GAME REVIEW: Mad Max (Xbox One)

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  • Platforms: PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
  • Developer: Avalanche Studios
  • Publisher: WB Games
  • Platform Reviewed: XBOX One

I was a little wary of Mad Max before my copy arrived. While I quite enjoy the movies and do love a good old fashioned post-apocalyptic game, I’ve never been much of an in-game wheel-man. The very concept of Mad Max – that of the wandering “Road Warrior” implies a heavy reliance on all things vehicular. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the game to determine whether or not I would think the game should be re-branded “Infuriating Max”.

In the Wasteland it’s every man for himself. Playing as reluctant warrior, Mad Max, you must embark on a treacherous journey to build the ultimate war vehicle, and leave the madness behind.

Okay. So I’m not a fan of driving games but here I am with Mad Max in hand. I put it in the disc and fire the game up. Immediately, I’m impressed by the visual style of the game. The start screen is a phenomenal piece of art which pans across revealing different characters and locations from the game. This style carries over directly into the game: the character models, textures and visual effects are superb. Max looks like some strange Mel Gibson / Tom Hardy hybrid which is a neat touch. The wasteland really does look like an expanse of rock and sand and gives a sense of scale that only diminishes slightly as the player begins to explore.

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The cinematic that opens the game is suitably toned – introducing a world that is grim and yet has a sense of humour. The story of the game isn’t particularly complex. As the game opens, Max is driving for the Plain of Silence when he is ambushed by Scaberous Scrotus and his men. Max is defeated, losing practically all his possessions (including his car) and is left for dead after one final battle with Scrotus himself. At this point, the player steps in. From now on, Max’s focus is to build the ultimate car and get vengeance and fuel from Gas Town before he can continue on his way.

This basic summary doesn’t really do the story justice. It’s a basic plot but one that is brought to life by the voice acting, the detail of the wasteland and the game mechanics. It’s a joy to hear an actual Australian voice Max, even if a good portion of the rest of the cast don’t even try to hide their American routes. The rest of the sound design is also well handled. The vehicles in the game are throaty. They sound powerful but also as if they could break down at any moment. Metal scrapes against metal in a satisfying manner and fist smashes into flesh with wince inducing impact.

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When I started playing, I thought that Avalanche had dropped the ball when it came to the control scheme. Max begins the game on foot and it is at this stage that combat controls are introduced. “Left Bumper to Aim and B to fire? Whys switch up a time honoured control scheme?” I thought. I was wrong. You see, ranged combat is not the focus of the game. Max lives in a world of limited resources and this is reflected in the very limited supply of shotgun ammunition he can carry. The switch up of controls helps keep this different style of play in mind, while freeing up the triggers for other functions. It’s true that Max is pretty unagile. He can manage only short hops from one ledge to another and must climb up highlighted (with yellow paint) ledges.

When in combat, the controls will be familiar to anyone who has played an Arkham game or Shadows of Mordor. Enemies telegraph their attacks, which can be parried or dodged at a button press and max deals out combos using a mix of strong and weak attacks, with the occasional special move. There is nothing new here but the implementation is solid enough and gives the player the impression that Max is perhaps something a bit more than his enemies.

Max will need to find food and water to keep himself on his feet during the course of the game. He carries a canteen that can be topped up at various water-sources. Water restores health, but in small amounts. Food will top that health bar up far more but is in much scarcer supply. Max will find tins of dog food dotted around the map and the occasional lizard can be stomped and chomped. Then there are the maggots, dug from rotting corpses. A great – If unsavoury source of protein. I’m not a fan of the “food and drink as health restorers” mechanic common in games, but somehow it seems to work better here. Perhaps it is because of the scarcity of the resources and Max’s inability to carry more than a canteen of water around. It certainly works better than prompts of “you are thirsty” which could have been used to make the player manage their canteen level.

Although Max spends a lot of time on foot, this really isn’t the focus of this particular open world. While in other games, a player could happily walk or otherwise traverse the environment as a pedestrian, this is not an option in Mad Max. Vehicles are key.

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I should never have worried about the driving mechanics. There are two reasons. Firstly, a game like Mad Max needs to be pretty arcade-like in order to pull off the vehicle combat. Secondly … since Max exists in a waste land, wide-open spaces and the occasional canyon are the norm rather than tight city streets. There really is little to crash into at high speed for the most part! One element I found surprising in its absence was a handbrake. I found it difficult, without such a control, to perform high-speed tight turns in order to get back round at my foe. Other than this oversight, vehicle combat is … fun!

Max’s primary means of transportation is the Magnum Opus being constructed by the strange, hunchbacked mechanic that Max encounters early in the game. This can be customised to quite a hefty degree. Spikes, rams, engines, wheels, wheel blades, side-flame throwers and more can be added. The car can also be equipped with weapons – from a harpoon to an exploding harpoon, flame throwers, sniper rifle and Max’s own shotgun. Weapons can be auto aimed or aimed manually in a “bullet time” slow motion portion of gameplay that allows precision firing without causing unwanted crashes.

Yes, I mentioned flame throwers. This devastating weapon ties directly into what is perhaps my favourite inclusion in the game. The need to manage fuel. Max can’t drive indefinitely without finding fuel cans of the precious fluid. While early in the game, the car has a miles-per-gallon value that means this won’t be too much of an issue, prolonged usage of the car’s nitro boost and flame based weapons will soon change that feeling. Fuel canisters can be found in various locations – but they may not be full. Some will contain mere drops of fuel that Max can use to limp back to a stronghold. The wilderness will never seem so  empty as when the fuel gauge runs low.

The Wilderness in which Max finds himself may well be pretty sparse, but there are still plenty of activities to perform. Avalanche have struck an effective balance between having an actual wilderness to travel and giving the player things to do. There are camps to capture, minefields to disarm, wanderers to encounter and more. Inevitably, there are collectables to be found. These range from photographs and notes from the pre-disaster world to vehicles that Max can add to his collection. And there is Scrap.

Scrap forms the very core of the game, so much so that even the most ardent collectible hater will not be able to avoid the scrap hunt. Every equipment based upgrade, whether for the Magnum Opus or for Max himself (new jackets – for body armour, knuckle dusters and so on) requires scrap. Quite a bit of it too. Since it is impossible to complete the story without upgrading the Magnum Opus significantly, then the player must spend time hunting down scrap. Personally, I liked this element. It gave collectibles a meaning within the game and given the post-apocalyptic petrol-head nature of the game, this seems to fit the bill nicely.

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While making scrap hunting a requirement, the game does help out in this regard. Every location that Max can explore on foot has a handy prompt of how many piles of scrap are available to find. It’s just a thumbstick click away. The player can upgrade the various strongholds he encounters (through another, trackable collectible type) so that scrap is collected automatically for him and capturing camps ensures a steady (and increasing) flow of scrap as well. While Max must still explore the wasteland for this valuable non-specific source of income, I felt this was in keeping with the world presented. There is no “fly through the story missions” in Max’s world!

Perhaps partly because I am a gamer who likes to explore thoroughly, I found myself much more positively disposed towards Mad Max than I was expecting. The game is solid and I have yet to encounter a noticeable glitch or bug. Which is saying a lot in this age when publishers seem intent on releasing games un-finished. While it is by no means a perfect game, it is one that captures the tone and feeling of its source franchise. If you are a fan of Mad Max, post-apocalyptic games or open world games in general, then you could do far worse than pick up a copy of this game.

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Rating: 4 / 5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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