The first few hours of Mad Max are a fanboy’s dream, offering everything that there is to love about the film series. The gnarly blood- and oil-soaked aesthetic of the world and its larger-than-life stylisation are all seamlessly captured, making driving around Avalanche Studio’s post-apocalyptic wasteland a true treat.
The charm is painfully short-lived. Beyond the carefully-designed opening hours, there is a painful revelation: once you leave the first area and see the scale of Mad Max’s sprawling map, it begins to dawn that you have just experienced everything the game has to offer, and now it expects you to repeat things over and over, ad nauseam.
The subsequent 40 hours are spent hoping that the next mission will bring some variation into the mix, but it never happens.
There are three things to keep you occupied over the course of this journey: driving, fighting, and collecting. Max’s Magnum Opus is an grunty beast that is a lot of fun to thrash around the sand in. The brutal Batman Arkham-style fighting feels great as well.
Mad Max follows the much-mimicked Assassins Creed model of tower liberation and fog lift, with a map littered with objectives. Some, like tearing down towers and scavenging scrap metal, are completed in the blink of an eye, while others are more substantial: fortresses must be entered on foot and cleared with fists, cruising convoys must be reduced to burning wrecks and plundered.
The problem is that the missions and objectives in which they are employed are a never-ending mountain of monotony. Worse, these kinds of objectives are typically employed as a side garnish in similar games, but the trouble with Mad Max is that they make up much of the main course.
Almost all of them must be cleared to progress the story, and when this is achieved, chances are the story quest will only consist of doing more of the same. If the developers had left this content as actual side activities and actually crafted proper story missions to break things up, there is no doubt that this would be a much better game.
That’s a shame, because the story itself is actually quite interesting. It’s your standard revenge-flick fare with Max seeking to kill amazingly-named Warlord Scaborous Scrotus (son of Mad Max: Fury Road’s facemasked Immortan Joe). However, the real draw here is the cast of colourful characters that Max meets along the way. The standout is easily Max’s deformed sidekick mechanic Chumbucket, who religiously worships mechanical objects and serves as the Magnum Opus’s repair man.
The major impetus of the story comes from Max’s need to upgrade the Opus in order to storm Gastown and take down Scrotus. This upgrade tree is initially exciting, new weapons and gadgets making car combat increasingly more explosive. Unfortunately, all the Opus’s weapons are unlocked so early in the game that they quickly become as mundane as everything other aspect of the experience.
Flickers of potential here and there show that Mad Max could have been an amazing game. After all, Avalanche did do a superb job of creating and maintaining the tone and aesthetic of the much-loved films. But in the end, the failings of this experience are not in its story or tone, but in how it handles itself as a game. A lack of variation in gameplay and mechanics make playing Mad Max an increasingly frustrating experience, and suddenly you reach the point where all the fun is gone, and you are happy to just walk away.