Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Single Player
Platform: Playstation 4 (also on PC and XBox One)
Rating: M (for Mature), definitely not for young kids
Release Date: September 1, 2015
I have to admit – my timing for reviewing video games has fallen behind drastically in the last two months or so. I apologize, mostly because a lot of things have come around that I might have been better prepared for. Aside from that, I have been able to sneak in some PS4 video gaming on the side. Destiny 2.0 being one, while Mad Max by Avalanche Studios is the other.
You might recognize Avalanche from their more popular Just Cause series of games. They were also involved in games such as Renegade Ops and The Hunter. Regardless of their wildly varying success, they are working with Square Enix on their Final Fantasy franchise in the long awaited XV of the series.So their take on Mad Max is understandably hit-or-miss with a lot of fans of The Mad Max. There’s a lot of things to like (or dislike) in this take of this timeless apocalyptic future sci-fi story. To coin a phrase, you just have to witness.
The story is basic Mad Max. Our crazy hero, correctly named Mad Max or Max Rockatansky and voiced by martial artist Bren Foster, is trying to find and cross the Plains of Silence. Now whether the Plains are an actual place or just a metaphor for the peace he hopes to find from the phantoms of his past is inconsequential. He’s waylaid on his journey by the son of Immortal Joe known as Scabrous Scrotus and his merry band of psychotic Warboys. Of course, it all ties into the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, but you don’t have to watch that to understand what is going on. Basically, they take everything he owns and leave him to die in the desert. Mad Max wouldn’t be infamous if he just died right there, so the entire game is to rebuild his vehicle, his supplies and his reputation as the baddest of bad-asses in the wasteland.
And the game is set in one of the most dustiest, sandiest wastelands ever. Sandbox game is a true description here. The game’s area is huge, as you must cross large expanses of nothing more than dirt, hills, canyons and rocks to complete Max’s main quest. For a sandbox game, it is pretty gritty, both art and graphics-wise. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s an ugly game, by any means. It’s great looking, if you like to stare at the largely wastelandy environments as you tear across them in your vehicle of choice. All the cut-scenes are well animated and adequately voice-acted. Which leads me to my first nitpick – Max sure does talk a lot in the game for a guy who barely utters more than 40 words in each movie. Although I can’t imagine the story would get far without him being able to talk to the various characters in the game.
I would best describe the game as something of a cross between Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim and Borderlands, with lots of cars. There’s plenty of driving to be had, and early cars are going to need all sorts of upgrades.Hence, the true currency in the game is scrap. You use it for everything – upgrading Max’s clothes and equipment, upgrading Max’s car, upgrading your home base. At first, it seems dismally lacking in the game, since destroying cars or picking up small piles only nets you 5 to 15 pieces of scrap, while upgrades cost 25 to 900 pieces. That worry goes away after about an hour of play – since your upgrades also require you to level up Max by completing tasks (or taking out bad guys) before they are even available for spending scrap.
You’ll be driving along and a new scrap emblem or landmark will pop up, dragging you away from your main quest (or your side-quest) to explore. In fact, I got pulled away from side-quests by other side-quests. To say the game is boring is untruthful – repetitious, maybe. There are about a dozen or so fortresses in the game controlled by factions of Warboyz and the various leaders who control them. Cleaning them out not only nets you more valuables and experience, but scrap. In more ways than one. Every cleared stronghold produces a certain amount of scrap every 30 minutes, and after you’ve cleared out four such early strongholds, you are pulling in 100 scrap. On top of that, some scrap boxes (especially those blowing around in storms) give you 100 to 300 scrap when you go out of your way to get them. Of course, the risk is always high for these finds, but so worth it later.
And Max isn’t without his skills, either. Completing certain tasks, such as killing X number of Warboyz or looting X number of locations, will result in Max getting Griffa tokens. Griffa is a weird wasteland shaman that travels around the map, appearing when Max gets tokens. These allow you (after reaching Griffa, which can be a pain later on) to level up several of Max’s core skills. Things such as more health, more scrap per looting action, more damage to enemies, melee weapons lasting longer, etc. are all integral to survival. Primarily any skills that involve more damage or health recovery. Water and food recover health, so you want to level up those skills that involve getting more water or more benefit from food. Of course, there’s a skill that allows Max to drive longer without wasting so much gas, but I found that there’s a ton of guzzoline everywhere you go, so it’s not such a big deal.
Which brings us to combat. The combat in the game is somewhat fun and frustrating at the same time. It leads you to almost playing the game in the most stealthily, roguish way possible, since hordes of enemies surrounding Max can be a problem. You have your shotgun and shivs, but the real mechanic is punching or bashing with a melee weapon. Melee weapons are a boon, but they never last long before breaking, so it’s mostly down to timing your punching and counter-attacks precisely to do the most damage. Combos slowly fill up a Mad meter, that once it activates, Max becomes a god of fisticuffs. His punches hit harder, his attacks are more wild and his counter-attacks are even deadlier. In boss fights, maintaining the combo count and the Mad meter makes all the difference between winning handily, and getting one’s butt squished into human jelly. If you get surrounded by dozens of enemies and a boss … well, combat becomes super hard to survive.
So what are some downsides? Well, repetition is one, although you suffer from that in almost every video game nowadays. Combat can be another, since it can get crowded and somewhat chaotic, forcing you to restart several times before you figure out the trick to whittling down enemies so you don’t have to mash the buttons as much. The landscape is all wasteland, making it hard on the eyes after a while. Cars also handle atrociously until you upgrade the tires and/or find a hood ornament that improve handling. Tired of fishtailing? Well, too bad – Mad Max is all about sliding around uncontrollably at times while trying not to flip your ride over and blow up.
All in all, it is what it is – a game spun off a movie franchise. More than half the time, those fail miserably. This does not – it hangs strangely in that spot between epic and more-of-the-same. It’s definitely a hold-over until Fallout 4 or another Elder Scrolls game comes out. I’ve been playing it for over 50 hours now and I’m still not in Gastown yet.