I set off into the desolate wastes, my thunderpoon in hand. Was I inside some twisted post-apocalyptic Dr. Seuss nightmare? Facing off against characters named Scrotus, Rim Jobbie, and Cock Locka. With every line of dialogue I could almost hear a faint Beavis and Butt-head- chuckle as I was introduced to more and more characters in the game. There’s surely no room for subtlety when making a game so geared towards puns and mayhem. Mad Max isn’t necessarily a direct reincarnation of a specific film and it isn’t exactly a prequel to Fury Road either. It lingers in the middle somewhere, a suitable homage to a fictional icon.
After being robbed of your car you commandeer a sidekick by the name of Chumbucket, a Gollum-like mechanic who provides the necessary comedic relief to counter-balance Max’s almost endless broodiness. Chumbucket promises to help Max build an even better car, the Magnum Opus. As you progress in the story you will team up with four different stronghold leaders to help you upgrade your new wheels. Of course doing so means that they will need certain things from you in return, with missions clearly meant to facilitate the player's education on how to execute certain quests through the open world but they are still very fun due to the uniqueness of each stronghold leader. The one commonality between them is that you can upgrade each stronghold in order to replenish water, food, ammo, and fuel, and grant the ability to collect scrap when the game is off.
Along with the stronghold leaders you also encounter various Top Dogs guarding specific encampments, and defeating these minor bosses can unlock certain upgrades for your Magnum Opus. Fighting them and exploring different hideouts are where the repetitious pitfalls of Mad Max begin to rear their head. Many of the Top Dogs have the exact same character design, fight patterns, and are individualized solely by a change in skin color or splashes of paint on their body. The minor enemies take their cues from the movie reboot with the incorporation of War Boys, Blood Bags, and enemies who will intentionally barrel into your vehicle and explode. As far as realism, there are many things that may not meet the criteria fans would expect from a game meant to bring the Mad Max experience to life.
Along with upgrades to vehicles and strongholds there are significant skill upgrades that are unlocked by doing various tasks and gaining a higher legend level. These perks are redeemed by visiting a mysterious man called Griffa who appears at random locations through the game. You can upgrade Max’s ability to consume less fuel, water, and food when replenishing those items as well as vitality and melee abilities. Of course once upgraded, it can make the desolate landscape seem much less desperate.
Once I had unlocked a stronghold and upgraded resources as well as Max’s skills I rarely found myself at risk of running out of key resources. Since there is no difficulty mode to switch to, players looking for a more challenging experience that increases the scarcity of items or the depletion of resources are left to facilitate it themselves by not upgrading certain perks. There is also a fast-travel option available at strongholds and air-balloon lookout locations throughout the map. While it goes against the whole point of a Mad Max game to fast travel everywhere, it can help if you need to replenish resources quickly before proceeding with a story mission or side quest.
The layouts of the each enemy camp are varied and some do stand out over others, but in the end you’re basically fighting the same kind of enemies and completing the same side tasks to reach 100% completion in each area. Perhaps if the look of the encampments changed depending on what region you’re in, then it may have helped. The best part about raiding the enemy camps really comes in how you approach each situation. You can take on these compounds head on and use basic attacks to dismantle mortar towers and snipers, but there are more covert methods to infiltrating enemy compounds.
After unlocking strongholds there will be various lookout NPCs scattered through each region. Speaking with them will give you intel on enemy camps which can help you locate alternate hidden entryways and valuables. Utilizing the information from these characters can make a high-level fortress accessible even if you haven’t advanced far enough to unlock car upgrades necessary for tearing down higher-level enemy gates. Being able to mix up tactics when dealing with these elements helps break up the monotony of the enemies and minor boss fights. These NPCs can also increase your legend level, provide you with scrap, and unlock points of interest on the map.
Over time I found myself more engrossed in the side-story missions than the main story itself. The Mad Max character archetype is very one-note and there isn’t much effort to challenge it during the main missions save for the introduction of a damseled concubine, Hope, and her daughter, Glory. While these two characters facilitate the oldest cliché in the book—woman and child in peril needing assistance from the brooding mysterious man—it is counterbalanced with the presence of few different supporting female characters as well as numerous female NPCs. Hope also has a few moments that feel slightly empowering but they are far overshadowed by the constant reinforcement that she is in need of saving which is a shame. The one thing the story does do a good job of is integrating the damaged psyche of Mad Max as you progress through the game. Towards the end of the main story the voices in Max’s head can be heard coming out of the speaker in the controller if you happen to be playing on PS4.
My biggest disappointment with Mad Max is the camera. There is an optional first-person view available while driving, but the third-person view during combat is the real issue. While the melee combat is enjoyable, I often found myself being sideswiped by unblockable attacks off-screen because of how close the camera is and its inability to correct itself. The melee is based on a system that relies on executing perfect parry attacks not unlike that of the Batman Arkham series but Mad Max has a significant flaw: He is not Batman. Since Mad Max is incapable of effortless floating across a great distance to the next enemy at the press of a button, changing the camera angle as needed, you are left to do it yourself. Finding a melee weapon is the best option in close quarters, if it’s available, since you can hit multiple enemies with it, my personal favorite being grabbing a thunderpoon and shoving it into an enemy's gut and kicking them back in order to take out multiple enemies at once.
Like Batman Arkham Knight there are certain enemies with charging attacks that cannot be parried. The main difference with those enemies in this game is that if you miss dodging them, then you risk being killed in a few hits no matter how high your vitality. The only other way to escape those situations is to button-mash before they land their first blow or unlock the ability to shiv them before they start their attack. As you unlock more of Max’s abilities other perks will be available that help lessen the difficulty imposed by the camera angles but it will not stop the problem altogether.
It’s a constant balance between rolling away to reorient the camera and trying not to miss the parry. I like the idea of the perfect parry melee combat, but when you can’t see the enemy, executing perfect parry moves become a chore. While recovering from executing finishing, moves enemies were able to land significant blows or shove me and interrupt Max’s movement entirely. This is doubly annoying when the dodge move is disabled in the middle of certain actions so you can’t defend yourself even when you see another blow coming.
The standout feature of Mad Max for me was the vehicle upgrades because you are not limited to using the Magnum Opus exclusively. Over the course of the main story and side quests you will have opportunities to collect rare vehicles as well as enemy cars. Once you drive them back to a stronghold they will be available for you to use at your leisure, the only catch being that vehicles added to your collection can’t be upgraded. There are, however, another class of vehicles called the Archangels. You unlock a few of these doing basic story quests but you’ll have to do far more side activities to unlock them all. It’s definitely worth it to upgrade and unlock as many upgrades as possible for your vehicle; taking the time to do this will help with the main campaign and possibly make the short story feel a bit longer.
Though Mad Max was a fun experience and I will definitely be playing a bit more to finish up the side stories, ultimately there’s no reason to replay Mad Max once you’ve completed the game. Even if there were more difficulty options and a new game plus, the story just isn’t compelling enough for me to want to experience it again. Despite the mundane plot, there’s plenty to do and distract yourself with within the game world and any fan of the Mad Max franchise will definitely get the Mad Max experience they want from this game.