Mad Max PS4 Review
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Developer: Avalanche Studios Genre: Action Players: 1
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One
I must admit that open-world games set in wastelands sound a bit unappealing, but if a development team has the talent, it’s possible for them to create a well realised world that is distinctive when compared to many other open-world games. Avalanche Studios’ Mad Max is one such game; the post-apocalyptic world that it takes place in may be one lacking in life, civility and humanity, but it’s still a living and breathing world in many other ways.
The plot of Mad Max is fine for what it is, but there just isn’t a whole lot of it, causing the events of the game to feel fairly shallow. At least the characters in the game are a bit more lively. Max is the typical brooding hero, and he’s soon joined by the oddly-named mechanic Chumbucket, whom helps Max build the Magnum Opus vehicle that features so prominently throughout the game. Chumbucket is certainly an oddball; he’s obsessed with building the perfect vehicle and is also very protective of it in what seems to be quite the unhealthy manner. There are also a handful of more unsavoury characters who are more memorable than the story that they star in.
Back to the world that the game takes place in, and it really is a beautiful wasteland, if wasteland’s can be called beautiful, that is. True, it’s hardly the paradise-on-earth setting featured in the developer’s very own Just Cause 2, but it wasn’t supposed to be; it’s a dusty and ruined world which feels just as vicious and as doomed as it should, and it gives you the sense of little hope and emptiness as you travel through it. Like I said in my opening paragraph, it takes a deft hand to turn such a world into a memorable one, but this has certainly been achieved here.
Like I suggested earlier, your primary transport in the world is the Magnum Opus, and it’s also one of the major things that the game focuses on. Max’s vehicle is upgradeable, allowing you to improve many things as you attempt to turn it into a hard-hitting, nippy and durable war machine. The Magnum Opus is upgraded by finding scrap throughout the broken world, and it’s a satisfying feeling to know that you are improving your vehicle each time you spend your scrap on it.
You can upgrade things such as the armour, weapons, tyre’s and engine of Chumbucket’s first love, but you can also add things such as spikes to minimise the risk of enemies boarding the vehicle, wheel trims to damage enemy vehicles when you are side-by-side with them, and other such additions. Many of the upgrades of the vehicle need to be unlocked before you are able to purchase them, and you’ll have to meet certain goals to be able to do this, including completing optional side tasks in the world. Some of these side tasks even require you to upgrade the Magnum Opus beforehand.
The vehicle combat is explosively satisfying, and Max’s car is fitted with various weapons, including a harpoon and the destructive Thunderpoon. In combat, the harpoon is able to pull pieces of armour off enemy vehicles to pick them off sooner, but you are also able to rip unprotected wheels off certain vehicles, pull drivers out of their seats and so on. Outside of vehicles, you can pull specific things down with the harpoon, which proves to be helpful during many of the optional side tasks. Back to the combat though, and the explosive Thunderpoon does extensive damage, particularly to vehicles without armour, and Max can also use his shotgun to aim at weak points as well as make his way into the back of the vehicle in order to make use of his sniper rifle. As for when the Magnum Opus is badly damaged, this is when Chumbucket’s talent of fixing comes into play; he’ll repair the car when you are stationary.
When outside your vehicle, Max also proves to be efficient at holding his own when in danger. As there’s a lack of ammo in the world, the focus here is definitely on the melee combat, which obviously takes much of its inspiration from the Batman Arkham games. The fighting is brutal and very fitting for the violent world that the game takes place in. There’s satisfaction to be had in building big combos, the hard-hitting animations as well as countering moves at opportune moments, and melee weapons can also be picked up from time to time. There’s also a Fury meter, which makes Max more powerful once its peak is reached. During Fury mode, Max starts hitting enemies with wrestling-like manoeuvres, and it’s just like he’s in more of a violent frenzy than he is when Fury isn’t active. Oddly though, and in spite of his manoeuvrability during fighting, Max is a very poor climber and, while you are able to jump, it regularly seems as if Max isn’t able to vault over the smallest of objects, making this portion of the game feel annoying and really quite clunky.
Like the Magnum Opus, Max can be upgraded, and there’s potential for much growth as well. There’s actually two ways to upgrade Max, with it being possible to upgrade from the pause screen in the same way as the Magnum Opus, but you can also seek out the mysterious Griffa to upgrade some of Max’s other abilities as well. From the pause screen you upgrade Max using scrap, but the upgrades that Griffa has for Max are earned by exchanging Griffa tokens. Through these two upgrade systems, you can upgrade the damage that Max deals out, increase his health and defence and the amount of time that he is in fury mode, and upgrade his weapons, skills and tools. You can also upgrade the amount of scrap you receive when looting, the amount of health you gain from the little food found in the world, and so on. Max also has a legend rank, and certain upgrades won’t be available until you reach a specific level.
While there are a pleasing number of upgrades for both Max and the Magnum Opus, it does have to be said that it was unnecessary to split the upgrades up in the way that they have done, and the developer could have done a better job of streamlining the upgrade process. Things are just a little more untidy than they could have been.
For such an empty place, the wasteland does have a fair number of things for you to do other than to just follow the story through the main missions. Scrap is a very valuable thing in the world, and that’s why there is plenty of it to be found in the game. There are locations to loot all over the wasteland, and these always have pieces of scrap and sometimes historical relics, of which remind us of what the world was like before it became a dangerous wasteland. Storms also occur from time to time, and there’s a nice risk versus reward mechanic here. The weather isn’t only visually spectacular and one of the things that shows off the game at its best, but there’s also a lot more scrap to be found if you are able to brave its dangers and stay out in it rather than seek cover until it passes over. Other than scrap and history relics, project parts can also be found in the world. The project parts can add different things to strongholds, of which have their own perks. If you gather enough parts to create the water storage and ammo projects for example, your water canteen (used to refill your health, which means that the game bravely ignores the recharging health systems seen in other games) and ammo will be automatically refilled when you return to that stronghold. It’s a nice idea, and the perks can’t be abused either, as once you make use of them, it then takes awhile until you are able to make use of them again.
There are also camps to be taken over, and when you have done so you’ll earn extra scrap from these every so often. Taking over camps also decreases the threat level of that region, and it’s also possible to do this by tearing down scarecrows with the Magnum Opus’ harpoon, taking out snipers, clearing up minefields, and destroying enemy convoys. All the aforementioned things collectively make the world feel just as dangerous as it should. You’ll also come across vantage air balloons in the wasteland, of which basically have the same purpose as the vantage points in the Assassin’s Creed series, and also serve as fast travel points. Once you float yourself up to an elevated position, the difference here is that you have to use your binoculars to discover the different things in the area for yourself as opposed to them just being automatically added to the map screen in the way that they are in the likes of Assassin’s Creed. You’ll also come across people in the world, wasteland side missions, and Death Run races. True, some will eventually find themselves too fed up to do absolutely everything and will retire from the world, but with potential for hours and hours of gameplay there’s certainly a lot here for the completist.
Mad Max may have a rather lacklustre story and, in some ways, an untidy feel with its separated upgrade systems and Max’s apparent unwillingness to jump up or climb over small obstacles, but it is otherwise a game that has a lot going for it. Both the driving and on-foot sections are action packed and enjoyable, and the world looks and feels as desolate, dangerous and as violent as such a bleak future should.