Yeah, remember the debacle and the case of divisive reception on this title?
I do, but it feels like it happened so long ago, despite this being a 2015 release. Such is nature of online discourse on social media, after all, doesn’t matter what the subject is.
I will keep that in mind, but since 6 years are a lot for videogames, i’d say it’s the time to revisit the Avalanche Software’s interpretation of George Miller’s australian apocalyptic world of holy motors and highly stilized weirdos, while i think of the burning coast sands during this city bound and holiday-less summer season.
Let’s see exactly how chrome this game is!
MY KINGDOM FOR A CAR
I’m gonna have to preface that i’m not – in any way – a Mad Max expert, i watched Fury Road when it released in cinemas (terrific movie), but i don’t know if this is fitting with the style of the franchise as a whole, unless it’s about the obsessions and deification of motors, oil and cars, i can believe the first three movies have a similar theme of post-apocalyptic deranged cults of cars in barren wastelands.
But at the time of writing, i have yet to rectify this.
So i’ll just say this: the main reason behind why Max does anything in this game it’s his car, and even that is mostly a thing brought upon him by a hunchback mechanic, Chumbucket, with a weird religion that ends up helping Max around to make the supreme, divine car, the Magnus Opus, because he believes Max is a god. This is basically the only real goal, one brought upon Max, which is really angry and upset, embued with grief and vanishing memories of the past, but really devoid of any overall goal himself. The game even starts by him driving around mindlessly, planning to numb itself by going to The Silent Lands, which could be a real place or not.
He is basically dragged into conflicts he really couldn’t care about less, in a story he didn’t wish to be a part of, and while this was true for Fury Road as well, here it’s really hard to care about the story, the world, or most of the characters. The fact that most of the villains bosses’ names are dick jokes doesn’t help, gels with the game tone, or it’s particularly funny (besides the first time). But still, all other characters, bosses include, have a nice design, their weirdo beliefs (that usually connect with acceptance or denial of the desert world they live in, wishing to either be burned alive by “sacred flames” or to find seas again), a story and purpose, unlike Max.
I mean, Max here can be really summed up as “generic grizzled action game protagonist”, so angry and bitter to the point he makes thing way harder for himself. It gets worse when you collect a photo or writing from before the apocalypse, because this will make Max spouts angry and defeatist gibberish, it’s so fuckin dull and trite that it’s paradoxically frustrating. And the ending somehow manages to make Max even more unlikable, with a downer (and frankly cruel) ending that summarizes this game attitudine with story: it’s here, but the game wishes it wasn’t, and couldn’t care less about it, just doing the bare minimum required to create context for the gameplay.
I understand that Mr. Rockatanski doesn’t wanna be involved with anything, ever, but this character “un-motivation” spills too much into the gameplay, despite Chumbucket providing some comic relief, and it’s hard to feel much for the story, especially when it seems to be an excuse for a videogame to exist, and little else. Doesn’t help that this was supposed to be a sequel of sorts to Fury Road at some point, since it mentions Immortan Joe (and the main antagonist is one of his sons), you get to meet Scab… but it officially NOT part of the canon, as George Miller himself said.
OPEN WORLD SANDBOX WITH SAND
The main point of contention for the controversy and polar opposite reception between players and critics was basically Avalanche Software playing it ultra-safe and delivering a very standard open world game, and let’s be brutally honest, this felt bog standard and kinda pointless even 6 years ago, and somehow the market even got more saturated in the meantime. Yeah, it’s a licensed game, but it’s frigging Mad Max, it being a open world game both makes perfect sense and it’s the very definition of lazy, safe, risk free, and others words meaning “unimaginative”.
And frankly the execution isn’t particularly good to just overlook many little issues with how Avalanche implemented things such as vantage points, quick travel, especially because it seems WB ordered them to make Shadow Of Mad Max, but we’ll get to that, let’s start with the positives.
It’s definitely a title with solid base gameplay, as one assumes from Avalanche Software’s pedigree with their Just Cause series, even if straight up copys the combat system from the Batman Arkham games, and centers the gameplay around your highly customizable car, for both traversal and on-wheel combat, which is a huge part of the experience, as one would expect from a Mad Max licensed titles, with thugs trying to steal your car parts and use them for their weirdo rituals.
And it definitely makes using your car an important asset, as you equip it with more and more upgrades, from spiked car doors to more powerful engines, nitros cannister, and even weapons, like the harpoon, which is essential for both combat (as you learn to dismantle enemy cars and hit them in key critical points to take them out faster) and exploration. Most importantly, it’s just fun to drive around, which is important for a game where you’ll do that a lot.
Since it’s Mad Max, it makes sense to use the car a lot, since the world is a literally a deserted wasteland, so don’t expect much in term of sightseeings, or color, and the whole “post-nuclear apocalypse desert” theme and aesthetic isn’t really new or exciting for videogames, not helping its inescapable drab and dry nature, nothing that really makes you want to explore the shit out of it. Which is both a fault of the game and the bad timing for it, since it wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t had played this game too many times, just without the Mad Max license to it.
PARTS AND WHOLE
The main problem is not that Mad Max uses systems seen before in other games, is that it doesn’t do them as well as titles that came before. For example, the combat system is the Arkham Asylum style one, not my favorite, but fun: here it’s done in a not-as-good fashion, it’s simpler than before, with less moves and tools at your disposal, really basic “Arkham combat”, peppered with the sporadic use of guns (with very little ammo around) and breakable weapons like knives. There is more emphasis on timing the parry/counter attack, which you’ll have to rely more than usual, and there are a couple of techniques to unlock and expand what you can do after a parry. Apart from the fact it has been done better before, i would have no qualms about the combat itself here, you feel the impact of your punches, it’s satisfactory, but the camera doesn’t zoom far out enough, so often you’ll have to wrestle that yourself to avoid getting hit by dudes you couldn’t see the counter prompt for… because they were off screen.
Also, is one of those games that basically blows its load in the first part, giving you the various essential gadgets and weapons like the harpoon way too early, instead of doling them out at a slower pace and make them feel more rewarding to obtain or use. And it kinda takes effort to make the tired “climb this to discover all the activities in the map” thing even more tired and long winded, because here you have to reach a hot air baloon station, make your way to the baloon itself (which entagles fighting dudes), then ascend and use your binoculars to mark the forts and shit.
That, IF there isn’t a sandstorm sweeping the area, the generator for the baloon doesn’t need fuel or you need to remove hooks/ropes holding the baloon in place, which is absurd busywork that doesn’t enhance the experience for shit, and despite not obscene in itself, it becomes aggravating when marred to controls that need you to press and hold a button for every of the many menial tasks. In Assassin’s Creed you do this by climbing, an activity integral to exploration and that is focal to the gameplay outside of this specific use, here it’s another thing interely, completely detached from most of the gameplay. At least you don’t gotta do this all the time, small mercy.
And while i haven’t played Horizon Zero Dawn yet, i’ve played Shadow Of Mordor, and going from that to this feels like a step back. The thing that really helped Monolith’s title was the Nemesis system, which was great for many reasons. Mad Max rips that off too, but it stops just short of copying it, so you have territories divided among 3 main gangs, with War Chiefs defending specific strongholds and functioning as bosses/elite Orcs, with you having to gradually cheap away at their theath level by beating small fries and blowing up fortifications.
You might reasonably think that this sets up a Nemesis style system, but no, it doesn’t, so it comes off as a truncated and kinda pointless Shadow Of Mordor wannabe, cowardly even (especially since this also a WB published title, even more so with the hindsight of seeing them actually trademark it, the assholes), as it’s there just as a pretense, as another way to spun more checklist objectives, in a game that it’s already filled with the usual nebulous amount of content for the sake of itself.
Also, it’s one of those open world titles that pretty much forces you into doing what is classified as “secondary missions” just to move on with the plot, because you need a lot of scrap, which you may have already spent in a couple upgrades, so here you go, go collect some more by tearing down scarecrow, destroying vehicles, taking down enemy strongholds, pretty much anything to inflate longevity, telling you outright that you must at least capture a stronghold in that area, otherwise the next main mission won’t start. Oddly enough, scrap it also used to upgrade Max itself, because to survive in the post-nuclear world, you eat metal and name yourself after a dick joke to be the thoughest of the thoughesties. And you have another upgrade system separated from the main one with a different currency, for some reason i can’t fathom.
Of course, in an open world game you want to have stuff to do, otherwise you’ll be stuck doing nothing in a huge map, but the current main school of design started by Ubisoft means that the developer insert a lot of “stuff” in the game, doesn’t matter if it’s bad, mediocre, repetitive or boring, it’s here for the sake of having content, quality is a happy accident. There are quest, real ones, but are scarce, most of the content is the same cluster of side activities repeated over a huge map that is huge for the sake of being huge, to try to wow you with scale at the expense of what you’re actually gonna do in this mastodontical playground.
UPS AND DOWNS
A sign of a good open world game is one where you just wanna explore and do the side activities, for benefits but mostly because you spontaneously wanna do them, wanna explore the world. Mad Max of course wants you to explore, but it’s never too interesting to make you wonder about what you’ll discover, there’s no unexpected stuff, like it’s familiar to a fault, so it can be fun to drive around and explore, but you’re never surprised by the map and design of the world, and progression in the story missions is not only made slow by the forcing of “optional sidequests”, but also the game not really making it clear why the next mission won’t unlock despite having done the objectives, most likely you just need to reduce the threath level on a territory, so you gotta do some stuff like taking over a fort to lower it.
Wish the game just told me that instead of nothing at all.
These are actually nice things that make sense and contribute to immersion, to make you feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic desert, and the stronghold system is nice too (with defenses to take down to avoid certain death by snipers, flames or bombs), not original, but well done, having to manage and carry fuel tanks makes sense, since its useful for long exploration or as improptu explosive weapons, and stuff like eating random food reserves, filling a waterflask to store water and collect it from various dispensers, and use it for yourself or as a gift to thirsty wanderers.
I would have liked more the way you can prepare yourself and make assault to strongholds easier (you can also discover info about hidden entrances and shit if you talk to some NPCs), if you didn’t often run of ammo needed to snipe enemy snipers guarding the base. I understand that making ammo scarce is a deliberate design choice, otherwise you would systematically shotgun the face off any enemy, but there’s no easy or sensible way to replenish ammo (one way should be to enter a friendly outpost/hub, would make sense it it actually worked that way, but it doesn’t), which is basically essential for assaulting an enemy stronghold, and – like i said before – you are often forced by the story to do so, or you think you gotta do that because the game didn’t put any story mission marker on the big map, so you have to guess.
And to make matter worse, some stronghold are a pain in the ass to conquer anyway, like one that keeps on pumping out thugs to the point you almost believe there’s a fuckin spawner, but no, there’s just an absurd number of them in that base, because Avalanche wanted you to fail, so fuck you, fight 100 or so dudes just in a single base, if you wanna capture it, which is nigh impossible if you let the war drummer power them up, and even then, is a cheap and lazy move.
On a “smaller note”, for a game that does use well-tested systems and mechanics, one that’s streamlined to the bone, it’s absurd how the controls are laid out in a bizzare way. You don’t whip out your gun by pressing L2 and then shoot by using R2, the standardized and efficient, intuitive method used by modern games. No, you use L1 to aim and then press O to shoot on PS4 (R2 dodges) You can’t remap them on console, just switch the dodge and shoot button.
It may seem like a small gripe, but it’s made more stupid and obtuse by the fact that L2 is mapped to jump. You NEVER need to jump in the game, is obtuse as hell how the game botches the easiest shooting controls for a third person action game, all because it has to give you the ability to jump when there is not platforming of any shape and kind, no need for it, not even one. The fact i once got semi-stuck in a rock and needed to jump to get out of it doesn’t compound how stupid it is they did this instead of bothering to avoid glitches like this in first place.
From a technical standpoint, it’s good looking, solid, but it also has some odd framerate drops, it’s one of those games where the framerate mostly drops NOT when you’re fighting multiple enemies or in situation that look busy for the engine, but when you’re basically just driving around, without much happening on screen, if anything. Music is alright, but the voice acting is kinda disappointing, as not a single person as an Australian accent. Ty The Tasmanian Tiger did, come on.
I would like to say i enjoyed going through the story, at the very least, but if i didn’t decide i wanted to beat it regardless, i would have stopped halfways because it becomes boring and even story missions feel repetitive, on top of side stuff that’s often not really “optional” and a gameplay full of needless minuteries that make it hard to enjoy even as a stress reliever, because you need to do too many things to obtain some progress (even conquering stronghold is more a chore than exciting once you do a couple of them), and the extra effort doesn’t equal extra fun here.
And because WB is WB, there is a Rockstar Energy promotion in the form of free DLCs that add some auto parts labeled or shaped out of Rockstar Energy cans. I would be surprised if WB had the gall to charge for this shit, but still, it’s quite the thing to behold, and remember when some company mouthpiece says the “games are too expensive” pile of oral crap as excuse for microtransactions, carved out content sold as paid DLC. Surprisingly, this doesn’t have microtransactions of any kind, at launch or later they didn’t added them, which is odd, i guess it was the last one before WB decided to join the “gambling bliztkrieg brigade”.
Mad Max is not a bad game, but it’s also one that has some serious design problems, on top of being fairly generic, using mechanics seen in other games that do those mechanics and system betters, and not having any unique hook, outside of a fairly good car customization and car centric gameplay, as you would expect from the license of George Miller’s post-apocalyptic series.
I will not deny that by using a familiar set of things ripped off by other games (the Batman Arkham style combat, quasi-Shadow Of Mordor enemy chain of command, the Ubisoft school of infesting the map with icons for tons of recycled side activities), there’s some satisfaction to roaming the wasteland and harpooning the driver off an enemy car, fighting the goons for their bases, collecting scraps to afford a ram for the car, but Avalanche Software’s title is guilty of dragging things along, as it obliges the player to sample the excessive amount of side-stuff to even progress in the main story, and sometimes doesn’t even manage to comunicate well (or at all) why you did what asked and the next mission doesn’t appear.
Also, it’s one of those sandboxes (a literal one in this case) full of many minute, repetive activities, like having to refuel the car, having to remove many threads or weights to simply access a structure, having to wait for Chumbucket to repair the car, refill the waterflask at water sources, which often requires pressing and holding a button. Some actually aren’t too bad and actually make sense in the context of Mad Max’s desert dystopia, but some are so overcomplicated and inanely time wasting. I can’t think of any other sandbox game that does the Ubisoft “radio tower/Assassin’s observation point” mechanic and manages to do it so much WORSE. I really can’t.
There are some posivites, but are all matched by some other issues (like some really absurd controls choices), so the game never manages to stand out in a positive or negative fashion, often reminds you of the other, better games it’s taking elements from, and the story honestly doesn’t help, actually makes thing worst, with a clichè and dull plot that the game (like Max itself) begrudges, knowing it has to have a story, but really doesn’t wanna care about it. And boy does this sentiment spills over in the gameplay big time. No wonder it’s a non-canonical affair, even if it was clearly meant to tie-in and be set after Fury Road at some point, with characters like Scab that appear.
Yes, it didn’t help this launched the very same day as MGS V: The Phantom Pain (because WB), but even in retrospective, it’s hard to recommend it over many better games of the same genre, unless you already played them, like Mad Max and need a “fix”. After all, the prospect of a Mad Max sandbox makes a lot of sense, but it kinda arrived years later to the “open world party”, didn’t had enough to really stand out from the competition when it came out, and the market iseven more saturated now.
Overall, it isn’t complete dreck, it’s a serviceable open world experience with many of the features people expect, but it’s more a product than opus.. Immortan Joe famous line really is so damn fitting to describe this game in a single word.