Often with AAA titles you get the impression that many decisions have been made by people in suits who have no interest in gaming beyond the bottom line at the end of the financial year. Mad Max is not one of those games. While Mad Max clearly borrows from many other titles, it has taken ideas that work and ideas that are fun, cherry picking from some of the best open-world games of the last decade. There’s clear influences from Shadow of Mordor, the Arkham Series, Fuel, and of course Avalanche’s own Just Cause series and it’s all tied together with one of the most faithful movie licences we’ve seen in gaming since Goldeneye.
Mad Max is basically a third person open-world action-adventure game. There’s RPG elements, like how you can increase your skills and spend scrap you find on addition or modifications to your car – the magnum opus – or extra gear, but there’s very little in the way of moral choices beyond occasionally giving some water to some struggling wanderers or mowing them down out of spite. Or giving them water and then mowing them down because you’re inept, that happens too. There’s a main series of quests that sees you building up relationships with different strongholds in order to secure parts for your car while you also dismantle the empire of the embarrassingly named Lord Scrotus.
Side quests involve everything from clearing out feral cave dwellers to jumping over ramps because it’s awesome. Mad Max is one of the few universes where it’s fully believable that someone would give you what you want for pulling off a sick jump, and it works in the game. There’s also a huge number of Ubisoft-esque side activities that you can hoover up on the map if you’re going after 100% completion or want some of the upgrades that are locked behind them. Unlike the recent Ubisoft games these collectables are fun from the most part, ripping down towers and sniper nests with your car, clearing out bases and taking down convoys.
Unfortunately one kind does let the side down, the mine missions. For these missions you have to go back to a base, get in the buggy (because your canine friend is picky and won’t get in any other car) and drive out to locations to find mines. You can’t fast travel in this mode; if you do, without warning, you’ll appear at your destination with your Magnum Opus and no dog, forcing you to go back and get it again from the stronghold. Once your dog starts barking in a direction (which is adorable and well-animated) you follow that direction to find mines. You find three mines in each area, defuse them by simply pressing ‘A’ and you’re done. It’s slow, it’s boring, and it’s the only objective that really feels like a chore in the whole game.
That dullness aside, you’ll spend the rest of your time with Mad Max cruising around the Australian outback smashing other cars into balls of flame and twisted metal, harpooning warboys out of their seats, braving spectacular lightning and dust-storms and collecting water, fuel and scrap from hundreds of interesting little areas. The map is huge and cast, like you’d expect a post-apocalyptic desert to be, but it’s also surprisingly full of interesting locations. You’re only directed to them via a symbol on your map telling you there’s scrap inside, but do some poking around and you’ll find each one has a story, with carefully positioned objects and skeletons revealing far more than the game ever tells you.
On foot combat is very similar to the Arkham games but a little less forgiving and with a lot more blood. Your shotgun is just as powerful as you’d hope but ammo is scarce, so most of the time you’ll be using bone-crunching combos to shatter your enemies’ bodies until they collapse in submission. There’s also a healthy variety of explosives and high ledges to use to take people out.
In car combat really comes alive. While it’s tempting to simply use the harpoon gun to pull drivers out through much of the early game, eventually it opens up and as you fight against armoured vehicles you realise how many options are open to you. You can (deep breath): Ram cars, sideswipe cars, harpoon their wheels, doors and passengers off, harpoon their bumper then slam into the car with a boost, shoot parts (including the fuel tank) with a shotgun, snipe parts off with a sniper rifle, fire explosive harpoons (rockets) at them, grind against them with spiked rims, and even just pull people out and beat them up yourself, before driving off in whatever they happened to have. During the exhilarating convoy chases you’ll often use a combination of all of these techniques to take everyone down and the game’s engine does a fantastic job of emulating the most exciting parts of the film, with a sped-up ‘rushing’ effect on the air around you, heat distortion from explosions, characters clambering all over vehicles (including yours) and some choice dialogue expressing just how much everyone is enjoying what’s happening. It’s manic but in a carefully controlled way and as you get better at the game, you realise just how fine the control you have is.
The weather effects deserve special mention as despite the map being a huge expanse of desert, the lighting and day/night cycle really changes how the whole world looks and constantly creates amazing vistas. Occasionally a huge storm will roll in, reducing visibility to near-nothing, filling the air with huge damaging pieces of wreckage and intensely powerful lightning bolts. It looks amazing and is genuinely frightening when it comes in if you’re not looking for it. Usually the best bet is to get to a stronghold quickly (which automatically waits the storm out for you). If you’re feeling brave you can head out into it and find mysterious ‘storm crates’ that have a huge amount of scrap in them, but only appear in the fiercest storms. It’s a fun risk/reward mechanic and leads to some of the most memorable moments in the game. Because this game’s so unbelievably good looking we’ve included a small gallery of some of our favourite shots from our time playing so far.
Our only issues with this game are the repetitive mine missions and some slightly dull boss fights in the ‘top-dog’ areas, everything else is pretty amazing. This is an easy game to recommend and might be a surprising underdog for Game of the Year.