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My car has ran out of gas. I quickly hop out into The Great White. I make my way up a hill to a camp inhabited by a band of War Boys. I take them out one by one; counter after counter; heavy chain hit after heavy chain hit. I find a canister of gasoline. I bring it back to my car and refuel. Yes. This is good. This should be enough to get me back to camp.

This could have been Mad Max.  

Movie tie-in games haven’t gotten a great wrap over these past years. That’s because they’re usually rush jobs that release beside their box office brothers. Sometimes though, a developer is given the time they need to craft an experience worth playing. Avalanche Studios has taken Mad Max and turned it into a third-person, action-adventure, vehicular combat game set in an open world environment. Mad Max incorporates the overall theme and tone of the series very well. Unfortunately, it combines them with a repetitive, stale game.

Upgrades can be made to your Magnum Opus
Upgrades can be made to your Magnum Opus

Like every good Mad Max story, Max Rockatansky has his car taken from him.  During his journey to the Plains of Silence, Max hits an unexpected snag when he encounters a group of War Boys–run by warlord Scabrous Scrotus, psychotic son of the Immortan Joe–who drives him off the road and steals his clothes, his supplies, his weapons, and his car before leaving him to rot in the desert sun. Yeah, I know. Real jerk move.

A little later on, Max meets a hunchbacked mechanic named Chumbucket, and the two of them set out to create the perfect vehicle, the Magnum Opus. That’s pretty much it. Build this car, kill a bunch of people, and get revenge on the people that stole your first car. There’s a dog somewhere in the story too.  

At its core, Mad Max is a vehicular combat game. Which is good, because that’s where the game shines. You spend roughly 60 percent of the game in your Magnum Opus–so get comfortable. Throughout the game, you upgrade everything about your car. From its armor, to its weapons, to what type of tires you use. Each one of these choices has a significant impact on how your car handles and fights.

You have the ability to upgrade Max as well.
You have the ability to upgrade Max as well.

When fighting other cars, you have a few go-to options. The first is the Magnum Opus’ built-in ramming capabilities. Whether you nitro boost the front of your car into your enemy’s or side-swipe them, you do a considerable amount of damage. However, if you want to go for the kill shot, bust out your shotgun (or another weapon of your choice) and aim for the enemy’s gasoline tank. You probably know what happens next.

As the game progresses you get a plethora of different weapons. One of my favorites was the harpoon launcher. Sometimes (most of the time) I didn’t want to waste my time destroying an enemy vehicle, so I’d use the harpoon launcher to spear an enemy driver and pull him out of his car. Then, I’d be on my merry way. You’re able to take it one step further and turn your harpoon launcher into the Thunderpoon (sure, why not), which basically turns it into a make-shift rocket launcher.

I thought the vehicular combat played well for the most part. It was extremely satisfying when everything came together and you were able to pull off sequences like you’d see in a Mad Max film. That’s not to say there aren’t a few hiccups. You use the circle button to have Chumbucket automatically shoot your harpoon at the closest target. Sometimes, the game didn’t make the wisest choice and I was left in a compromising situation.

First-person mode looks great, but makes combat a bit more difficult

Also, your car is going to get damaged. If that happens you simply press up on the d-pad and Chumbucket will continue to repair it. You have to be at a complete stop though. This is where I ran into another problem with the vehicle combat in Mad Max. If my car was damaged I’d have to come to a stop to repair it. It takes the wind out of your sails when you’re in an epic chase and all of a sudden you have to stop and repair your car. Also, the enemies don’t care that you’re repairing. They will continuously come after you, and it’s incredibly tough to take them out when your car’s at a stand still. You can also play the game in first-person mode, but it makes combat a bit more difficult.

The vehicle stuff in Mad Max is a pretty typical affair. There’s convoys to be destroyed, races to be won, and escort missions to curse God at. One of my favorite moments in the game comes during a set piece where there’s a huge electrical storm (similar to the one in Mad Max: Fury Road). Navigating through the darkness as the night gets illuminated by lightning was pretty cool. All while War Boys were trying to take my head off.

It’s when you’re not in your Magnum Opus that Mad Max begins to fall off. First, the controls will take some time getting used to. Aiming your shotgun with L1 and shooting with circle isn’t very intuitive. What’s worse is when you use the games sniper rifle, the controls are changed. Jumping is assigned to L2, and X does just about everything else. Want to pick up scraps (which you will be doing a lot for the 30 plus hours it takes to beat Mad Max), press X. Want to beat down this door? Press X. Sometimes the controls are delayed too. You’re able to press circle to climb down a ladder, but don’t press it twice, or you’ll waste a precious shotgun bullet.

A scene during the electrical storm. One of my favorite segments in the game.

You also have to play a resource management simulator. You carry around a canteen that you can drink from to restore Max’s health. You find sources of water to fill it up throughout the game. Your car (and some weapons) run on fuel, so if you run out, you have to search the wasteland for a canister and fill it back up. I never found these inclusions to be annoying and there was enough water that I was always rocking a full canteen. There were a few times that I ran out of fuel and had to get out of my car to find a fuel tank. Just hope that it’s not during a mission.

When you’re not running around the world (or at least, trying to) you’re in combat. Mad Max borrows from games like Arkham Asylum and Shadow of Mordor for it’s combat, albeit to little success. You mash the attack button over and over again until you see a triangle counter prompt over an enemy’s head. Hit it before it’s too late and you counter that opponent’s attacks. Hit it at a precise moment and you perform a furious parry maneuver. The thing about the combat is that it gets stale very quickly. There’s not enough variation to warrant any type of reward. In the Batman games when I took down 15 enemies, using counters and gadgets, I felt like a badass. In Mad Max, I don’t. All I feel is how numb my fingers are for mashing square repeatedly. There’s a Fury Mode you can go into if you chain enough attacks together, but it too is boring and offers no real change to the combat.

Mad Max is a repetitive game. After the opening couple of tutorial hours, you’re given the whole world to explore. In this world, there are vantage points, convoys, death races, scarecrow nests and snipers to take out, and strongholds to overtake. You do a multitude of these tasks to lower the threat level in an area and then you move to another area of the map and do it all again. That’s pretty much it. You meet a few characters along the way that will help you further your quest in building the Magnum Opus, but none that particularly stand out. Later on in the game, side quests become available for you to do. These usually reward you with scraps and a “projects” in one of the NPC strongholds. Like the rest of Mad Max, I found these side missions to be repetitive. However, if you do the majority of them, you should have more than enough scrap to upgrade your character.  

Combat is a brutal, repetitive affair.

One of the things I found cumbersome about Mad Max was the progression of the game. When I play open-world games I usually like to get the main quest line out of the way before diving into all of the side missions. Yes, I’ll dabble in a few strongholds here and there, or take out sniper towers as I pass them, but for the most part I want to complete the main story. Mad Max has an issue with that. Take for instance, about four hours into the game there’s a quest where you need to have a certain number of items and upgrades equipped on your car. Don’t have them? Don’t have enough scrap? Too bad, come back when you have 400 scrap in your inventory to upgrade your car. The game will also lock main story missions behind specific side quests. Oh, want to do this mission? Well, first you have to complete the two strongholds in this area. I don’t like when main story missions are locked behind side content in a game. In an open-world game where freedom is everything, it sucks that you’re progress in the main campaign is hindered until you do side content (or have enough scrap for something). Let me play my way. If the side content is compelling, I will play it. Don’t force me to.

Mad Max isn’t a bad game. It’s a boring, repetitive one. It also suffers from being too long. About 15 hours in, I thought that my time with Mad Max should’ve came to a close. It’s not a game that everyone will complete because people will get burned out. The stakes in the story aren’t high enough, and the characters are too bland to care about. There are some fun set-piece moments, but those are few and far in between.  Don’t expect it to blow you away with it’s story, and be ready for a lot of repetition. Everyone else, skip the game. Go watch Fury Road again.

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The retail version of the PlayStation 4 game was used for review; It took me about 30 hours to complete the main story missions. The gifs used in this review were from NeoGAF. If you have any questions about the review, feel free to email me: Aesposito@victorypoint.tv

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