Mad Max on PlayStation 4
Let’s start here with a good dose of honest, no-nonsense reality: nearly every single time that games and films cross, the result is a disaster. For whatever reason, something is almost universally lost in translation when taking big-budget film worlds and creating games within them, and the results going the other direction are consistently just as bad, if not worse. Mad Max tries to break the trend by coming from another direction. By not being a direct adaptation or tie-in to any existing film, the game attempts to give itself narrative freedom while remaining true to the source.
What Mad Max lacks in direct tie-ins, it makes up for in shared world inhabitants. Players will see plenty of relatively familiar, if somewhat generic, faces and locations, including the shiny and chrome War Boys, the legendary Gas Town, and more. This blurring of the lines allows the game to use familiarity while still going in its own direction, and it works pretty well. There’s also Max himself, of course, struggling with his madness as much as with survival, much as he has through the four feature films up to and including 2015’s Fury Road. What the game lacks, though, is much of the pacing that keeps those films exciting and the plot moving as Max makes his way across the barren wastes.
A big part of this pacing issue comes from the fact that WB Games felt compelled to imbue Mad Max with survival-game aspects. Players spend a ton of time picking up gas cans to refuel their car, filling Max’s canteen for on-demand health restoration, and collecting scrap, the wasteland’s answer to currency. This is a great way to add a dash of realism — after all, staying upright in the blasted, post-apocalyptic world shouldn’t be easy. Unfortunately, realism doesn’t necessarily suit the insanity-driven, psychotic mess that is the core of the film series and, ultimately, the game. While the developers have been noted as saying that the game is about 60% vehicle combat, that seems a far stretch when so much play time is eaten up with this kind of slow-moving cutscene-style interaction.
Speaking of vehicular combat, let’s talk about Mad Max‘s driving. To say that the controls are squirrelly is an understatement, but I’ll actually stand up in defense of this somewhat sloppy approach. After all, we’re not talking about souped-up racers speeding across finely-paved tracks, but cobbled-together junk piles scratching through a barren, dusty sprawl of debris and loose dirt. Yes, it takes some getting used to, but as you get the hang of your vehicle’s wild fish-tailing and stiffness, it’s still pretty effective and I think the looseness of it feeds well into the ramming, side-slamming action that’s at the core of car-on-car violence. Does it feel unpolished? Perhaps, but the world of Mad Max is not one with much polish to it — unless you’re a War Boy begging to be witnessed.
I mentioned that Mad Max makes a name for itself by presenting a fresh, untold story. While the story fits nicely with the theme of the world, and it’s not a bad plot by any means, the early going is a bit rough and the overall tale at times feels very linear for an open-world game. There are distractions, of course; whether it’s picking up a side mission (“Wasteland Missions”) for additional loot or vehicles, or simply chasing a bothersome enemy across the open dunes for far too long, it’s easy for players to find something besides sticking to the core objectives. A lot of unlocking upgrades relies on keeping on track, though, so be cautious or you may find enemies and areas that far outclass your current rig if you stray too far.
The good news about Mad Max is that, for all the little things I’ve pointed out, it’s still a ton of fun to play. Does the survival aspect make it a bit difficult to go out and explore freely? Sure, but it’s not impossible, and even pretty early on you’re capable of just enough to get by. Finding food and water to keep Max going is probably one of the tougher parts, but returning to whichever Stronghold you call home is an easy remedy. Finding gas to keep Max’s ever-changing car, the Magnum Opus, running is pretty simple, and multiple ‘savage sites’ littering the map make it easy to look for scrap and other supplies. The story may feel a bit forced and linear at times, but it’s far from the only thing there is to do out in the wasteland, and if you’re not bothered by lengthy cutscenes then it’s just fine. Personally, I prefer the “sit and watch” variety of plot-pushing versus the more punishing quick-time event style anyway, and it does help lend a cinematic feel that fits the game’s roots.
Ultimately, Mad Max is probably not the perfect realization of the world that it’s set in, but it’s not so far off the mark. With less “busy work” tasks and repetition of tearing down enemy towers or defenses to lower the ‘threat’ within a given area, it could have been a smoother ride, but who said that an all-out war across the dusty expanse was supposed to be smooth? Hand to hand combat will be familiar to anyone who’s played the Arkham series, which is a plus, though Max isn’t quite as cut out for fisticuffs as Bruce Wayne. Still, with it’s great visuals, film-like appeal, and incredibly fun and engaging car on car combat, there’s a lot going for it. I give it a solid recommendation for any fan of the film series or of open-world, car-heavy games. Maybe it isn’t everything it could have been, but it sure as hell isn’t the typical film-to-game disasterpiece that many gamers might expect by now.