Following in the gigantic footsteps of the movie franchise, the Mad Max game finally rockets onto consoles today. But with the weight of the world bearing down on it, can it push back?
Firstly there’s the issue of whether or not we should be comparing the Mad Max video game to the film franchise that spawned it. It seems somewhat cruel to pit a debut game against such a monumental film franchise, but if Avalanche Studios have taken inspirations from the films (which they say they have) then it seems only fair we should compare certain aspects of the two forms of media.
To that end, lets focus on the anti-hero of the game: Max himself. The Max we’ve seen for decades now on our screens seldom has anything to say in debates and discussions taking place around him, instead taking the back seat and arguably being an avatar for the audience to gain insight into the world surrounding him. To this end, the Max we find ourselves controlling in the game is nothing like his feature film character, speaking up whenever he deems necessary, and even giving out commands to certain characters nearby.
This completely unsettles the balance of the iconic watchful protagonist that George Miller installed on the screen, and although the Max in this game shows flashes of having a morality crisis in certain situations, he’s never active enough to convince us that he’s more than a one dimensional character. Perhaps we should judge Max purely as if we were meeting him for the first time, but even then he’s not exactly a character of conviction, and at times I honestly found myself wishing he was a completely silent protagonist.
All of the aforementioned is to say nothing of the poor voice acting that plagues the game throughout. At the fans protest, Max was changed to an Australian actor, and it appears Avalanche have done their best to pick out the most stereotypical Aussie they could find. The warlords of the wasteland you come across are no better, sounding like camp 80’s film villains rather than the cruel masters of the post apocalyptic world that they should be.
Something that the game keeps to remarkably well, however, is the simple plot formula that worked so well in the movies. In Mad Max: The Road Warrior, Mel Gibson’s Max decided to go down the selfless path of protecting a village from bandits, and Tom Hardy’s Max went down a similarly sacrificial path in this years Fury Road. The Mad Max game keeps things simple, opting to go for a tale of revenge in Max v Scrotus, the powerful warlord that leaves our protagonist for dead at the beginning of the game.
This works to some degree in theory, but throughout the game the tale of revenge keeps getting sidetrack by utterly tedious tasks for Max to perform. The entire game is essentially moving from stronghold A to stronghold B, and bowing to the necessary warlord there, with Max performing whatever tasks said warlord might desire. Through a 12 hour plot, this simple drags on for far too long, and by the game finally comes around to dealing with Scrotus, you’ve almost forgot about the revenge trip you embarked upon in the first place.
The breakneck action has become a staple for the Mad Max franchise throughout cinematic history, as George Miller was conducting stunts in the 1980’s that the likes of Michael Bay could only dream of, and that’s to say nothing of this years Fury Road, which turned everything up to 11. While the video game adaptation of Mad Max has great intentions with its action, this can only carry it so far.
The action is essentially broken up into two pieces: on foot, and in the car. The hand-to-hand combat clearly takes it cues from the Batman: Arkham series, especially when considering both games are licensed under Warner Bros. This is no bad thing, and Mad Max does a good job implementing the action here, becoming a brawler game when Max is on foot and making his way through an enemy stronghold. Although the formula might feel tried and tested to some, I was still able to have fun with the basic punching mechanics, even if they never evolve throughout the game.
The other aspect of the combat is the car-to-car shootouts, which is undoubtedly what most players came here for. I won’t say I wasn’t disappointed by the car combat in Mad Max; the mechanics of it are actually very basic, but still fun to play around with and incredibly destructible. However the game often forgets that this is perhaps its biggest strength, and instead has players performing menial tasks such as taking down scarecrows, instead of hitting the highway and taking the fight to the enemy convoys.
The car combat is incredibly fun to play around with, and is evidently the biggest selling point of a franchise based around blazing car chases, but I wish the game utilised this feature within the plot far more often. The fact that you can slow down time and aim with either a harpoon or shotgun at different parts of opposing cars is a great move on Avalanches part, and it ramps up the pace of the game infinitely whenever Max is involved in a huge car chase. However to say these pieces are optional is putting it lightly: to be engaged in a huge car chase reminiscent of the movies is for the player to find in certain areas, which makes it all the more frustrating that the story doesn’t implement these.
Mad Max is a slightly messy game, largely in part to all the excess weight it carries with it. The plot is virtually non-existent, while the character portrayals and the voice acting weigh down what should be a fun and breakneck experience. Whenever the game actually gets around to the vehicular action it’s so fun and crazy you actually somewhat forget that you’ve got to go back to tedious reconnaissance tasks straight after. Mad Max is a fun game when it wants to be, but a downright boring one when it forgets to play to its strengths, which is sadly a lot of the time.