Of Brutal Combat, Thrilling Vehicular Warfare, And Bugs | A Short Pause Review
Title: Mad Max
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Platforms: PS4/Xbox One/PC
Every so often, a game comes along that just sucks you right into its world. For me, Mad Max was one of those rare games that came along and made playing Destiny seem unappealing for a few weeks. (Those of you who follow the site and know of our rabid obsession with Destiny can see how this is a pretty big deal!) While I was anticipating Mad Max to be a solid 20 hours or so, 50 hours later, as open world ADD set in and I found myself hitting every point of interest on the map, I had far exceeded my initial estimation. After leaving a good first impression on me, I was happy to see that Mad Max kept up its momentum throughout, even though it never made that leap from “really fun” to “really great.”
Mad Max follows the story of titular sociopath Max as he struggles to escape his past and embrace any sort of future. Before the game, my only prior experience with this franchise was the excellent Mad Max: Fury Road flick from this past summer. Using the film as my baseline, the story played out pretty much exactly how I expected it to. While I won’t go into too many details here, there were a couple of moments that hit the “feels,” albeit not necessarily in a good way. While I won’t go into too many details here, as that’d lead to spoilers, there were a couple of moments that hit the “feels,” albeit not necessarily in a good way. These moments are completely understandable as Max is severely damaged and wants nothing to do with human contact. He feels vulnerable trusting others. The game’s story plays on his emotions often, leading to various situations which challenge his view on not only his life, but the state of mankind as a whole.
Upon beginning the game and being cast out into the Wasteland — the desolate terrain that makes up Mad Max’s open environment — it’s clear that the world is enormous! The Wasteland is home to several factions, each of whom have their own territories which consist of a handful of locations in and of themselves. Each faction-controlled territory has a stronghold, which serves as a base, or capital, if you will. Strongholds offer a fast travel point as well as a potential place to restock on ammo, health, water, and fuel. Each territory also features a hot air balloon that allows Max to scout out a large section of said territory for any enemy camps to take over, Death Runs — races with various objectives to complete — to compete in, and sniper towers or scarecrow structures that can be destroyed with the Magnum Opus. These activities represent ways to either lower the threat level imposed by Gastown — the ultimate destination on the game map — or open alternate fast travel points. Outside of the fun distractions that territories provide, they also serve to vary the game environment, offering up everything from flatlands to mountain vistas.
Thankfully, Max isn’t a solo act here, and there are a few characters he meets throughout his travels that really help bring the story to life. There’s the Ratbag-like (of Shadow of Mordor fame) mechanic, Chumbucket, who builds and maintains Max’s bad-ass ride, the Magnum Opus. Chum rides along with Max throughout the game and handles everything from firing the harpoon to repairing the Magnum Opus after a tough encounter. Max also meets a mother and daughter duo by the names of Hope and Faith, respectively. The chemistry between Hope and Max reinforces Max’s mindset and the demons he’s constantly doing battle with. Throw the quirky faction leaders into the mix and you have quite the colorful cast of characters that really help make the story enjoyable.
Mission variety is also just right. While the land is littered with camps and various other side missions, I didn’t feel that I was doing the same exact thing over and over again. With open world games, the threat of a repetitive experience is always a concern, especially if you’re the type of gamer who only likes to tackle certain missions, such as blowing up oil camps. However, with Mad Max, I found that the map placement of each activity discourages the long trek between each camp. Should you feel the urge to make the extended journey to the next camp on your map, at least a large number of sniper posts, scavenge locations, and scarecrows to bring down all stand in the way, eager to distract you from the task at hand. The side activities are all rather similar, but the story missions throw some very entertaining curveballs your way. How many games have you played that feature a mission where you need to daintily maneuver your car around various obstacles, complete the objective at hand, and then just gun it and blow up enemy cars on your way out?! Some of story missions can get pretty gnarly, several of which will leave you with that “What!? That was awesoooooome!” feeling upon completion.
The combat systems in place help make all of the activities available in Mad Max extremely enjoyable. Car combat is satisfying as you ram, shoot and blow up enemy vehicles that get in your way. Progressing through the story and completing various side missions will grant unlocks for your car that range from better handling to new weapons that help make enemies go boom! Alongside the car combat system is a very simplified version of the popular Batman: Arkham series’ freeflow combo system for when Max is on foot. When Max isn’t hammering away on the faces of his enemies, he has the ability to counter incoming attackers or quickly dispose of guys with a gut shot from his shotgun. Chaining combos will fill a Fury meter which basically sees Max’s punches landing much harder. Fury mode also opens access to executions and some brutal finishing moves. It’s not an evolution of what’s come before in any way, but it is a nice reminder of how fun fighting a big mob of enemies can be when utilizing this form of combat!
Even though there’s a lot to like, or even love, in Mad Max, the game does have its lulls. Mine defuse missions open up after completing a certain side mission, and these are dreadfully boring. The premise of them is simply driving around with a different companion who can point out buried minefields. Max has to slowly drive around this small area until all three mines are spotted and disarmed. I saved many of them for last as they felt like a chore. Another mission type that isn’t necessarily boring, but is rather repetitive, is the Top Dog Camps. These camps see Max fight his way to the top of a larger camp in order to take on a heavy enemy who swings around a heavy weapon. Each of these play out the exact same way, with maybe one or two requiring an additional step that actually requires a slight bit of planning. There aren’t a ton of them, and I finished them all at different points during my travels, but they can be rather off-putting if done in succession.
The game’s performance is also questionable at times. For the most part, the game runs perfectly fine, but there are a lot of pop-in textures and even enemy vehicles that show up out of nowhere. The frame rate also took a hit as I began closing in on Gastown, and any time I encountered a convoy. Convoys are spotted by the enormous cloud of dust in their wake, but as you close in on them, the game just chugs along. After taking out an enemy car or two, the frame rate seems to fix itself, but it’s still frustrating to tackle these encounters with a choppy feed. There were also several times I found myself stuck in the game’s environment to the point where the only way out was to quit to the main menu. Lastly, and probably the most detrimental thing I encountered during my time with the game, was a hard crash during a critical story mission. Not only was I unable to progress the story (I did eventually find a workaround where you drive a different car), but upon reloading the game, I was met with a save corruption notice which gave me a sinking sensation in my stomach. Luckily, the save was restorable, and caused me to then create several other autosave slots just in case this inevitably happened again when I returned. To make this critical bug worse, it occurred during the climax of the story and just completely ruined how immersed I was in the events that were transpiring.
All things considered, Mad Max is still a really fun game. While it doesn’t do anything to set it apart from other open world escapades, it borrows a lot of great ideas and implements them in ways that make the game an enjoyable experience. This also keeps it from being something great. Mad Max is comparable to many games that I’ve enjoyed in the past, such as Just Cause 2 or Rage, but it’s to the point that it doesn’t seem to establish its own true identity. I’ve already referred to Mad Max as the Rage 2 we’ll likely never get on our podcast, and that is a strong compliment in my book (love me some Rage). If you’ve got the itch for an open world epic that’s heavy on the action, but don’t want to wait until December’s Just Cause 3, the Wasteland should definitely be on your radar
- Fun and familiar combat system
- Great cast of characters
- Huge open world
- Nice mission variety
- Progression killing bug
- Frame rate can get sketchy at times
- Dismantling minefields
- Repetitive boss fights