There are fewer and fewer movie game tie-ins around these days and for good reason. Games of this type would often be slated for being a poor quality cash grab to complement the latest Hollywood franchise. Those left worth a gamer’s time usually involve Lego. However, every so often, a standalone title – based on a film franchise but not needing to follow the exact same plot of its cinematic counterpart – gets the chance to show what it can do. Enter Mad Max.
With the series’ new influx of life after the commercial success of Fury Road, a game based in the same universe must be hoping to capitalise on the reinvigorated popularity. It may be a considerable time after the film’s big screen showing but that hardly hurt Nintendo's late take on GoldenEye back in 1997. The extra time spent in development seems to have ensured that not only is there a vast wasteland to race around in but there is also a hell of a lot to do within it.
Plus, it looks great. During the opening moments once you assume control of the eponymous star, even the way Max leaves footprints in the sand as he strolls slowly across the desert plain looks highly impressive. Then you meet the inhabitants, like Chumbucket; he’s an odd individual, who happens to be a hunchback mechanic that becomes your sidekick, gunner and narrator. He also seems to follow a religion of his own devising, based around motor vehicles or rather an ‘angel combustion’ that he keeps referring to. He unexpectedly becomes the most compelling character and without him, the lacking storyline would become even more painfully obvious.
The main missions revolve around building a new car for Max – the Magnum Opus – and like the most recent film, the plot doesn’t really get that much thicker. The opening cinematic sequence that sees Max left for dead and his car scrapped after having his revenge on Immortan Joe's son is all you get until the end approaches. In the meantime, you’re taught very quickly that upgrading both vehicle and warrior is key to success.
You will need to loot for scrap and parts, build stronghold projects and collect Griffa tokens for a mysterious individual. The tokens serve as skill points and are collected for levelling up, not by gaining XP but by actually completing set challenges. Defeating a number of enemies in a certain manner for example, will complete a challenge, earn you a token and level up your ranking.However, upgrading Max’s abilities and car can feel like a punishable experience. It seems that side quests to gain enough scrap to afford upgrades become increasingly mandatory if you have any hope of improving your abilities. It’s like Mad Max’s RPG elements want to turn every player into a completionist.
Across the unexpectedly huge map, it is Max’s job to reduce the threat across each region. The War Boys have several ways of keeping their grip on the area such as fortified camps, snipers, minefields and convoys that welcome fast and furious vehicular battles. These tasks carry a risk of becoming repetitive but recognising the reward they offer is key to continuing their enjoyment. Hand to hand combat feels familiar yet at times frustrating. One button for striking and another for countering an opponent’s attack is quickly becoming a staple in game mechanics and while it keeps it hard hitting it simply doesn’t feel that fresh. Countering needs some fine timing as well and there’s not much room between hitting the perfect counter and mistiming so badly that your block is useless. Again, Max’s moves, once upgraded is when it really starts to get going and where you’ll make more of melee weapons, add combo finishers and use Fury Mode, a limited time of added strength and quicker reflexes, more effectively.
Mad Max’s main problem isn’t actually the game itself. This title isn’t just attempting to survive amongst the murky wasteland of games based on movie franchises but is also battling for attention against every other triple-A open-world game out there. The real issue here is that Mad Max is not a game that you immediately need to play right now but it is one you should consider visiting when you have the time. Mad Max feels like a polished title, one that tries to be a comprehensive sandbox game that, like its titular character, is able to hold its own. However, as fans of the films will know, in such a crowded world, not all can survive.