Seeing as nobody wants to make a AAA title based on George Miller’s most famous films, Babe and Happy Feet, we’ll just have to make do with a game about Mad Max. Gamertroll imagines that the misery and disappointment some gamers feel at the little pig being passed over yet again can only be assuaged by a furious session of Lego Dimensions or some other loathsomely exploitative ‘Toys to life’ concept. Babe and dancing penguin fans alike had better dry those tears and cheer themselves up by purchasing some more plastic shit to trot about in front of their telly, because video gaming just awarded Mad Max fans the full service all over again.
The fact that the recent release of Miller’s critically acclaimed film Mad Max: Fury road spent 10 years in development hell, is a testament to the perfection that was being strived for. The resulting film cements the pedigree of its prequels, providing a continuation of their peerless post-apocalyptic aesthetic and knack for creating outstanding vehicular pornography.
It’s cracking luck the film is the mutts nuts too, because Avalanche’s Mad Max video game draws heavily from the same wellspring of style and cinematography. Only the actors’ true likenesses (like that of Tom Hardy’s) are omitted, presumably to avoid additional royalties, but it’s no loss in the grand scheme of things. If anything, the game is wealthier in terms of characters to enjoy, cars to gawp at and Max Lore to soak up; because this it is so huge, Gamertroll is surprised average sized titles haven't started to orbit it.
She's a beaut!
Avalanche studios should be proud of themselves. They’ve squeezed every drop of value out of the Warner Bros’ licence, providing gamers with superbly detailed graphics and an authentically desolate rendition of the wastelands.
Detail, that’s what it’s got. I got brains!
A game, a detailed game, might just have a design flaw under there.. I’d have to pin its head to the panel!
Gamertroll is mucking about of course, but the Gyro-captain himself would probably have been impressed with the artistry on display here; there are even scavengers that likewise hide under the sand to ambush the careless. Avalanche takes that principle further and even has Buzzard cars flying out of concealed launchers hidden amongst the dunes. That sort of detailed concept work and inventive interpretation of the Mad Max Intellectual property is exactly what puts this game towards the top of its class.
What Avalanche didn't lift straight from Miller’s prior creations, they simply invented either to facilitate gameplay devices or furnish the huge map with variety. Speaking as a hardcore fan of the films, Gamertroll can honestly say each piece of newly innovated material fits seamlessly with the old. Even the necessary, but initially jarring introduction of Chum bucket’s constant companionship quickly begins to feel right. The Magnum Opus needs a talented Blackfinger and Max is, afterall, the ultimate pragmatist. The man eats dog food and fists full of maggots straight from corpses for heavens sakes.
Detail is apparent in the most literal sense too. The game is unusually resplendent with shadow effects, lense flare, motion blur, field focus depth, saturation tints and high resolution explosions to name but a few. The sheer volume of different dust and particle effects alone represent an astonishing achievement. There is simply far too much to praise about the special effects and visual style of Mad Max to go through and applaud individually, so Gamertroll will settle for stating that this game is probably the best looking of any released so far this console generation. You certainly won’t find anything else that can rightfully claim to look better.
It would be remiss however, not to make special mention of just how effective the scorched, heat hazey rendition of the Australian badlands is at aping the films. There are plenty of lonely, open spaces to ensure a feeling of harsh isolation whilst still including a terrific variety of locations and activities.
The locations found both on and off the beaten track are successful particularly because they genuinely promote a mood of investigative curiosity. Sniper outposts, strongholds, encampments, survivors’ bolt holes, trap set ups, 20th century ruins and tombs: all look ‘lived in’ or suitably abandoned. The massive undertaking to scavenge each of them is even attractive once the main game's storyline is finished, such is the rewarding promise of discovery. You are never quite sure what Max is going to find next.
|Can you spot the embracing skeletons?|
The cars too are wonderful objects to look at, upgrade and drive. The car combat is versatile and rewarding in itself, but If you ever felt a passion for Max’s Interceptor or just ratrods in general, then you're really going to need to wear some loose-fitting pants when playing this game.
|Yep, that's two V8s in there. Praise be to the Angel combustion|
Each and every one of the massive selection of vehicles comes with a delicious portion of audible and visual garnish. It might be a special function like dropping mines or just a design flourish, like having flame spurting exhausts sticking at 45° angles, 5ft out either side of the hood. All are entertaining.
Allow the hunchback to beef up Max’s ‘Magnum Opus’ and each time you put the slipper down, sparks or droplets of burning fuel fly out of the exhausts. Puddles of burning fuel can gather on the ground in flame ripples, swirling in patterns of dust particles. It’ll make you smile.
Did Gamertroll say that Mad Max has a consistently over-designed visual complexity and extraordinary attention to detail? Ok. Moving on.
“Can you hear her? The Angel combustion!”
The Hunchback isn’t wrong, the engine bark is astoundingly entertaining from the offing and only gets sweeter with every incremental upgrade through the ranks of V6 and V8 monster blocks. Once you get there, the roar, whistle and whine of the biggest engines are truly something to behold.
Sound effects are entirely of the highest quality with the PS4 pad speaker being used to signal immersive counterpoints throughout; like shotgun reloads or stowing a spare fuel can in the back of a vehicle.
The quite excellent orchestral scoring throws out many small pieces of background music that serve to enhance the tension of certain discoveries, locales and encounters. Such is the compatibility of the score’s subtle, cinematic implementation, that at times you’ll find it indistinguishable from the distant murmuring of PA systems and engines echoing across the rocky desert.
Playing Mad Max is more fun than it has any right to be.
Arguably Warner's current success with having their film licences adapted into games hinges on three strong principles: firstly, choose a great development studio with directions to remain incredibly faithful to all original visual and audio IP; second, blatantly plagiarise the shit out of all the other best open world games of recent years; and thrice, hammer-in the Batman combat template.
When Monolith made Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor for Warner, we got a miracle mish mash of derivative elements married to an enemy ‘Nemesis system’ that raised the game to a surprising standard. Mad Max is yet another shamelessly derived effort, to the point where Gamertroll has to wonder if plagiarism is actually the prime boardroom directive at Warner Brothers.
So if the Nemesis system was the wildcard invention needed to inject life into Shadow of Mordor, what’s the glue that holds Mad Max’s Frankenstein together?
Gamertroll would argue that it’s the consistent diffusion of authentic atmosphere. It might not be anything as novel as the Nemesis System, but it still serves to elevate the entire project.
Despite the risky introduction of features like the Hunchback Blackfinger Chum Bucket to Max’s tale, Avalanche has still managed to capture the movies’ ethos with panache.
Mine, Mine, Mine!
It’s fair to say that gamers are currently obsessed with the amassing goods, looting and scavenging in open-worlds: Mad Max heavily observes that trend. The only remarkable thing here is that the looting mechanic is more appropriate to the subject matter than is usual.
Judicious use of X button is the way to get things done in the wasteland, but not how you might think. Merely pressing X does nothing, whilst pressing and holding (or to a lesser extent holding, then tapping) does almost everything. It might seem preponderant at first, but it occurs that using this idea to fill canteens, refuel, loot, dismantle, crowbar, climb, etc, is in actual fact a well judged and subtle design of the control interface. By making nearly every action (outside driving and combat) the result of a sustained button press serves to add a deliberate and methodical tone to everything Max does.
|Cannibal toaster bags|
The game becomes significantly more rewarding due to the accumulation of genuinely useful equipment and upgrades. Car skill trees, Max’s character skill trees, equipment skill trees, Borderlands-esque challenge-based leveling; this game is upgrade obsessed. Securing the legion of improvements for both Max and his vehicle requires a steady diet of salvaged scrap and completed tasks. Further abilities can be unlocked and enhanced by spending ‘Griffa tokens’ with a wandering Dreamtime mystic. Careful expenditure of those tokens grants skills such as using less fuel, wasting less water and slapping cannibals over the head more effectively with improvised weapons. You know the sort of thing.
It’s somewhat of an oddity that Max’s skill trees hit the game cap far too early during the course proceedings though, with no further use for acquired Griffa tokens or obvious improvement beyond about Level 25. By the time the credits rolled, Gamertroll was level 109, an indication that the character skill development metagame is a poor fit for a normal playthrough.
The Car upgrades are another matter entirely though. Getting the fastest V8 engines for example, will take the entire length of the game and possibly well beyond the credits. Upgrading every aspect of the ‘Magnum Opus’ is a labour of love, literally in Chum Bucket’s case, but you too may find yourself ogling the latest piece of armour or shouting ‘THUNDERPOON!’ each time the freshly installed, explosive-tipped harpoon gun claims another victim.
Not everything hits the mark though.
Just as with Warner’s other recent efforts, Mad Max is horrifically generic and derivative. And yet, just as with Shadow of Mordor, extended play reveals that obvious derivation doesn't ruin the finished game. If you’re especially touchy about creative plagiarism however, playing a game that has you shamelessly synchronizing look out points like Assassin's Creed; combat parrying like a demented Y pressing Batman game; driving open world like GTA and using a Grappling harpoon to tear down wasteland effigies exactly like the dictator statues in Just cause; then it’s like South park's ski instructor famously said, ‘you are going to have a baaad time’.
The Batman combat is all well and good, but shoehorning one series’ mechanic into so many other games comes not without its drawbacks. While the sturdy Batman engine is still as satisfyingly accessible and kinetically brutal as ever, it also has all the old issues with the fight cam failing to show the player all incoming attacks. Mad Max’s more chaotically ruined and oftentimes cramped environments can only contribute to the camera allowing so many hits to land from unseen assailants. This unfairness is negated later as Max’s clothing, bracers, knuckle dusters and attack list can be upgraded to a point where he is near invincible, but it’s still annoying to have a huge combo ended by some squirt poking you in the chops from out of nowhere.
|There are some surprisingly diverse locations to discover.|
It’s a shame too, that heading off piste into ‘The Big Nothing’, (previously drivable at game shows) has become a red screen fail-state that arrives shortly after an ugly onscreen warning to turn back. It’s both disappointing and dissonant. In a game full of cinematics, how hard would it have been to do a little cutscene to show Max disappear into the Plains of Silence?
|Hot Air Balloon stations make for the best vantage points|
providing you have the gasoline.
While it’s true that when first starting out, you won’t have built up the addicting investment of in-game attainment, or gotten used to the new characters, it does have to be said that Mad Max doesn’t make a super first impression. The lengthy initial cutscene oddly answers more questions than it asks and the rigid, ‘go here, get that’, structure during the startup phase is at odds with the later (far better) open world gameplay. Going purely on the evidence of those first few hours, Gamertroll had no idea that the following game would be so excellent.
|It can get chaotic fighting inside the Mighty Duster|
The game’s much vaunted, dynamic storms are a double edged sword too. They are a fine excuse for the graphics engine to flex its muscles, but outside prettiness and yielding rich salvage, they are often more awkward disruptions to the flow of play than anything else. For instance, you might find a safe spot to shelter from the storm, but once in cover the player has no choice to wait for anything up to 5 minutes to safely emerge again. You can’t even check through your items to pass the time, because the menus pause the action.
The conspicuous lack of Motorcycles is weird too once you notice. How could Avalanche have omitted a stylistic element so central to Mad Max Lore? Each of the films feature Motorbikes prominently and it’s not as if Avalanche hasn’t made games that included them before. That’s a super odd design choice there.
As Gamertroll mentioned in the recent Soma review, Avalanche has opted to include one of the most pathetic jumps in gaming history. Max would be hard pushed to clear the head of a daisy when the L2 is pushed. Apart from the very rarest situation necessitating a horizontal leap, the lack of heightrenders the action as pointless as a Kardashian. It all conspires to give one the impression that the jump was an important part of gameplay early in development, but was subsequently cast aside at some stage, somehow remaining in the final game as a vestigial feature.
Who was it at Avalanche who wanted to tempt us into trying and failing pointless jumps at a 5:4 ratio that Max could have walked around easier in any case? Whoever that sadist was, the bottomline is a waste of a prominent button which you can’t change out in the options screen.
After all that tentative X button holding, the hair trigger shotgun blast on the circle button will catch you out too, Gamertroll fair shit a kidney swearing at that, in the beginning. The shock (the blast comes loudly out of the pad speaker) is the least of it though, shells aren't easy to come by at that stage and you’ll mourn the waste before you learn to not to do it.
Not all bugs are for eating
These days it’s practically a uniform consideration to set aside space for moaning about bugs and glitches, but Gamertroll simply can’t be arsed to go in depth anymore with such a commonplace occurrence. Mad Max does appear to have fewer than average bugs, but that doesn't mean you can’t find some whopping fuckups like a widely reported glitch where unlucky souls have lost access to the world map. While that horror renders the game practically unnavigable, Gamertroll got off lightly by comparison, encountering only an invisible autosave labels bug.
Having said all that, we are still looking at a great game on aggregate. The longevity is cause for praise with a reasonable playthrough typically taking 45-50 hrs. Other activities, post main story missions, like car collecting and trophy hunting can send that figure up into the 60s. Some repeating challenges further help to raise the replayability factor, which is fortunate because you’ll likely want every excuse to continue cruising the wastelands. It’s just such a terrific place for a fan of the movies to hang out.
Special warning to trophy hunters: Mad Max’s ‘Up to the task’ trophy is one of the most perverted pieces of gamer torture Gamertroll has ever come across, relying as it does on completion of 140 individual wasteland Legend challenges. Screw that Platinum!
You might think that Gamertroll has marked this one up for love of the Mad Max licence, but the opposite is true. The biggest fans often make the stiffest critics and bearing that in mind, It’s a miracle there is so little to complain about in Max Rockatansky’s latest video game outing.
The reason some serious game critics have given Mad Max a less than Stellar reception, is partly due to it being so offensively derivative and generic. The thing is, most gamers aren't critics and they, for the most part, simply don't notice or care as much when a game fails to innovate. Even more crucially, most gamers will welcome a pretty game stuffed with time-consuming quest content and item accumulation far more than game journalists will when frantically scrambling to release their review in launch week..
OverallA gorgeous, sprawling game that looks with delightful depth into Mad Max Lore while representing great value in terms of content and quality. Superlative visual style is easy to underestimate as a force these days, but that is the essential element that elevates Avalanche’s Mad Max to the top tier of 2015 releases. All that accomplished with not a single, wanky DLC announcement designed mug us off. Bravo and encore.