G’day cobbers! We got ourselves an ace bottler today about a bushranger stuck in the GAFA who’s as fit as a Mallee bull, and that’s deadset. Bloody oath! He doesn’t know Christmas from Bourke Street… brown-eyed mullet… shrimp on the barbie.
Alright, let’s try that again.
I came late to the Mad Max franchise. Before going to see Fury Road earlier this year, anything I knew about Mad Max was picked up through cultural osmosis, as I hadn’t seen even a few minutes of any of the 3 earlier movies (Thunderdome? Is that what they call Zeus’s bald spot?). But after Fury Road (which I saw twice in one week in theatres and may watch again tomorrow just for funzies) I was hooked on this tale of an Australian wanderer, trying to survive in a world that failed to. I gobbled up the other movies – they were enjoyable, but not enough to slake my thirst for guzzolene, so I was forced to sit back and wait for the release of the unoriginally titled Mad Max, brought to the world by Avalanche Studios, developers of the excellent Just Cause franchise.
Now I knew very little about this game, besides watching some pretty intense trailers, so I set off into the wasteland with virgin eyes and ears, to see if it could match the pure fun and adrenaline that was Mad Max: Fury Road. These are my first impressions of Mad Max, and how those impressions changed (or stayed the same) over my first few hours of play. Warning, there are some mild spoilers ahead (turns out… he’s crazy!).
The intro sequence certainly keeps true to the spirit of Fury Road, starting with a grim Australian narration about losing it all, and transitions seamlessly into an intense car chase where we learn that Max is being chased by the War Boys of Scabrous Scrotus, son of Immortan Joe (the villain of Fury Road). My gut is to raise an eyebrow at the silly name, as it reminds me more of a GWAR character than anything else, but I guess Mad Max has the precedent for stupid names (re: Lord Humungus and Master Blaster). The choreography is very Mad Max, as is the pacing and sound design, so it’s clear that Avalanche knew the vibe of the movies, and understood how well such a frenetic tone would work in a video game.
Max, as is so common for him, comes out on the wrong side of the chase, losing his gear and his car – the Black on Black as it’s known in the game. But he’s not alone for long (is he ever?) as he soon picks up some new companions in the form of Scrotus’s abandoned dog (who I can only assume is named Dog), and the equally unfortunately named Chumbucket, a mechanical genius obsessed with building his Magnum Opus – the toughest car this side of the Great Barrier Reef. It’s here we join Max’s Wasteland journey, as he hungers for revenge on Scrotus and desperately hopes to find peace in a tranquil (and possibly imaginary) land he calls the Plains of Silence.
But enough exposition, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. The game runs fantastically (something I’ve heard echoed around the internet) and looks gorgeous on my middle-end PC. I had a few weird character model glitches in cutscenes (they would move from one position to another with no animation in between) but nothing too jarring or distracting, though I did notice that the game seemed to have an easier time running when the player outside of the in-game cinematics. I used a controller, as I tend to do for 3rd person games, and the controls seemed fine, if a little unintuitive.
The melee combat seems like pretty standard Arkham Asylum fare plus shotgun. The punches have some nice weight to them, and the animations and finishers seem fluid and responsive. I am one of the few who didn’t really care for the Arkham series, so I’m concerned that the combat may become a bit repetitive, but I haven’t put enough time in yet to be able to tell either way. There’s a rudimentary level up system (more health, more ammo, etc.) that has some bonus moves, but the ones I unlocked seemed mostly to be passive, adding to combo hits that are still just hitting square over and over. The driving, which is the real focus of the game combat wise, feels great. The cars have weight behind them, and it’s deeply satisfying to ram into an enemy vehicle and watch it explode. The vehicle upgrades are many, though they seem to be improvements more than variations. It’s clear that a great deal of effort went into the driving mechanics, and it shows, though I have a similar worry that the combat will become too “same-y” by late game.
It’s an open world, with the standard “search here for stuff” and “go here and kill stuff” missions, alongside races, capturing fortresses, and other side quests. There’s a lot to do, and if you’re a completionist you have your work cut out for you, but it’s hard to compare the cookie cutter side stuff with something like the interesting and nuanced side missions in the Witcher 3 and come out favourably. Granted, that may not be a fair comparison, but it’s where my mind goes when clearing out my 50th scavenger location.
Obviously I haven’t spent enough time with Mad Max to deliver a final verdict, but it certainly seems like a game that nails the tone and theme of the source material to a T, but may prove to be held back by game mechanics. Avalanche has captured the dual nature of the Mad Max universe: quiet desperation and an exploration of what it means to be a human, crossed with absurd ultraviolence and chaotic spectacle. The characters are unique and interesting, and the environment is stark and lonely, providing a contrast that persists throughout the films as well. My main concern with Mad Max, however, is the potential for repetition, and the boredom that can accompany it. If the game is just square-square-square, drive, square-square-sqaure, then the franticness is lost, and tedium takes over.
What I can say for sure is that (despite what I may sound like) I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent playing Mad Max, and my worry is more that I may stop having fun rather than that I’m not having fun. It’s a solid effort by Avalanche, and looks and feels great. I just hope that playing it stays as much fun as watching it.
Eric Roy is AYBOnline’s most recent contributor, and this is his debut post. His opinions are his, and his alone.