Mad Max – Review

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So, in a spate of lyrical platitudes, I said a few months back that Mad Max would be the one game I wouldn’t be able to live without. A bit dramatic you may think but now, having played the whole game from start to finish, I’m going to try and keep that statement true whilst also being objective for this review. One thing I did do was look back at the movies, just to get a feel for the world.

Yes, I am one of those morons who will have a TV or Laptop on the side with something on it whilst I play games. Usually it’s sports or one of many repeat viewings of a TV series. This time, I decided to rewatch the Mad Max movies. It’s worth pointing out how tonally different a few things are, especially if you’re a fan. Firstly, the wasteland being as arid and desert based as it is in the game, is a complete by-product of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road. It is also worth pointing out that this Max is completely his own and mostly removed from any movie interpretations.

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So the one thing that this does is allow the characters, the franchise and the opportunity for a decent game to come to life in an incredibly large space. The wasteland is a huge empty opus in itself. A dystopian vision of a world reclaimed by sand and littered with the decay of humanity’s past and the cult fanaticism of petroleum-fuelled power, the very substance that caused the apocalypse in the first place. Yes it’s bombastic, ritualistic and occasionally garish in its interpretation of tribalism, but that’s one of the great things about it, the fantastical element that allows this crazy world to exist.

Max starts much in the same way as he does in Fury Road, by being beating up and having his car taken from him. But not before he manages to plant a baby chainsaw into the cranium of local warlord Scrotus. With the aid of an injured dog, you find your way on foot to a slightly crazy hunchback named Chumbucket who happens to be a wizard with cars and is currently building a new one, the Magnum Opus, which you have great need of after you see your beloved black Interceptor dismantled in one of the enemies camps.

What then ensues is a long mission, with Chumbucket as your passenger, to explore all of the wasteland, whilst doing the bidding of various underlords trying to rebuild themselves under the dictator-like poverty enforced by Scrotus. You spend your time clearing the landscape of snipers and totems (called scarecrows), dismantling enemy oil camps and engaging in big boss fights, taking out the big ‘top dog’ of the area. All the while, systematically lowering the level of threat in the area, and finding little camps where you can liberate scrap metal, historical relics (pictures from the past) and occasionally some construction parts to help build up your base.

How deep you want to go in to this side quest construction is up to you (if you’re one of these people that needs to 100% a game for instance) but you WILL have to get involved with it. Completing these missions and the side quests increases your level and also gains access to upgrades for Max and your car. It also allows you the opportunity to explore and get to grips with the enemies, the physical combat and the car combat.

To level yourself up is very easy. Doing missions, challenges, etc will earn you Griffa tokens. You take these to the crazy wandering shaman known as Griffa. This can help upgrade your strength, length of combo holds, fuel economy, etc. But it’s worth it just to engage in the introspective story of Max’s psyche, something that Griffa seems to have a direct line to. His pointing out of Max’s confused loyalties, his own torture and the secrets in his own mind that he’s trying to run from or conveniently buries are some of the best discourse in the game.

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Customisable Max doesn’t have a massive amount of customisation, but what there is compliments the increasing level and helps in the combat like wrist guards and knuckle dusters. Most things are quite easily unlocked in this regard, although I found myself basically playing the Hobo version of Max for most of the game out of laziness. Car upgrades are pretty cool such as ramming bars, engine upgrades, upgrades to your weapons (which Chumbucket conveniently fires for you) and hood ornaments collected from the destroyed convoys you encounter. Everything does become available quite easily, despite having to complete certain side-quests in some regards to earn the upgrade. One of the cool things are pre-designed car load outs called Archangels, one of which you will need in the story. But it’s a cool aside to help collect every available version of the Magnum Opus in the game.

Car combat is one of those things that can irk people. But I feel that Mad Max does it rather well. The obvious thing is to ram and grind everything in your path (be it a car, person or structure) but the options that you unlock can make this better than the constant dosey doe of close quarters vehicular violence. Yes the harpoon can be quite overpowered and is used a lot depending on what you’re doing, but that doesn’t make it less cool to use. There’s the thunderpoon (explosive on a stick), the shotgun and the side burners, the latter of which does a lot more damage than you think, if you want some variety.

But enemies usually come in threes which means that whilst you’re having to drive around finding another guy to hit, one is either coming at you or is primed to be t-boned. So there’s always someone to bash and never just an aimless creation of donuts. There is even a sneaky way to make things easier with the drivers getting out of the vehicles which allows them to be unceremoniously punched to death, quite convenient when your own car is on fire and about to explode.

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Of course there’s even more of a bonus if you can get these people out of a car and take their vehicle back to your closest stronghold. Whilst you can only upgrade your own car, you can also use any of the cars in the game as long as you collect them, which can be very useful for races or specific tasks like ramming things or collecting scrap. Once you do get out on your own and start beating up on people, you’ll find the combat very amenable indeed.

Compared to its contemporaries, you have a much more rugged feel to fighting. That’s also to do with the opponents you’re facing being rather rugged themselves, as well as Max being, well, mad. Most of the fighting removes itself from the acrobatic martial arts of Bruce Wayne and the sword fighting skills of Talion. It’s a lot more raw and brutal with shiv and skull crushing, just adding to the unforgiving psyche that Max has. This is even more apparent as you level up and progress the fury skill, an extra powerful buff earned from multiple combos.

Whilst I have been enjoying this game, there are some problems. These problems really do become a lot more apparent in the later parts of the game and one of them is due to its contemporaries. Whilst all the media attention was sited on this game being delayed and then released at the same time as the huge giant killer of Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain (which you can read our initial impressions of here), I’m more concerned with Batman: Arkham Knight and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

On the face of it, these are three different games with three different franchises from three different development studios – Monolith, Rocksteady and Avalanche. However these games in a lot of areas are exactly the same. Free-flowing combat in an open-world with various base liberation and boss battles, all of which level you up. It’s a stretch but this game does feel, when you’re playing it at length anyway, incredibly similar to Mordor. Obviously it doesn’t have the Nemesis system but the feel of it is incredibly similar. The car combat is something arguably Batman should have had and Max’s story is nowhere near as good as Batman’s. But the point is there (and probably only relevant if you played a lot of the other two games, like I did) that in the space of a year three incredibly similar games have been released by the same publisher.

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That’s not a problem if you like these games. They’re very good and the technology is there to make them good. Although Mad Max suffers towards the end of the game with big frame rate issues, especially in the storms, some races and occasional battles around the top of the map where lots of things are. It’s not game breaking but it’s frustrating given how smooth the rest of the game is. The story of the game also does something rather frustrating at the end by making you completely feel like you’ve misjudged the whole thing. Not in a controversial-yet-ideological epiphany kind of way, but more of a sad and unnecessary kind of way. It does feel a bit rushed and the game also frustrates you by overusing the map at this point. You also don’t get enough of Gastown or the amazingly bleak and dead area of the Barren Wastes. There are a few missed opportunities more than anything, which is annoying given the depth the game goes to in other areas.

One of which is fuel. I never wanted for fuel at all in this game. Not because it was easily found (although it is quite easily found), but because my character levelling made me conserve fuel more and by the time I was at a point in the game where things get very fuel thirsty, I had the economy of a Nissan Leaf but with a V8 engine. Trust me, I’ve owned a old school V8 car and that petrol practically evaporates. It was also helped that I’d done a lot of searching for parts for the strongholds so every time I went back to the central one for most of the game, Jeet’s Stronghold, I maxed out all my health, ammo, fuel and water. Obviously that was my choice but it took a little bit of challenge out of the game. One of the other things I didn’t get was how the story wanted you to blow up the oil refineries and transfer tanks to help disrupt an already leaderless Scrotus clan. Surely, given his hold on the resource, blowing it up is actually not a good thing as you need it too.

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I’m honestly glad I played Mad Max and it’s one of those games, like Mordor that I would play again and again, so in a way, I won’t be able to game without it being a part of my lexicon. And the one big reason why it has completely captured me is how beautiful the game is. I’ve been taking many pictures in the game using the photo mode (again something that was excellent in Shadow of Mordor) and it is glorious. The beauty of decay and entropy is something that is wonderful to look at and, outside of Chernobyl anyway, you won’t see it in real life en masse. The world that Avalanche has created is dangerous, violent, raw and poetically empty. When a storm hits, it’s incredibly vicious, loud and pretty. Many times, I risked death to get the perfect shot for a lightening bolt.

Normally for reviews, we use picture assets sent to us by the publisher but for this, we’ve used my own personal shots from the game. All of the pictures seen here are taken by me using the game’s own photo mode and shared via my PS4. It’s a testament that I trust how good these pictures look that I want to use them like this and it really shows off the vast visual beauty this game possesses. Combined with great game mechanics, excellent driving and combat, and an entertaining story that rewards the side quest grind for upgrades, Mad Max is definitely a game I’m reticent to put down. But I must for the plains of silence await me… If by plains of silence you mean doing some work.

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Mad Max is an excellent game which perfectly captures the sense of craziness and social human decay that George Miller’s movies evoke. The mechanics are sound, the game is huge and the landscape is beautiful. It’s slightly let down by its story and how close it is in gameplay to other games you’ve probably sunk time in to this year. But it’s definitely a game that will stay with you.

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  • Beautiful post-apocalyptic landscape.
  • Great fighting and car combat mechanics
  • Large open-world map that never feels the same.

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  • Story isn’t the best towards the end.
  • Quite close to other games in their gameplay.
  • Some bugs towards the end makes it feel a bit rushed.

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Whilst the game is excellent, the frame rate glitches towards the end let it down, as does the conclusion of the story. Plus there really isn’t enough to do outside of the quests and landscape liberation to take it to the next level. But the game is a great experience and one that truly deserves the plaudits if not for its beauty alone.

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This review is based on the PS4 version provided by the publisher.

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Mad Max – Preview

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I didn’t want Mad Max to start with. I didn’t ask for it, and I certainly didn’t really care too much about what the gameplay would be like. Fair enough, there was a movie coming that looked interesting but I just imagined a dead 80s franchise being milked while it became relevant again. Then I played Mad Max and I soon realised this could be the one game that I wouldn’t be able to live without.

It’s a bold statement in a year that has Fallout 4 on the cards and the similar stylings of Batman: Arkham Knight arguably in pole position as Game of the Year right now, next to Life is Strange. But something about the short time I’d spent with Mad Max gripped me and took me to a place of customisation and driving intensity in arid areas I’d never have imagined.

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To start with, it’s worth pointing out that whilst you are the titular Max Rockatansky, you are not any of the movie versions of him. He’s his own character and rather autonomous so you can slot in to playing as him better. The black V8 Interceptor (a 1973 Ford Falcon in real life) is absent thanks to theft by marauders, but this only furthers the plot and the gameplay dynamics. Swedish developers Avalanche Studios have basically been given the keys and asked to come up with their own thing. So this is not a tie-in of any kind – Box one ticked.

Gaming is very spoilt with dystopian post-apocalyptic madness, which has probably got something to do with the movies and fictions game designers had growing up in the 1980s. So it’s with a sense of irony that the films probably inspired the games we love (Fallout being a prime example) that then inspired this game. But Mad Max’s world is extraordinary.

Everything that’s crazy about the movie world is here. You have the crazy side characters and seemingly endless insane cults and gangs ready to wreak havoc upon you in inventive ways. You have the vast and inescapable desert and the occasional hard rock. You have the intense weather from the films, dramatic and violent storms blowing sand everywhere or crackling with electricity.

In the play-through I had a companion from the studio to help me get to grips with the game and the controls quickly, communicating through a headset, but that became absolutely pointless as a storm hit. The storms are not scripted events and have varying degrees of severity. It was loud and obnoxious like an old TV used to sound at 3am when you fell asleep to it and all that was on was static. The only thing I heard my companion say was “you need shelter,” and she was right.

Three cars had come out of nowhere and started attacking me and trying to ram me. It had nothing to do with the mission to reach a stronghold in search of a legendary V8 engine. No, the actual mission had become incredibly mute and unimportant compared to the three guys throwing fiery explosive javelins at me. The cars had come from out of nowhere, just like the storm, and destroying them presented other problems. My own javelins were doing their job but the wreck of the car was now scrap metal which got caught up in the winds and was now smashing in to my face.

My visibility was zero and I did what only a professional coward would, and drove away really fast. Anywhere, just away from the remaining pack of cars. This presented its own problems in the shape of large immoveable rocks that only a 4×4 would dare attempt. I crashed, weakening my own car even more before seeing how far out from my original waypoint I was on the in game map. The road was much closer than I realised and as soon as I relocated it, I put the foot down on my upgraded V6 powered car and lost my assailants in the dust. I reached the stronghold which was under attack, but as a cutscene played and the storm relented, I suddenly realised how open my jaw was and how much fun I had just had. – Box two ticked.

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All of this is made possible by some excellent gameplay features. The open world is a huge expanse of post-apocalyptic wasteland that is split in to regions. The story mode will take you across all of this but you will need a lot to survive. Our demo was a mission that was just under half way through the game, and so our character, our Max, was suitably levelled up for us. You can customise your Max in any way (looks, clothing, weapons) but what is more fun is the car, the Magnum Opus. Driving in this game is incredibly responsive and you can do a great number of things to your car to personalise your experience, and that personalisation feels key to what Avalanche are attempting to do here.

You can upgrade your engine parts, wheels, chassis, etc, by using scrap metal that you collect throughout the world. You’ll find old car wrecks and there’s bits and pieces that you can find after you’ve destroyed other vehicles. This scrap is then used to purchase these upgrades but in some cases, you need to find them first. A new car chassis will be in the desert for you to find and the rewards for exploration and discoveries like this translate directly to what you can do with your car.

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You have a companion called Chumbucket, on your journey who sits in the back of your car and is the man who fires your main weaponry.  Your harpoon is the standard weapon but there are also the Thunderpoons (the explosive bolts), a sniper rifle for distance shots, your own shotgun and the option to either quick fire or aim yourself. All of which you purchase with your scrap metal. So you can go quite balanced, very weapon heavy, quick armoured speed, whatever you want. Your car customisation can add a ram at the front, different hood ornaments, the cool wheels with spikes, flame throwers on the side of your car, your own colour schemes… There’s an incredible amount and the team at Avalanche have taken inspiration from Forza Motorsport of all places in how to personalise a vehicle.

The game should see you try to reunite Max with his fabled car whilst also looking to end his madness, but one of the things to stress here is that you are Max. So therefore YOU are the mad one and you can be as mad and as crazy as you want. The game is a veritable sandbox (desert pun unintended) that allows you to play how you want, to whatever goal you want and with whatever setup you want. Even in my demo, no two journalists had the same experience and we all had our own stories. I’d talked the day before with another journalist who thought the harpoon was overpowered because you can just tear the wheels off enemy vehicles with it and then mow everyone down in a Carmageddon-esque frenzy. But that was their story and unless I did exactly the same as them, my own story would be unique – Box three ticked.

The game did blind side me as to how much playability there was from what is essentially a core concept of a bonkers bloke driving a car around and destroying everything that attempts to destroy him. But after I played it I realised that the story I was taking away was my own, not Max’s. And although there is the main quest with a story and plot, this doesn’t interfere with your experience and how you go about attaining that. Where other games after a while do get a bit repetitive, and I can imagine that hunting for scrap could possibly get a bit repetitive if you’re that way inclined, Mad Max kept me interested, gripped and excited for what I was about to do next with reckless abandon. So now that I don’t have Mad Max, I want it even more. Roll on September.

Mad Max is due for release on September 1st 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.

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