To many, the Mad Max video game was (and still is) a hard sell. Broadly it is another 3rd-person, open-world game, with a focus on liberating bases and decreasing the opposition’s hold in an area. It smacks of every Ubisoft title, and the number of games using this formula has only been increasing in recent years. It wasn’t even the first time Mad Max’s developer, Avalanche Studios, had used this formula. They’re most famous for the Just Cause series which operated on a similar set of mechanics. The question remains then, what is so special about Mad Max?
It is the detail of each of these usually tired ideas. Every aspect of the game ties back into its powerful theme, this dirty and dusty Australian post-apocalypse, featured in both the original Mad Max films and recent reincarnation in Fury Road. The game didn’t purchase the likeness of Tom Hardy, as our protagonist is Max but seems to visually be somewhere in-between Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy with a strong Australian accent. There is influence from both incarnations of the world of Mad Max in this game too. The bases the player liberates are built from the remnants of the old world, with the rusted chassis of old boats and car parts strewn everywhere. A key part of liberating bases is scouting them out and working on destroying their defences, which is mainly done with the help of the Magnum Opus, the rust-bucket car used throughout the game. This vehicle and the combat you undertake with it throughout the game is probably the greatest departure from the classic formula. The Magnum Opus is highly customisable to fit different play-styles and aesthetics, and using it to defeat enemy crews makes the game somewhat similar to a post-apocalyptic Burnout. There’s also a great deal of fun to be had just messing with different designs and building your own rust bucket monstrosity: several different chassis can make the base of your car anything from a Rolls Royce to a Shelby GT500. You can even get Max’s classic Pursuit Special by finishing the game. Just about everything in the game plays into its theme, from the odd place names and vehicle parts (like Cadavanaugh and “wide treadies”) to the lack of resources like fuel, water and ammo. Its cast of inappropriately named, insane, visually weird characters is another example of this.
Even the admittedly less interesting gameplay of pulling down scarecrows (large effigies often featuring real people) and destroying mines is heightened by the fantastic graphics that still hold up half a decade later. The rolling dunes and beautiful skyboxes do sell the idea of post-apocalyptic Australia. As well as this, there are ridiculous dust storms I’m not sure any game has matched. Even down to the little details like the Magnum Opus dripping flaming fuel from its exhaust, you can tell a great deal of care went into the game. Most of the side activities aren’t even necessary to progress the main story, which is perhaps the greatest sin of any video game, making side-content compulsory. The liberation of different areas is mainly to unlock new car parts and projects in bases, all of which make the game easier. Conversely, the game’s difficulty is somewhat of an issue for the theme, as the hardened feel of the world is lessened by the ease at which you can complete most of the game, and the almost complete lack of requirement to upgrade Max. Thankfully most of these upgrades aren’t forced onto you so you can artificially make the game more difficult for yourself.
Mad Max was unfairly treated in most reviews shortly after release. Most of its reviews were middling, and its contemporaries in the ‘Ubisoft-like’ genre tended to not get criticised as harshly for failing to evolve the limited genre. Quite frankly I think it brings more to the table than the likes of Just Cause and Assassin’s Creed, bringing in a powerful theme and involving world with unique mechanics in its vehicular combat. Furthermore, thanks to its middling reception, it can be bought for a pittance from most online stores during a sale. So if you’re looking for a game that boldly strikes its claim in a sea of other similar titles, Mad Max is there.
Mad Max is available on Steam, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 now. You can watch the launch trailer below.