- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), Xbox One, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Warner Bros Entertainment
- Developer: Avalanche Studios
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.madmaxgame.com/age_gate/
- Game disc provided by PR
The world of Mad Max (or ‘Infuriated Ian’ as the English version has it, of course) is a grim one. A grimy world where crude and dirty technology is king, and automobiles are valued higher than human lives; sort of like the inside of Jeremy Clarkson’s head. Previously, the closest you could get to living there was watching the local chavs do donuts down the garages while they left a trail of discarded energy drink cans in their wake; but lo! Warner Bros and Avalanche Studios have brought us a 21st Century Mad Max game.
The phrase ‘GTA Gibson’ may be a silly and lazy one, but it gives you a fair idea of what to expect. Not that Max looks anything like Australia’s most famous right-wing actor here; he’s (unsurprisingly) more like Tom Hardy in Fury Road, if Tom Hardy was instructed to mix it up with Nathan Drake cosplay. As Max, you will wander a part of the desert Wastelands known as ‘The Great White’, fighting or running from random road warriors as you see fit, completing missions of both the ‘story’ and ‘side’ varieties.
Make no mistake; the Wastelands here are superbly realised, the environment almost being a character itself. A nigh-on perfect balance has been struck between conveying the sense of an arid and near-empty desert, while also ensuring the player is never too far from something to do or see. Scavenging long-rusted wrecks or ramshackle camps is vital. Water, food, fuel, scrap metal (the game’s currency); all must be hunted and gathered for survival. In truth, fuel – while usually guarded – isn’t nearly as rare as the Max universe would have it. Apart from one scripted section at the beginning of the game, we never ran dry in a vehicle. More important is water, essentially an HP restorer. There’s (dog) food to be found, and you can also eat maggots from corpses (ew), but you rather oddly can’t carry food around with you. Only water, in your canteen.
Max may be a legendary ‘road warrior’, but he’ll spend most of his time doing things for other people. Go here, go there, bring me this, blow up those… but we never really minded. Roaring across the dusty uneven lands in Max’s car is great fun, and car battles are good too (though best appreciated after a handful of upgrades). You’ll spend more time out of Max’s car than in it though, with plenty of places to explore and camps to raid and take over (once friendly, a camp will periodically reward you with scrap). On-foot combat is perhaps best described as a Fisher Price version of Rocksteady’s Arkham combat system. You punch with one button, counter with a second, evade with a third, and there are limited lifespan melee weapons to pick up. It’s solid, if not nearly as smooth as Batman’s graceful system. The main issue is the camera, which seems to be on the side of your enemies.
When fighting in the midst of a group (which is virtually always), it has a tendency to keep some opponents out of shot. As a result, you never see when these off-screen miscreants are about to attack, and suffer unavoidable damage as a result. You soon learn to avoid this problem by giving the camera a nudge when needed, but you shouldn’t have to.
Games like this are all about freedom, which is achieved here with mixed results. In general, you can tackle gameplay how you like. You’re encouraged to explore different approaches to the main camps (for example, rather than charge straight in you can take out perimeter defences or play trojan horse by stealing an enemy vehicle), and the more you upgrade your car, the more options you have for car combat. You’ll eventually be able to damage cars by ramming them, taking out the tires, taking out the driver directly, or hitting them with explosives. Tools available for this are car armour, rims and flamethrowers, your trusty harpoon, the explosive ‘thunderpoon’, and Max’s shotgun, which can be used while driving. Then there are the obligatory legions of optional missions and constructs, which offer either one-off or repeated rewards. There’s hours upon hours of content here, charged with a riveting apocalyptic atmosphere.
On the other hand, your freedom is to a large extent an illusion. The aforementioned car upgrades, as well as upgrades for Max himself (health, defence, offence, etc) are kept behind a variety of barriers. That upgrade you want? As well as the requisite amount of scrap, you’ll have to have completed a certain story and/or side mission, and/or reached a certain level, and/or reduced the ‘threat level’ in a certain area by a certain amount. This is most irritatingly brought to the fore about two thirds through the story, where previously optional tasks suddenly become compulsory if you want to unlock the next story mission. This then happens again a few more times.
Then there are the storms. A great idea on paper, they look awesome certainly, and have a risk/reward idea as they hide huge scrap stashes. However, they occur randomly, and can easily kill you if you’re out in the open. As a result, if one hits when you’re (for example) halfway through clearing a camp, you must (a) cower in a sheltered corner until it’s finally over, or (b) make it to the nearest stronghold to ‘cancel’ the storm, then drive all the way back to where you were. They’re few and far between, but extremely annoying when they happen while you’re busy.
Although it seems determined to hold itself back from greatness, Mad Max is (generally) an open-world game done right that will grip you for hours at a time. It’s the most depressingly realistic apocalyptic aftermath a videogame has offered in quite a while; consider this basic training, only fun.