Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the best movies of this year, if not of all time. In comparison to the rest of the franchise, it was hands down the best of the lot and not simply for the special effects that were used. It nailed everything from the character of Max, how a wasteland world might end up, to how it never once lost focus of the main plot while providing some hi-octane chaos to enjoy. When I heard that Mad Max was being made, and as a direct prequel to the movie to boot, words couldn’t describe how excited I was to play this game. The chance to be Max? In my own, crazy, thrilling adventure? I could hardly wait – and looks like I’ll be waiting longer still. Mad Max is the antithesis of its namesake. It’s a game that was clearly designed and made before the story was even considered, it does “cohesion” about as well as it does “Wasteland.”
“I am the one who runs from both my character, and the in-game story.”
I’d normally start with the story first for most reviews, but I’ll get into that giant clusterf*** in a minute. First let’s look at what the game did well, and that’s the driving combat. Nothing was more fun in this game than taking your car, the Magnum Opus, to its highest speed before slinging the entire thing directly into another car, head-on, with boosters. The action in Mad Max was a bit more “Destruction Derby” than it was Mad Max. There was far more smashing and bashing than car chasing, but it still worked exceedingly well. This was one of the few aspects of the game that made you feel like Mad Max while playing. It instilled in me the same kind of reckless abandon behind the wheel that Max might feel, as I plowed on into groups of War Boy cars. Also, sometimes Wastelanders.
This gels with the main gameplay, which consists of hooning around the Great White (and other areas), helping the folks of the wastes, or tearing down Scrotus’ camps and various erections. Reducing the overall threat of a region unlocks new upgrades or weapons for your car, which in turn helps you to destroy more things. The level of customisation for your car is also pretty extensive, with a readout of the different stats available at all times so you can fine tune it on the fly to suit your needs. You’ll start out equipped only to bash your car against the side of others but by the end you’ll be harpooning men from their drivers seat while hurling Thunderpoons to destroy their car. And yes, I said Thunderpoons – I guess it’s supposed to be a portmanteau of “Thunder” and “Harpoon,” but… Come on. Like the developers didn’t know what they were doing with that one.
Teehee – “thunderpoon.”
Clearing threat from territories also helps to curry favor with the leaders of Strongholds, large safe houses that you can also upgrade over time with equipment you find in the Wastes. These stronghold upgrades will confer some bonus to Max, such as refilling his ammo, health, and fuel when returning to base, which is fine in theory. Between the strongholds refueling stations and the Magnum Opus’ apparent 10,000L tank capacity, however, I never once came close to running out of fuel. Or water, for that matter, since pretty much every other settlement or camp had some, though it was usually difficult to reach for all the gas canisters that I was tripping over– No. No, I’ll get to that soon, just… The Driving, by and large, was good. Take some solace in that.
Things start to get a little rocky, however, once you get out of your car. The combat on foot is a little like “Simon says,” with players mashing square repeatedly until people fall over and occasionally pressing triangle or cross for variety when prompted. Enemies also telegraph their attacks, and thus the opportunity to counter, with a big triangle that appears above their head and a closing circle that acts as a timer. Sometimes, this counter indicator switches to a skull and lightning bolts, indicating that they’re about to launch an un-counterable attack. This is the extent of the hand-to-hand combat’s depth, with the result being that you’re watching for button prompts instead of learning and adapting to your enemies’ attacks. There are weapons for you to pick up, and you do have a shotgun available throughout, but these are much of a muchness since they operate in the same way as your fists, only stronger.
*BUTTON MASHING INTENSIFIES*
The game is also a pretty big collectathon, with project parts for strongholds and piles of scrap being scattered around the many hovels of the wasteland. There are other collectibles, but these two, in particular, are fairly necessary for progression. Scrap is used for upgrading Max’s gear and the Magnum Opus while project parts are used to upgrade the different strongholds across the wasteland. A bit of fetch questing isn’t necessarily a bad thing when design and story are built around it, but the on-foot sections in Mad Max just aren’t fun to play. Considering that they also make up a huge portion of Mad Max‘s gameplay, this was one of the game’s biggest shortcomings. It’s a lot of running around in cramped rooms with claustrophobic camera angles, collecting baubles and punching dudes when I should be out roving the sands in my car and blowing stuff up.
In fact, here’s a question I found myself asking a lot while playing this game: “Why am I doing this?” For starters, why is Max talking, like, all the god damned time? Why am I stopping to help wastelanders out of the goodness of my heart? More to the point, why is Max such an absolute, hypocritical, unlikeable c***? In Fury Road, Max is a quiet anti-hero who resists helping others, violently at times, but eventually caves when he’s pulled in emotionally. Before their shared ordeal, Max was quite happy to turn Furiosa and the Wives over to Immortan Joe (while barely speaking a word, I might add.) He only relented at first because he needed Furiosa to start the truck, and then later helped them because of the bond that they forged, and it was awesome. All of that gets tossed out the window in Mad Max.
Partly also because of insanity ghosts shouting at Max, but it was mostly the forged bond thing.
The story begins with Max losing his car to a roving band of War Boys and Lord Scrotus himself, whose head Max impales with a chainsaw before taking a beating and being left for dead himself. He’s found and helped by a hunchback named Chumbucket, who takes him back to his home and gets him back on his feet. The main focus of the story from this point is supposed to be about getting a V8 engine for the car that Chumbucket helps you build – the Magnum Opus – so you can leave this whole area. It gets bogged down pretty quickly with helping people who withhold information or resources until Max fulfills whatever little fetch quest they need doing. It loosely leads up to a love interest that gets shoe-horned into things about half-way in and forces things towards the most disappointing ending I’ve ever witnessed in a game. That’s saying a lot too, considering that my expectations by that point were already pretty shattered.
So few were Max’s lines in Fury Road, so mumbly and crazed, can you remember anything in particular that he said in the movie? I can’t, and I saw it three times at the cinema. He speaks with actions most of the time, not words, and when he does have something to say it’s got that Silent Bob style of profundity. In Mad Max, he talks forever, is perfectly clear, and is less “crazy” mad, and more “I stopped emotionally maturing at fourteen” mad. Poor Chumbucket, the helpful black-fingered hunchback that keeps the Magnum Opus running with his literal reverence of the machine and religious devotion to Max. And Max, the prick, who constantly yells at the poor guy that the car doesn’t have a V8 engine, putting him under persistent verbal assault as a reward for his help.
MY CAR IS THE PRETTIEST CAR.
This lack of regard for the source material permeates every facet of the game, including gameplay and design. Remember that really awesome part from
While we’re on the topic of the camps, how and when did Max turn into Batman? When you start getting later into the game, you’re waltzing into fights against 10+ enemies, most carrying weapons and beating them to bloody death like it’s your job. Not just your average War Boyz, either, but dudes built like Lord Humungus’ bigger, angrier daddy wielding massive maces made from steel and fear. Again, it’s cool but it isn’t Mad Max; in any situation when faced with the possibility of being physically overwhelmed, Max won’t stand and find unless forced because he’s not an idiot. Or the God damn Batman. I could go on forever about how this game completed ballsed up the character of Max, and thus the story of the game, but I’m quickly running out of word space here. Just know that Mad Max in Mad Max is “Mad Max” in name only, and the writers should feel very ashamed of themselves right now.
If this had been a game set in the Mad Max universe but with a different character as the player character, I would have been happy. This game is good on a technical level for the most part. The driving combat is a lot of fun, employing a great cycle of play and reward, which fits in nicely with clearing out the wasteland. The fighting combat leaves something to be desired but it works at least. And there are some collectathon aspects that don’t really work with the rest of the game’s design but when considered on their own are still fairly enjoyable (speaking as a fan of collectathons.) But f*** me rigid – in the process they took all the silent mystique, the roguish anti-heroism, the intricacies of Max’s character, and watered it all down with hack writing and plot devices. More than that, your activities in fighting Scrotus are actually doing more harm to the wastelanders than good. I simply don’t have enough space to talk about everything I wanted to in this review and precious little of that is about anything good. They ruined Mad Max, and I… I hate them.