Mad Max may be the first “survival action” game. The game constantly puts you in scenarios where good reflexes and quick thinking are key, yet also gives you little ammo and health to complete your missions. If that sounds problematic, it’s because it usually is. More often than not, you’ll die in Mad Max not because you screwed up, but because the game put you in impossible situations.
Your car is on fire?
Better hurry up and get out so you don’t blow up and.
Oh, but you’re in the middle of a deadly storm. Or surrounded by three enemies vehicles that are going to run you over. Or there’s just sniper right here.
That’s not how every mission in Mad Max plays out, but it happens enough to be a noticeable issue. But it’s also not bad. Mad Max can often be frustrating, but for all of its problems, it’s also addicting driving through the Wasteland in search of car parts, water, and oil, and it kept me entertained until the end.
Mad Max feels like one of the longest fetch quests in video game history. Much of the game is spent traveling the Wasteland in search of parts for the ultimate car, the Magnum Opus. Joining you on this journey is Chumbucket, a hunchback who sees Max as a saint who will save the Wasteland. Finding parts for the Magnum Opus requires destroying raider camps, looking for salvage in outposts, and completing other requests for residents of the Wasteland.
These missions are completed either on-foot or in the Magnum Opus itself (or other vehicles as you unlock them). On-foot combat in Mad Max is straight out of Batman: Arkham Knight and Shadow of Mordor, two other games published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. The X button launches attacks, and occasionally you press Y to counter and score more punishing hits. Combat in Mad Max feels a little less refined than those games, however. It can be much harder to time counters, and when you’re performing a counter, you can be damaged by other enemies, which wasn’t the case in Mordor or Arkham Knight. If you’re taking on five or more enemies at once, it makes the experience far more frustrating than it needs to be.
Max also has a trusty shotgun to help him out in combat situations, but given that the world basically ended long before the start of the game, ammo is scarce, so more often than not you’re relying on the problematic melee combat while out of your car.
Thankfully, vehicular combat is a much more entertaining experience. In the course of your journey, you’re constantly upgrading the Magnum Opus with stronger armor, flame throwers, and even a grappling hook. Using the grappling hook to toss drivers out of their vehicles is one of the more fun and unique things you can do in Mad Max. But just like when you’re on foot, your vehicle doesn’t have much health (especially at the start of the game), so just a couple mistakes can put the Magnum Opus in danger of exploding, and you’ll have to run around like an idiot for a couple minutes while Chumbucket can fix it and get you up and running again. If you die while he’s making repairs, too bad, you’ll have to start what you were doing all over again.
So Mad Max has its problems, but in spite of those issues, I kept playing. No, exploring a large open-world to gather tons collectibles and destroy enemy outposts isn’t an innovative gaming experience in 2016, but when the systems in Mad Max are working well, the game is far more entertaining than not, and while I don’t see myself going back and playing it in a few months, I generally enjoyed the time I spent with it.
If you like the color brown, you’re going to love the graphics in Mad Max.
OK, that’s not entirely fair. Mad Max has always been set in a desert Wasteland running low on water and oil, so it wouldn’t make sense to make a Mad Max game set in a tropical forest or in a thriving city. For a large desert scattered with debris, yes, Mad Max looks fine. Vehicles look like junkers, and camps look thrown together, which is exactly what they should be. And even if the world is rather desolate, it’s somewhat balanced by the dynamic sky, which can range from a beautiful and calm blue to a threatening dark navy color as a deadly storm comes rolling in that you have to take shelter from. It’s sort of an odd compliment, but Mad Max has one of the best skies I’ve ever seen in a game.
Character models are fine overall. When you’re in the middle of combat you won’t notice any issues, but they do lack some detail when you have a moment to appreciate the graphics during cutscenes or other breaks in the action. If you look closely, you can definitely tell this started as an Xbox 360 game. And given that these aren’t even close to the best graphics we’ve seen on the Xbox One, the fairly regular slowdown during action-heavy sequences is unforgivable.
Speaking of Xbox 360 games, the graphics (and even some of the gameplay) in Mad Max are heavily reminiscent of id Software’s 2011 game Rage. But given that Rage was also inspired by the original Mad Max movies which came out more than 30 years ago, again it’s not entirely fair to say Mad Max is copying that game. Still, it would have been nice to see Mad Max try and do more to separate itself from the imitators.
Mad Max features very little music, which is understandable given the post-apocalyptic nature of the world. Occasionally some fitting background music will play during cutscenes, but nothing really stands out. Mostly you’ll be kept company by the roar of the Magnum Opus, which does sound quite threatening and impressive. The roar of the Magnum Opus is exactly how you would want your vehicle to sound while fighting for water and oil against the last vestiges of humanity.
There’s a good amount of voice acting from your deformed companion, Chumbucket, and the raiders you encounter in the Wasteland. Chumbucket can come across a bit like Gollum from Lord of the Rings (and Shadow of Mordor) with his pseudo-religious rambling about cars, but he’s never overly annoying, and the voice actor behind him did a great job overall. The battle cries of raiders aren’t particularly memorable, but fit the mood of the world well. Max only speaks during cutscenes. His voice actor doesn’t do a bad job, but he also doesn’t bring Max to life nearly as well as Tom Hardy did in last year’s Fury Road movie.
The Wasteland of Mad Max isn’t the largest open-world we’ve ever seen, but there are multiple regions to explore, and each region has dozens of locations to loot. You also have the opportunity to take over each region by destroying convoys and camps and completing sidequests. There’s easily 30 hours of content here if you want to do it all and fully upgrade Max, but there’s not really anything here you haven’t seen in other games, right down to the graphics and gameplay. If you just want to do the main quest, you’ve probably got a 15-20 hour adventure ahead of you, which is a good length for a game like this. And you will have fun with it. But only the most hardcore Mad Max fans will want to play through the game more than once.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg