Now we are into the fall gaming season in full swing. First Up we have Mad Max. After the hugely enjoyable film this year, we now get the game from Avalanche studios. Buckle up as it is one of a dying breed. The fabled 8/10 game, that we used to get all the time.
Sharing the same tone as the new film, but only a tenuous story link, we get Max starting out with nothing on a revenge mission against Scabarus Scrotus, a relation of the film’s Immortan Joe, however we believe Scrotus dead from the opening cinematic. What that leaves us, is a wide expanse full of exploration and rival factions bidding for power. In game terms it leaves us a relaxing playground to cause mayhem in. The big issue with the game is the slow start. We see this world full of promise and freedom in front of us, yet have to wait a few hours for it to truly open up. You start the game by rescuing a dog from a mechanic called Chumbucket, he agrees to be your co-pilot on the journey to reclaim your stolen car, by strangely building a better one. Through activities in the world you collect scrap, which Chum uses to make your car a fearsome death-dealer.
For a game about driving, the developers should really have allowed you some time in a decent car before losing it all. Instead you start with an absolute bucket, that makes the early driving sections worryingly uncontrollable. Luckily a few upgrades in and the vehicle starts handling like you would imagine. I just feel the game should give you a taster of how good it can be at the start, rather than go through the motions. When you do get a few upgrades the driving is as you would expect driving a car made from scrap across an endless desert wasteland to be. The bumps and rough patches you hit have a severe effect on the handling. One minute you could be lining up a perfect ram on the side of an enemy car, the next a stray rock has hit your wheel making you miss it by inches and career over a ravine. It can make for thrilling stuff. Unfortunately early, easy, one on one, car battles descend to a circling match until someone gets the right angle. Again as things ramp up you can create your own version of the convoy takedowns in the film. All you need are upgraded harpoons for taking wheels off the enemy and fire pipes for roasting them, as they go side by side. Physics-wise I find it hard to complain with what is on offer as you barrel into wreck after wreck and emerge the other side. A quick respite and Chumbucket, gets out to repair the damage automatically. Useful early on as even a steep incline or a massive amount of air on a jump will damage the car.
In case you think this game is all about driving, Max adds a fair amount of combat and exploration to the mix. You can get out of the car at any time and take on your foes, hand to hand. the combat is gloriously heavy and brutal. I have seen other reviews claim it is too easy and can be exploited. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I haven’t found it easy or difficult and it plays like a sadistic version of the Arkham games or as i put in the title Assassins Creed. You have a glowing counter button, which must be pressed in time with the prompt. I actually find the counters less forgiving than the other mentioned games. A number of times I found myself getting hit or grabbed from behind. The chained moves also pack a real punch. Either you smash someone against a wall or if you are lucky German Suplex them like Brock Lesnar. Weapons can be lifted and used, shivs can be stored to get an instant finish and there are a number of enemy types, to challenge your style.
The gameplay itself is where the Assassins Creed comparison comes in. It has been called repetitive, however I feel there is nothing wrong with this. Realistically, if you look at the setting and the wasteland, you can see that there are camps to take over, that range in difficulty and objective. You can even break into these in different ways. Take down the surrounding defences, wither with your car mounted sniper rifle or with the harpoon. Gratifyingly, you can harpoon the base of a snipers tower then drive off in your car, pulling it tumbling down to earth. There are also Max’s version of watchtowers, copied from Assassins Creed or Farcry. You drive up to these hot air balloons, that sometimes need some maintenance before ascending into the sky, allowing you to mark points of interest on the map. These can be races, convoys, scarecrows to destroy and further bases to conquer. When you takeover camps they grant you recurring bonuses in scrap allowing you to grow both Max and the car, until you are unstoppable.
Unfortunately the storyline, like the films, is throwaway. It gives us a basic premise then allows us to expand on it as much as we see fit. You can go around collecting all the historical Polaroids left around, to gain a better understanding of the world Max lives in or you could watch the film. I suggest watching the film, then playing the game. It is a gorgeous depiction of a post apocalyptic world, that is a very enjoyable way to spend 20+ hours of your time. Here is where the game has been treated unfairly. Too many games strive for AAA and fail. The Order 1886, from earlier this year is a prime example. So many good aspects, beautiful graphics, solid gameplay and engaging story, yet the game failed, as it used up all its budget and imagination in five short hours. Max is a throwback to when games didn’t hand you everything on a plate. There is a little repetition, a little backtracking and some pointless wandering. In other words this is a game, you can enjoy seeking out all the collectables and burning rubber going from one area to another. It isn’t a genre defining, 10/10 game. It is a perfectly enjoyable romp that is elevated by a love for the intellectual property. If you like Mad Max it is a great way to spend a few hours here and there, without feeling under any pressure to finish or love the game. There will be plenty of others out soon that need a more critical eye.