Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best movies of the year – and I say that without any exaggeration. The movie told a chapter of Max Rockatansky’s life – continuing the earlier movies from the 80s – but hinted at a much bigger universe out there. While the comics have had mixed reviews, there’s something else for us who want to step back into the Mad Max universe – the Mad Max video game.
Created by Avalanche Studios, the minds behind the frenetic Just Cause franchise, Mad Max (no subtitle necessary) brings us back into the world we’ve been longing for more for since we left the cinemas. However, it’s no simple movie-tie in – instead we get to explore yet another chapter of Max’s life, with the shadow of Immortan Joe hanging over us.
This time the main villain is Scabrous Scrotus – one of Joe’s three sons, and probably even more psychopathic than Rictus. You start off thrown into a huge open world with your car stolen from you, but this is a Mad Max game, and Max can’t be without a car for long.
Right off the bat, Mad Max is gorgeous. Whether you’re on Xbox One or PS4 or even on Windows it looks plain amazing. It borrows cues from the movies and translates it very well, so much so that even a vast expanse of brown sand seems like a work of art. It runs very smoothly too, even on older PCs, which is a pleasant surprise given the state of some PC ports today.
As Max, you won’t be traversing the sand dunes alone – you sometimes gets to hang out with a dog, and other times, with Chumbucket. He’s the first person you meet, and he has big plans, seasoned with some religious fervour, for a car – the Magnum Opus – which will end up being your ride for most of the game. With it, you can choose what to upgrade and customise your look – getting those kick-ass spikes to getting thicker armour for defence.
When you meet Chumbucket, it’s easy to draw comparisons with Ratbag from Middle Earth: Shadows Of Mordor. With his posture and speaking style seems just like a friendlier, less delusional, Australian-accented Ratbag. But he’s your constant companion and your key to tricking out your car, for better or for worse.
He’s useful when he’s around – when you’re out of the car he repairs it right away, and beyond some hyper-excited screaming he tends to be on the funny side. But some missions require you to drive another car – mine sweeping missions require the dog, for example – and while his absence means no more of his insistent yammering, it also means that your precious car won’t be repaired without you spending some precious scrap on it.
And it’s scrap that makes the Mad Max world revolve, whether you’re looking to upgrade your car or just get a new beard for yourself. But improve the Magnum Opus enough and that’s when the game really sings – the words of praise transcribed in the halls of Valhalla. Careening down the dirt tracks and taking on a convoy of War Boys feels amazing – once your car is good enough. At it’s peak, vehicular combat – Car Wars, if you may – makes you just want to shout “WITNESS ME” over and over as you dispatch enemies with impunity.
But that’s not all the combat in the game – you’ll also need your fists to do the talking. It’s largely similar to how the combat in the Batman Arkham series works, which is a good thing, as it’s simple to get into, and once you get some hits going it gets rather satisfying, especially once Max enters his Fury mode. That said, this part of combat doesn’t have that much depth to it and it can get repetitive, and sometimes you’ll just want to be back on the road again.
Where Mad Max really stumbles is in the early parts of the game, where you need to upgrade your ride, the Magnum Opus, to fighting condition. Before that a wrong turn can bring you up against a hoard of relentless war boys – enough damage to your car and you’ll need to escape on foot. And while driving the Magnum Opus is pretty solid for the most part, some of the other vehicles you’ll need to drive handle like the Mako from Mass Effect – i.e. utterly lacking any sense of real physics nor control.
It’s not that Mad Max isn’t a great game – but in the shadow of other similar WB releases like the Batman Arkham series and Middle-earth: Shadow Of Mordor, Mad Max remains a diamond occluded by sand. Arkham and Mordor are superlative games and really brought the open-world genre games to new heights, and Mad Max doesn’t tell the most gripping tale to make up for some of its slight faults.
What Mad Max does have, however, is the beautiful world of a post-apocalyptic Australia. It sadly can’t compare to the movie, which featured razor-sharp storytelling and fantastic, focused action, but on its own it’s a fun romp that just takes a little bit to get there – but when you do … what a ride.