Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Mad Max’ on Blogcritics.
Warner Brothers Interactive and Avalanche Studios’ new Mad Max video game has been in development for quite a while, but is now available. Capitalizing on the latest movie’s home release, and by dropping at the end of summer, the Mad Max video game avoids the crowded fall calendar, and has a chance of finding an audience. Though the game is agnostic to Fury Road’s plot, the overall theme is the same. Of course, just like all of the movies, the Mad Max video game is a brutally violent journey through the wasteland.
Mad Max borrows gameplay heavily from iconic video game franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, and another of Warner Brothers Interactive properties, Rocksteady’s Arkham Batman games. If nothing else, the post-apocalyptic, open-world video game is hugely ambitious. This action adventure game infuses role playing game elements along with a heavy dose of racing. Unfortunately, it’s rare for an effort that tries to do so much, to excel at any of them. In this case, the only area where Mad Max reaches any real level of success is in the abundant vehicular combat.
Multiple video game genres aren’t the only thing packed into Mad Max. The somewhat unusual control scheme is packed with actions. Luckily, the basic driving controls are pretty standard with forwards and backwards driving assigned to the triggers. The left bumper aims and the circle button fires Max’s shotgun, missiles, or his harpoon. Thankfully, this aspect translates to Max’s controls while on foot too. What is weirdest about the on foot controls, is that the left trigger makes Max jump, but the triangle button is used to climb obstacles, except for ladders, which use the X button.
A lot of the time on foot, Mad Max is spent in combat, which works pretty well. It utilizes a counter system similar to the Batman and Assassin’s Creed games. While Max does have a shotgun, ammunition is in short supply and has to be used sparingly. As Max levels up, his combat skills improve, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t get tedious, having to fight through the same eight or so different basic enemies for 20 to 40 hours. Actually, about two hours in, the game already felt like a grind. The subtle, ambient narrative doesn’t really drive the action well either.
While open world games like Fallout aren’t narrative heavy, they do provide more context than Mad Max. Mad Max does start with bang, an epic opening cinematic that sets up the story. Unfortunately, there’s not much else that drives the action. There is a good amount of voicework, but the majority of it’s pretty shallow and unspecific. It’s not until the last couple of story missions that there is any kind of real purpose, besides getting an eight cylinder engine to drive off into the sunset. Actually the ending is so incongruous with the rest of the Mad Max experience, you’d almost think it was part of a whole different game.
The Twisted Metal-esque vehicle combat is the most polished experience of the Mad Max game, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own issues. Some of what detracts from the experience are the technical issues, like frame rate inconsistencies, and glitches like parts of the audio dropping out, but the bigger problem is how loose the camera is. The camera issues and glitches are of course worse on foot. There was only one time in my sessions where Max got stuck and I had to reload the game, but smaller issues like not being able to walk forward, without backing up first, at times plagued the whole experience.
The Mad Max video game experience is a lot of had to hand combat, and driving, either in combat with other cars or racing. Of course, the barren wasteland is the only environment and contributes to feeling that playing Mad Max for an extended period is some sort of chore. At some point, doing side missions started feeling like self-mutilation, and I had to focus solely on the story missions to finish the game. I can’t help but feel that only using the narrative as bookends is a serious mistake, and that most gamers won’t have the stamina to reach the payoff, the ending offers. There’s nothing obviously broken in Mad Max, and that’s achievement in itself. The flipside of that is that it doesn’t do what it aspires to, as well as any of its competitors.