Some games are about a journey. Some are about love. Some are about revenge. A distressingly growing number are about their respective developer’s feelings; I try to avoid those if I can. Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max, though…Mad Max is simply a game about a car. Specifically, it’s about the transformation of a car from a hunk of rust into the biggest, meanest, killing-est machine the world has ever known. If a developer had feelings about that, I’d probably play more of those games. Instead, let’s talk about Mad Max, the game (and not the latest movie).
Mad Max stars Mel Gibson, er, Tom Hardy, er… well, okay, it stars Bren Foster as he roams the Great White wasteland searching for the Plains of Silence, the only place where he can find peace after the brutal murder of his wife and daughter. After his iconic car is stolen and stripped for parts, Max teams up with Chumbucket, a hunchback mechanic who helps him construct a harder, better, faster, stronger vehicle: the Magnum Opus, a hellraising hot rod built to kill.
The Plains of Silence probably don’t exist, of course. This isn’t that kind of game. The wasteland you explore is terminally ill and won’t be getting any better; nearly the entirety of your actions are violent or destructive and your foes are even worse. This isn’t like Fallout, a post-apocalyptic story about how one person can bring hope to a ruined world; this is one man doing whatever it takes to survive. There’s a plot, but you’ll probably ignore it.
You don’t spend your time saving people or doing good deeds; you spend your time breaking stuff to get parts for your car, which incidentally might line up with a good deed every now and again. It’s refreshing, in a way. Also sometimes you can eat maggots. I can’t imagine that happens in many other games.
Your time in Mad Max is divided between roaming around on foot and driving the Magnum Opus and other vehicles. Hand to hand combat plays out pretty much like the Batman: Arkham series, so you’ll be punching, countering and dashing around from foe to foe as you’d expect from those games, along with using a limited stock of shotgun ammo to lay waste to foes. There’s some light platforming to do as well, which largely comes up while invading enemy bases to gather scrap and decrease the ambient threat in a region by beating up raiders. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not especially inspiring; Max is pretty bad about clambering up objects, for instance, and the game’s insistence that you hold action buttons to get anything done rather than pressing them will be a thorn in your side for a few hours.
The real highlight of the game, though, is vehicular combat. Cars feel heavy and powerful, lending themselves well to ramming, and that’s not even mentioning how they’re bristling with weapons in true Mad Max style. The controls allow you to aim and fire your various armaments while still driving, which feels fantastic and leads to tons of brutal car combat. There’s racing and such as well, though it kind of takes a backseat to battling and decreasing the ambient threat level by destroying raider structures.
You’ve got a great selection of car-crushing weaponry to choose from, including a harpoon you can use to rip doors off of raiders’ rides so you can carjack them, a sniper rifle for taking out enemies from long range (while your hunchback pal drives!) and an explosive javelin for blowing up the nastiest baddies. That harpoon could be considered Max’s costar, since seemingly all the greatest moments in the game involve harpooning something and dragging it around; cars, guard towers and gates alike all fall to the might of your tow cable. It’s glorious.
It really can’t be overstated how much you can customize your car in this game. There are dozens of possible configurations, including a number of special Archangel pre-built models that offer a unique look. You can cover your ride in spikes to fight off raiders or toss on some sharp rims to shred other cars’ tires. You can deck your ride out in garish raider paint once you’ve stolen it from baddies. You can drive the Magnum Opus into the heart of a raging storm in search of boxes full of car parts. Upgrades tend to come with disadvantages as well, so you’ll need to carefully choose what you want to focus on.
Much to my surprise after the disaster that was the PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight, Mad Max runs spectacularly on PC. Given the quality of the graphics this is impressive, since everything looks great. In particular, the brutal storms that occasionally show up are impressive and worth checking out. The sound and voice acting are solid as well. It’s a fairly lengthy game at around 30 hours, though that depends on how much of the side content you end up doing.
Mad Max isn’t perfect, of course. As mentioned, the ground-based segments are a little lame; I constantly found myself wishing Max was a little more acrobatic. It has a bit of a content glut, with tons of little distractions keeping you from focusing on measured progress, a bit like Just Cause 2. The boss battles are also a bit lame; the aren’t especially common but still feel annoyingly similar to one another.
Despite following a well-received summer blockbuster movie, Mad Max also had the misfortune of releasing alongside Metal Gear Solid V, meaning it’s going to race under a lot of people’s radars. That’s a bit of a shame, since it’s absolutely worth a look – and it will likely rapidly drop in price thanks to that unfortunate matchup. The industry as it stands is one where everything has to be “indie” or “AAA” with little room for solid B-list games like Mad Max. That’s a bit of a shame. Give it a shot.