Mad Max: Fury Road is a near universally-loved movie. The prequel game, simply titled Mad Max is a much more divisive title. It’s the kind of game you’ll either love or hate; a mix of good and bad, just like its titular anti-hero.
Avalanche Studios handled bringing Mad Max to gamers everywhere, and they seem like they’d be a good fit, considering their work on the Just Cause series, but how did it work out? That depends on what you’re looking for, really.
The best thing about Mad Max is easily how well-realized its environments are. As you open, you’ll start out in the White Plains, a section of what used to be Australia now covered in sand dunes.
Like so many other games, Mad Max describes a dystopian future. Unlike all those others though, Mad Max’s dystopia is quite beautiful. Driving around the wasteland is an experience to behold; the way the Magnus Opus—Max’s car he receives shortly after the beginning of the game—kicks up dust as it slides across the endless sands is pretty, if not quite breathtaking. Every corner I turned I saw some new piece of bleak-yet-beautiful landscape begging to be explored.
The air of a dystopian future doesn’t stop with the environments, either. Resources in Mad Max are scarce as well. Food and water are in short supply, as are all types of ammunition. As you progress through the game you can complete sidequests to reduce the scarcity of these items, but there’s still something unsettling about watching Max eat maggots out of a rotting corpse lying alongside the road that other games just can’t seem to match.
Mad Max really could’ve just been a game about a car, and it might have been better for it! For gearheads, this is going to be where it’s at. Every detail on the Magnum Opus can be tweaked, from the frame to the hubcaps. Of course, you can add stuff real cars wouldn’t ever have, either. Covering your car in garish paint, spikes, flamethrowers and whatever else you can think of is amazing fun.
Every element from tires and shocks to ram bars and armor has a tangible effect on the way the Magnum Opus handles, and you’ll often be required to change up your configuration based on the challenge ahead of you.
The number of parts is fairly decent as well. There are 18 different categories of items you can add to your car, and while not all of them are necessary, they leave plenty of room for a unique custom vehicle, based on your play style.
I had a lot of fun customizing and driving around in my car, and for a game that largely focuses on the time you spend in a vehicle that’s a good thing.
Like I said before, Mad Max is heavily focused on the time you spend in your car, so getting car combat right is critical; thankfully, Avalanche Studios did a great job making taking your opponents out satisfying.
Of course, it’s more than just slamming one car into the other and hoping for the best. As you make your way through the arid Australian desert, you’ll get crazy weapons like a harpoon gun with an explosive tip called the (ugh) thunderpoon to tear your opponents’ rides up with.
The most useful weapon by far, is the regular harpoon; you can use it to rip doors off cars, tear drivers from their seats or cause other kinds of pain to those wishing to do the same to you.
Watching cars explode is both beautiful and satisfying, plumes of smoke and bursts of flame look beautiful. Cars also drop scrap, which is Mad Max’s currency, though not nearly enough considering the effort needed to take them down.
In the beginning of the game, cars are understandably easy to wreck, but as the game progresses, you’ll find cars with layers upon layers of armor, which you must try ever harder to remove. Convoys can feel a bit intimidating, but with enough upgrades, even the game’s biggest, badest vehicles will prove to be little challenge.
Playing As Max
Playing as Max can easily be split into sections: picking up scrap, and beating people up. Neither of these two sections stand out as bad or good, really. Combat as Max can be satisfying, but when it comes down to it you’re really just the attack button, occasionally holding it to do some extra damage, and pressing another button to counter.
Counters themselves are pretty great when you pull them off correctly. You’ll snap limbs in a convincingly gruesome way, though it doesn’t seem to irk those around you nearly as much as one would expect. In fact, most attacks that are supposed to have an adverse effect on the rest of your opponents seldom seem to help you all that much in combat. Max’s parry isn’t nearly as good as, say, Batman’s in Arkham Knight. All too often would I try to parry an attack only to be locked into an animation and end up getting hit repeatedly by a bunch of Warboys.
If you can manage to get enough attacks strung together, Max goes into fury mode, during which he relentlessly clobbers opponents with pro wrestling-inspired moves. It’s weird to see Max nail someone with a suplex or a dropkick, but it is fun.
On the other side of the coin is the... rest of the stuff you do as Max; that stuff isn’t so fun. When you’re not out kicking ass, you’re picking up scrap, and let me tell you, that stuff is everywhere. Collecting scrap is mundane and time consuming, and it’s treated like a prize to be found,which is just nuts. Scrap is in hidden areas, behind walls, in hard-to-reach spots, and inside locked chests. The worst part is that most of these chests contain a paltry amount of scrap, and are rarely worth the effort required to get to them. A chest with 20 scrap in it is considered good, and to put that into perspective, many of the upgrades for both Max and the Magnum Opus cost into the thousands.
Combat with Max is a fairly repetitive button mashing exercise that can be fun to watch at times, but everything else (especially Max’s 2 foot vertical leap) it pretty bad. Yet somehow, I found myself enjoying it more than hating it. Your mileage may vary.
So, Mad Max’s plot goes something like this (mild spoilers past this point): Max has a car, the big bad guy Scabrous Scrotus (seriously?) steals and destroys Max’s car after taking a chainsaw to the brain.
Max sets out to take revenge on Scrotus for jacking up his ride, and of course discovers things about himself along the way until The Fight Becomes About Something Greater and Stuff Happens.
Max comes across as a blank slate of a character with about as much personality as the controller you’re playing the game with. Max will meet new characters along the way, none of whom are particularly interesting and only serve as a means to an end to help Max get new power-ups, or to provide him with objectives.
The cast and characters of Mad Max are largely forgettable. None of them have anything resembling an interesting story to tell, and many of them are predictable. Whatever your first impression of a character is, it’s probably right.
If you’re coming into Mad Max expecting an interesting story worthy of the movie franchise, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Mad Max gives an awful first impression with its borderline boring on-foot combat and weak early vehicular sections. If you stick with it first the past half-hour things get much better for drivers, but not much for Max’s pedestrian affairs. Personally, I enjoyed my time in the wasteland, but In the end, Mad Max is a game that walks the fine line between bad and good, and because of that, I recommend you try it for yourself.
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Steve Bowling is an aspiring freelance games journalist and critic. When he’s not playing games he’s building PCs to play them on. You can follow him on Twitter at @SteveBTAY , and you can read all of his articles here.