It is the future and the world is in ruin. The seas, rivers and lakes have receded. Food, water, and other essentials are all but fond memories of the survivors. Nuclear war has scorched the earth. Whoever was left, has been driven mad by the harsh new reality, struggling to build a new civilization from the ruins of the old world. Does this sound like Fallout? Well it’s not, its Mad Max, one of the inspirations for the RPG franchise. Mad Max the game is not similar to the franchise that it would go on to inspire. It is an open world action adventure game, and very enjoyable one at that.
The plot is vintage Mad Max (or at least the structure its followed since The Road Warrior). Max is minding his own business when someone messes with him. He allies with other wastelanders for pragmatic reasons before ending up in too deep and helping out of genuine care. Once things are resolved, he walks into the sunset. In this particular case his car got stolen, he bravely struggled, killing the big baddie of the region in the process, but ultimately overwhelmed he loses his car to the hordes and is left for dead. He meets a hunchback mechanic called Chumbucket who shows him a car that he has been working on: The Magnum Opus. However, after putting it together, Max decides his car is missing one thing, an 8 cylinder engine. There is only one in the region, the prize for a death race held in the stronghold of the group Max antagonized on his way in. Time to form some tenuous pragmatic alliances with people of dubious character for the sake of those sweet sweet cylinders.
The game follows Max and Chumbucket traversing the enormous map back and forth with the ultimate goal of gathering the pieces they need in order to make the Magnum Opus the greatest machine in the wasteland. Besides story missions, which are varied, and action packed enough, the game also has side missions, wasteland encounters, and a variety of other tasks that litter the map. If you’ve played any open world game in the past half-decade you are already familiar with this set up. There are many small activities you can do that you can ignore and still finish the game. Mad Max includes some added incentive by tying a threat level to the game. Most of the activities you do, with the exception of scavenging and balloons to uncover the map icons, will lower the threat level of the area. This includes taking over enemy camps, dismantling their scarecrows, assaulting their convoys (a personal favorite of mine). Lowering the threat level will make parts of for Magnum Opus. This gives you a good incentive to do side missions, while not forcing you to do anything specific to get parts for your war machine. Many of the parts are also available through exploration and side quests, so there is an added incentive to explore the world.
It is a good thing that exploring the world with the Magnum Opus is simply fantastic. The car is fun to drive, and the auto-based combat is as intense as one would expect from the franchise. Chumbucket, who accompanies you when you are out in the Magnum Opus, will also fix the car when it is idle, making it so you don’t have to go back to base to fix it. Since car customization is such a central part of the game, you can make the car that will work for any kind of situation, and different builds feel different and have different uses. Want to build an ultra armored war machine? You can, but don’t expect that machine to go as fast or handle as well as a car that has been stripped of armor and has the biggest engine and softest tires. You can customize the car on the fly too, making it easy to change the car to meet your exact needs at a specific time.
This is particularly useful when you are trying to tackle a particularly difficult car combat section. The car combat in the game is fantastic. It feels great, and you have a variety tools and skills you can unlock to turn enemies’ world into fire and blood. Destroying enemy cars will result in scrap, the currency of the game. But you can also steal any of the cars your enemies drive, and if you take them to your strong hold you will add them to your collection. Compared to your Greatest Work, the cars your enemies drive are not really up to snuff and you will probably only be interested in picking them up out of a completion urge. However, there are legendary cars around that you can find either through explorations or via side-quests. They are usually unique, fun builds, or Easter Eggs for those fans of the movies, either way they are worth picking up for the experience. You can even get a special mission sponsored by Rockstar energy drink which has its own car!
The game does not take place exclusively in cars. Most of the missions will have a combination between vehicle and on foot exploration. The exploration sections are usually contained through a structure. You will not trudge through the wasteland on foot. These sections are normally contained to a specific locale: Getting out of a car to scavenge an old ruin, or taking over a fort, etc… There are guns in the Mad Max universe, but they are scarce as are bullets, and so the combat takes the form of what has come to be called Arkham-Style combat. You will be attached by several enemies at once, and you must parry, break defenses, etc… A prompt usually tells you when an enemy is about to attack and what kind of attack they will do and you try to react. This type of combat is generally very easy. Initially in can be a bit dull, but as you level up and invest into more tools and moves, it becomes a lot more fun although it makes it easier. It is still possible to lose, if one isn’t careful however as Mad Max is less forgiving than other games that use this type of system. Generally, if you’ve started an animation and an enemy attacks you can’t block or parry until your attack animation has stopped, and if you are doing it mid combo it means that you have to be careful not to button mash or you end up taking unnecessary damage.
Mad Max is a game that will feel familiar as soon as you pop the disk into it. Much like last years Assassin’s Creed Rogue, it doesn’t add anything that is new to a formula that is now familiar for AAA games. It does offer an experience that is filled with content where everyone playing it will find something to do and to keep them entertained for a long time. It helps that the rewards for most of the activities, pieces for the Magnus Opus, feel like they make a difference for the game. Car customization is one of the (if not THE) best part of the game, and getting pieces to customize your car always feels like a real in contrast with genre staples like a new skin or a larger belt. Mad Max is filled with small details and Easter Eggs that are bound to keep most fans happy, while still being accessible to those who are just looking for a fun game featuring exploration and car combat. If you are like me and have been disappointed by Assassin’s Creed declining quality, then for this year at least, I recommend getting Mad Max instead. It will be a fantastic substitute and well worth your money.