Can they keep it interesting? Emily Roach reviews the reboot of the Mad Max franchise.
Mad Max is a gritty, mechanical post-apocalyptic franchise of films and games. It following the plights of Max, in the original movies known as Max Rockatansky, as he survives alone in The Wasteland, braving bandits and severe resource shortages.
The next-gen platform game, published by Warner Bros and developed by Avalanche Studios, continues with this concept, as Max, with his unlikely companion and gifted mechanic Chumbucket, work to create The Magnum Opus and escape the Wasteland through the Plains of Silence.
The above information, plus random tidbits from friends, was all I knew of the series before beginning my review play-through. I'm well aware of the lengthy series preceding this game, but I wanted to see if it could stand on its own legs, without the player requiring prior knowledge. As such, this review will be from the most objective view possible, other than holding the hope that it's a cool game and worth the build-up.
As always, this review contains a degree of spoilers, and the opinions expressed are purely my own.
Mad Max is chock-filled with action, and from what I heard of the recent movie, it's not a surprise.
The world that the player is dropped into for the campaign is bloody and brutal, with Max encountering the vicious Lord Scrotus within the first cutscene, then preceding to shove a chainsaw through the top of his skull. Max then loses his prized Interceptor (referred to by most as “the black-on-black”), most of his clothes and weapons, and a photograph of his -presumed dead- family, setting him up as a weathered, hardy man, who has already lost everything.
Immediately you come across Chumbucket, the gifted hunchback mechanic who worships “The Angel of Combustion”, and believes Max to be a saint, “The Driver”, sent from his deity. From this point your goal becomes to build the ultimate vehicle, the Magnum Opus. You quickly learn of the hierarchy in the Wastelands, of the War Boys (ruled by Scrotus) and the other bandit groups that emerged in the world after civilisation fell, and are informed by Chumbucket that to escape to “The Plains of Silence”, Max will have to get past them all. That's about it for the first ten minutes of the game.
...much of your time is spent scouring the Wastelands...
The story sequence of the game is not long. There are only 15 story missions, spaced out by a plethora of side quests, raids and scavenging opportunities. As a result, much of your time is spent scouring through the Wastelands, collecting scrap and building projects within strongholds, lowering the threat of hostiles in the area, and using what you find to upgrade your vehicle so it can complete the next story mission. Basically, you end up farming an awful lot. Not that I particularly mind that though, as I am a completionist player (meaning I like to collect everything), but that type of game isn't everyone's cup of tea.
Despite the delay in between parts of the story, I actually found myself getting into the plot, so it's a shame that they didn't delve as deeply into it as I would have liked. However, the slight lack of story detail is made up in things to do, and a hell of a lot of conflict, so your time is still adequately occupied.
In relation to building backstory, the game does allow you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the world's current state. Throughout the map, if you scavenge through enough ruins and encampments, you can find relics of the past which reveal things about how the world fell apart. I personally felt this was a good thing, as it shows the developers obviously didn't assume the audience knew how their apocalypse worked, and offered an explanation.
The game has three very clear areas of gameplay: the driving, the combat, and the collection of scrap leading to the upgrading of equipment.
As Max's goal is to build the ultimate car, it's no surprise that the whole game is vehicle-centric. The map is enormous, far too large to even dream of crossing on foot, so you are required to master the driving mechanics. I'll admit, the car controls are a little non-consistent: sometimes turning takes a lot of effort, other times I crash into objects because it turned too sharply. The shooting mechanism in the vehicle is good though, slowing down time for more precision when using a gun or the harpoon.
Driving distances did become a little bit of a pain eventually, even though there are fast travel spawns, because they're not really worth using if you want to collect as much scrap as you can while you travel. In any case, every time you entered the Wastelands, events would differ, creating good variation. Sometimes you could run into a convoy, or a war-boy group, or a storm could come crashing through and have you running to seek shelter. This definitely makes it more interesting, if not a little harder to get from A to B.
There is a lot of combat and fighting in this game, so if you're one for button smashing brawls, then this is definitely your game. The combat style is extremely reminiscent of the “Batman: Arkham” series (which makes sense, seeing as it is another Warner Bros. title), using the same buttons to punch, dodge and counter. You can also finish the enemies using a shiv, if you've collected one, using the X button. Max has a combat fury meter, which once maxed out allows your character to become stronger and harder to hit/damage in a fight. This is countered by the War Criers within enemy camps, which when alerted can buff your opponents and give them the same boosts.
Just as a side comment on character controls, Max cannot jump. L2 gives a little leap forward movement, but it's hardly a “I can jump onto a small ledge” movement.
Finally, your progression through the story is based off collecting scraps from abandoned shipwrecks, conquered mining facilities and camps out in the Wastelands, then using these collectable to upgrade your vehicle and personal abilities. There are a certain amount of collectables at each place, and there is a counter to let you know if you've missed anything. Most of the time, these camps will offer random scrap which is used like currency in the game, but some hold project parts, which can be used to improve the living conditions in your allies' strongholds.
You also complete challenges around the map, which are listed in the pause menu, and they result in an increase of reputation rank in the Wastelands. As you increase this rank, you earn “Griffa tokens”, which can be exchanged for stat boosts when given to the mystic Griffa.
One of the biggest irritations I found in the collectables mechanic however was the gap between the amount of scrap collected by scavenging and the prices of upgrades you need to purchase. You gain perhaps an average of 25-30 scrap at each small camp, if that, yet the things you need to spend it on are 300, 600 or 900 scrap to buy, and that's only the earlier sets. Making this gap is an effective way to ensure the player scours every side-quest that appears on your map, but it was also very annoying if you wanted to continue with the story. When raiding the bigger camps and the Top Dog dens, sure, you'd get a boost of scrap, but most of the time you spend a lot of time collecting very little. It was bearable most of the time, but at some points it really frustrated me.
The artistic quality of this game was on par to what we see in most next-gen console titles: cinematic, crystal clear and realistic. Rough skin had a weather-worn texture, blood and dirt was smeared down the fabric of your character at almost all times, character hair/weapons/etc. had the correct physics, you get the idea.
For me, the creation and animation of the dusty landscape was the most intriguing thing
For me, the creation and animation of the dusty landscape was the most intriguing thing about the graphics, as the landscape is what makes the aesthetic of the game. Light, varying waves of sand swirled around on the breeze, and wind actually ceased in places it should have. The rock formations, having previously been on the bottom of the ocean, resembled this origin, littered with old shipwrecks and dried and fragile coral chunks.
Standout parts of the landscape graphics include the sky and the periodic storms that plague the map. The sky never goes completely pitch black and looks extremely realistic, adding to the cinematic vibe. The storms are super effective at blocking vision realistically, and actually wreaking havoc on your gameplay, which made them super impressive. Overall, graphic quality is definitely up there.