Following the announcement of the PlayStation Plus April 2018 games, we’re rebumping our Mad Max Review for PS4. The action-adventure will be free to download for PS Plus subscribers on April 2, 2018.
”My name is Max. My world is fire and blood.”
Mad Max’s potential within the video game sphere has been known for some time now. So much so, in fact, that we’ve seen the emergence of series’ whose entire genetic makeup can be seen to be derived in no small part from the manic desolation found in film director George Miller’s vision of the wasteland. Smash hit series’ like Fallout, Borderlands and Twisted Metal all owe some of their successes to the film franchise that began in earnest over thirty-five years ago.
Jumping on the back of the fandom generated by the cinema release of Mad Max: Fury Road this summer, though not directly related as a traditional movie tie-in, Mad Max arrives on PlayStation 4 to an oddly quiet reception, presumably due to the fact that publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has bizarrely chosen to release it on the same day as Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid swansong.
Nevertheless, it’s been a long time coming and it’s finally here. And much like its aforementioned influence within video game culture, it’s perhaps fitting, then, that Mad Max’s first foray into a fully fledged video game is itself an amalgamation of various video game tropes and mechanics.
Not dissimilar from the game’s main-line quest to assemble the be-all-and-end-all vehicle, the Magnum Opus, through fragmented components strewn across the land, the overarching experience housed within Mad Max just feels as if it’s been forged from more-than-slight nods to various successful video game franchises; a formulaic collage en masse that never really manages to elevate itself beyond a certain level of expectancy.
Its combat is an oftentimes ham-fisted variant of what’s to be found in Rocksteady Games’ Arkham series, with its incessant square-tapping, evasion of brute tackles, charged-up attacks to break blocks, and carefully-timed counters. It’s not nearly as streamlined, however, though it does offer a more visceral and frenzied impression that mirrors the desolation and depravity of the wasteland well.
With its barren landscape populated by outposts and encampments derived from the likes of Far Cry – wherein you survey the best route of assault and soon realize that your choices aren’t as wide-arching as initially presumed – Mad Max seems to take cues wherever possible, and that’s fine so long as it works in a competent way. And that’s what the game is on a fundamental level; a serviceable interpretation of the lore created by George Miller – one that’s enjoyable not because it exceeds beyond its undoubted potential but rather that it plays like a genuine attempt at fusing disparate gameplay elements together and melding them into the manic clutch of the outback.
With its moment-to-moment gameplay concessions apparent, one could presume that Mad Max would tread the same course as Grand Theft Auto games of yonder, forgoing finely-honed mechanics in favor of a more varied and dense world to traverse. Perhaps it’s symptomatic of the fact that Avalanche Studios’ source material is, by its own appearance, a desolate landscape of muddled browns and darkened undertones, but Mad Max never truly escapes the preconceived boundaries of its origin.
It never feels as though Avalanche has taken the fascinating character of Max Rockatansky and moulded him around a fiercely threatening environment that overtly displays just how bleak survival in the harsh terrain is. A game of endurance where the lows far outweigh the highs.
Arbitrary water and food systems aside, and of course the consideration leveled towards your ever-dwindling fuel reserve, (aspects you can, for the most part, easily overlook) there’s rarely a series of features that truly deviate from the tried-and-tested playbook of the open-world genre. And it’s a shame, too, as this year more than most has played host to a wide array of sprawling adventures, such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Batman: Arkham Knight; games that either house deeply engaging narratives or enough gameplay hooks to keep everything feeling fresh and satisfying.
Mad Max’s world, while admittedly vast, just seems to lack that killer edge to really set itself apart. Sure it’s got its fair share of decrepit behavior and crazed inhabitants, but if anything it feels more as if its aridity has been solely designed to be a conduit for which the game’s vehicular travel and combat can flourish. And that’s thankfully Mad Max’s ace in the pack.
Eliciting the help of a loveable – if not a tad annoying – sidekick by the name of Chumbucket (think Sloth from The Goonies with a healthy pinch of Ephialtes from the movie 300) Mad Max’s narrative naturally pays homage to the films by which it’s inspired, namely the meeting with the Gyro Captain from The Road Warrior, the sawn-off shotgun, and of course the ransacking at the beginning of Fury Road that sets in motion the chain of events that follow it.
Beyond that, Mad Max’s storyline is relatively wafer thin, revolving mostly around Max being incensed by the idea of getting mechanic Chumbucket the parts necessary to create the ultimate combat vehicle as a means of raising his chances of survival within the wasteland. After all, the car is practically a deity within the Mad Max universe. It’s appropriate, then, that the vehicular-based combat within the game is easily its most accomplished aspect.
It’s not hyperbolic to say that developer Avalanche Studios’ entire design philosophy for the game – from both a narrative and gameplay standpoint – has seemingly been informed with the ‘car’ at the forefront of consciousness. The game’s barren landscape provides the perfect open-ended backdrop for the numerous chases you partake in and a lot of them are genuinely tense and wonderfully realized.
The sheer sense of speed, and the variation of ways you can approach a situation within your vehicle once it’s been upgraded significantly is a joy to behold. You’ll find yourself shunting, performing the PIT maneuver, systematically deconstructing cars by way of your harpoon, and shattering them into several well-sized chunks with a well-placed charge.
It's even possible to dispatch an enemy through his own windshield by way of a harpoon to the face and drag him along for the ride as you meander through rock faces and crevices that are sure to maim or at the very least provide some serious discomfort. As to be expected by the developer of the Just Cause series, Avalanche has once again pulled out all the stops in honing its destructive effects, too, with the likes of car explosions and oil refinery eruptions particularly impressing.
What’s equally laudable is how dynamic Mad Max’s weather system manages to be in amidst of the usual mundanity found within deserts. Ever the willing participant in this symphony of chaos, the wasteland can routinely lay witness to sand storms, mini tornadoes, natural disasters that affect the terrain as well as a day-night cycle that uproots proceedings significantly.
While the practical effects are a cause for adulation – as is the sky box which makes the entire experience seem that little bit more cinematic, allowing for the photo mode to get a lot of usage – the game also suffers from a lot of suspect texture detail, sub-par character models, and relative recycling of assets; an ever-present concession when considering the scope of the world in which you can explore. It’s frustrating, though, because the inadequacy of the game’s animations impinges on the fluidity of the hand-to-hand gameplay whilst the lack of graphical sheen paints areas of the world as relatively dull and uninspired.
Another moment-to-moment aspect of the experience is the collection of salvage for use within the game’s robust upgrading system. With the ability to tinker and tailor your vehicle as best as you see fit, as well as Max himself, there’s always something to aim towards in addition to the main story. It’s nothing spectacular, mind, playing more like a serviceable progression tool that doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the experience other than adding that little bit more purpose to the endless amount of exploring you can do.
All things considered, if you’re looking for something that reinvents the steering wheel – or the V-8 engine for that matter – then you’re best looking elsewhere. For everyone else looking for a relatively enjoyable 30-hour adventure with no discernible game-breaking flaws, however, then it might be worth investing some time into. While it’s a jack of all trades and master of none, there is a distinct charm inherent with Avalanche Studios’ take on Mad Max and provided you can get it cheaper than its full price listing you could certainly do a lot worse.