It drives me mad that this didn't max out its potential
It is hard to resist the term “open-world sandbox” when describing Mad Max – if only because there is sand literally everywhere. Presented with a hauntingly desolate world, devoid of all but the most hostile life, you must guide Max in his quest to find peace. Filled with car based action, hand-to-hand combat, and stuff to collect, there is always something to do – though sometimes I wish there wasn't so I could enjoy the ride.
Capturing the movie
Mad Max takes clear inspiration for the movie franchise, right down to the fact that the titular hero acts as a stand in for the audience in its crazy world. The only constants are powerful cars, weapons, and the harsh (but hauntingly beautiful) desert filled with the worst of humanity – the perfect setting for a game.
The only thing Max is concerned with is his journey. He’s not truly sure why – and nor are you – but that doesn’t matter, it is his driving force that compels him to battle his way through the world. Starting with his meager belongings and his car taken from him, it is up to you to rebuild Max’s arsenal so he may continue his journey through the game’s open-world.
Along the way you discover more about the fate of the world, but this plays into the story. It does add fascinating color though, especially when picking up old photos and messages that lead to Max commenting. One brilliant scene has you find a photo of a bunker with a note telling loved ones to hide there. “That would be the first place I’d look” is Max's response, highlighting the brutality of this world after the oceans dried up.
Your car, your Magnum Opus, is the main focus of Mad Max – and understandably so given the vast scale of the map. Racing along the dirt track produces the fastest results, but watching your car kick up plumes of dirt as you skid around off-road is great fun. And you can drive anywhere, with your sturdy vehicle able to take all kinds of punishment before needing a repair by your in-car mechanic, Chumbucket.
The vicious world also frequently forces you into car combat. Here upgrades allow your car to shunt left and right, bullbars to ram, and harpoons to grapple and rip apart opponents machines. This last of these is the most useful, letting you rip people from their vehicles and then drag them helplessly behind you – slightly sadistic, but I am assured they deserved it.
Taking the fight to the crazies
This harpoon, along with a sniper rifle upgrade, are vital for the game's other main mechanic - taking down enemy strongholds. While there are plenty of opportunities for you to hop out of your car and enter combat, the most important time is to break into rival factions bases. The sniper rifle lets you silence their defenses, while the harpoons can rip open doors and other defenses.
Once inside its time to get down and dirty. The combat is similar to the Batman Arkham game’s, with Max proving an equally vicious fighter. You parry and dodge enemies attacks based on onscreen prompts before violently smashing them into the nearest floor or wall. Unlocking additional - abilities using both XP and scrap - allows you to become more resilient to enemy attacks, like the ability to block weapon attacks and other skills to gain you upper hand.
This skills are vital because unlike similar titles it doesn't take long for enemies to start swarming you rather than forming an orderly cue. This means that often you have to break off an attack early, or prioritize a dodge over a block, if you want to preserve your limited health. Max might be mad, but he isn't crazy, and knowing when to run is a necessity.
After you take over a base, you can ensure you have all of the collectibles present. But this is the problem – you spend all of your time collecting. Whether you are taking part in one of the handful of repeated missions, or just cruising across the visually stunning desert through a sandstorm, you are met by a barrage of icons encouraging you to stop having fun and search the area. You could just cruise on by – but that is not how I play, especially when collecting an item can help you slightly improve.
These breaks in pace continue when the story is laid out. Every time you enter a base, or perform an action of note, the screen fades and comes back with your car parked or characters present in a way that further breaks the action. It stops you feeling like Max, with the game constantly reminding you that he is doing something you are not a part of.
An open-world with too much of nothing
All these bumps in flow, and the repetitiveness of many of Mad Max’s tasks prevent it reaching the highs the mechanics and stunningly created world promise. With a bit more variety, less to collect, or simply a game that rewarded exploration rather than chasing icons around the map looking for the next item, this could have delivered something understatedly beautiful. What you get instead is a solid good game in an interesting world, filled with repetition.
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