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TAC Reviews...Mad Max

Date Posted: 30/5/21

 

Released in 2015 Mad Max is based upon the Mad Max franchise and is set some time after the events of Mad Max: Fury Road. You play as not-Tom Hardy but series main protagonist Max Rockatansky on a mission to rebuild his car after the game’s main antagonist steals it, then leaves Max for dead in the Wasteland.

 

Mad Max Boxart

 

After the survival game itch I had was decidedly not satisfied by Stranded Deep I decided to just be patient until Subnautica: Below Zero was released so chose a nice sandbox game to play instead. Mad Max was a game that I had downloaded when it was free on Playstation Plus so I decided to give that a go.

 

Now I have seen bits of the first three Max Mad films over the years with Fury Road being the only one that I have seen all the way through. My knowledge of the world is a little sparse but from what I can gather the world is basically a Wasteland in which water and fuel are very rare. Yet despite that everyone drives around in gas-guzzling vehicles whilst remaining oblivious to the potential of solar power or hybrid vehicles. I’m not sure if it was nuclear war, or resources just ran out, or a virus that caused the world to become a Wasteland but I assumed that ultimately it doesn’t really matter. The important factors are that there are camps of survivors, groups of weirdoes (who generally dress in sadomasochism outfits for some reason) that steal vehicles from travellers, killing other survivors and worshipping some nutter who wants to keep all the fuel, water, supplies and women for themselves.

 

Mad Max the game begins with Max and his dog driving around in his Interceptor and being attacked by the War Boys and their leader Scabrous Scrotus (seriously his surname is one letter away from Scrotum). His car is stolen and Max engages in a fight with Scrotus, he manages to slice Scrotus in the head with a chainsaw, but not enough to kill him. He is knocked off Scrotus’ vehicle and is left to die in the desert. After he wakes up, he and his dog search for supplies, eventually coming across a hunchback named Chumbucket who is a skilled mechanic. Max is informed by Chumbucket that he is building a vehicle named the Magnum Opus, but he requires parts, so he and Max agree to work together to build the vehicle.

 

Max’s quest to find a new V8 engine for the Magnum Opus will lead him into to conflict with the War Boys, various other factions, whilst finding allies in the Wasteland that need his help to survive the challenges of the Wasteland...

 

One of the things that I have never really understood regarding Max Mad is exactly why everyone drives around in vehicles with ridiculously bad fuel efficiency when fuel itself is so scarce, fortunately the makers of the game decided that was not going to get in the way of the driving around so you pick up fuel from literally anywhere. It is in random camps, scrap scavenging locations, and there are places where jerry cans will infinitely respawn so you don’t really have any concerns about running out. You can also store a spare tank in the back of your car just in case. In fact during the course of the game I don’t think I came close to running out of fuel for the Magnum Opus. A couple of other vehicles got close but I pulled up to the nearest bit of rusty ship and there was a fuel can.

 

I think the game is set in the remains of San Francisco as there is a broken bridge very reminiscent of the Golden Gate. The ocean has retreated and there are various husks of ships littering the Wasteland. Scrap is the currency of choice in this world and it is used to upgrade the Magnum Opus, Max and his skills. If you clear out enemy camps then your allies take them over and will pay you regularly with scrap metal. The more camps you control the more scrap you are given so the faster you can upgrade your tools and skills. Annoyingly with games like this some features are locked behind Story Missions but bizarrely you can skip some upgrades and get the next one without needing the previous making some of the rewards for doing Story Missions pretty pointless.

 

On the subject of Missions there are Story and Side missions with quests that you can get from random people in the world. What is a tad irritating is the fact that when you start a Story mission you are not warned that starting it will lock off a Side Mission. I have made no secret of the fact that I am very sandbox happy so will explore as much of the map as I can as soon as I can. But when equipment that makes travelling around easier and/or more fun is locked behind Story missions I am going to just plough through them. However, I also like to do all the Side Missions so when the game doesn’t tell you that a mission will be lost if you continue I get annoyed.

 

The melee combat system is lifted directly from the Batman Arkham series with a prompt popping up advising you to counter an enemy strike. Max uses the scrap you find/unlock to upgrade his knuckledusters, jacket and weapons to make them more effective. Within camps you will also find war criers which rally the enemies you fight making them harder to beat. It takes numerous hits to take out a standard enemy with Max activating a Rage Mode which allows him to hit harder. Similarly to Batman one hit throws off my combo, and sometimes you cannot see the prompt because of the position of the camera. As the game world opens up you encounter stronger enemies with weapons then weapons and shields. Max can pick up dropped bats but he will always drop them whenever he gets into a vehicle obviously not convinced of their usefulness.

 

The majority of the game involves car combat with enemy vehicles regularly ganging up on you. The Magnum Opus can be made pretty strong but even upgraded it can’t take many side impacts, so you can and will need to use the tools in the vehicles arsenal. You unlock a harpoon that can be used to pull of doors, and armour protection, plus the wheels of enemy vehicles. Later on an explosive tipped bolt which, when full upgraded, can take down most enemy vehicles in a single hit. You don’t control the harpoon and explosive boon as Max who is driving, instead Chumbucket basically sits in the back of the Magnum Opus and fires the weapons. Max and he can swap places so Max can fire a sniper-rifle and when Max gets out of his car Chumbucket will leap onto the bonnet to repair it. If the Magnum Opus is severely damaged then you have to leap out, naturally if you are doing this when enemies are attacking then they will continue attacking, whilst ignoring the Magnum Opus. You then must dodge around them, the best technique for dealing with this is to get your back to a solid object as the enemy drivers’ AI is smart enough to not drive into a solid object, they will then get out and you can easily take them out in melee combat.

 

You can collect enemy and rare vehicles by getting in and driving to a Stronghold. I did try to fast travel to a location near a Stronghold but doing so respawned me back with the Magnum Opus so I lost the rare car until I went back to the location the rare car had been and drove it back manually. The game also helpfully tells you if you haven’t returned with a vehicle so you don’t end up driving all the way back to a safe haven only to be told you have already have it in your collection. These cars can be used in races so they do have a purpose other than just being something that you do to kill time.

 

Before I talk about things which are spoilers the biggest thing that was hanging over me whilst I was playing was why this game was based upon the world of Mad Max. From what I gather Max is the lone road warrior who doesn’t work with others, he lost his family prior to the world becoming the Wasteland, so keeps to himself reluctant to work with/or trust anyone else. So why does he keep doing favours for people? Along with Chumbucket he is able to seek refuge in various Strongholds led by different Wasteland leaders that individually oppose Scrotus. Each Stronghold can be upgraded which allow them to provide Max with Water, Fuel, and Ammunition whilst also improving the quality of life for those living there, but the question that kept coming back to me, why doesn’t Max take over these strongholds himself? Their leaders sit there on their asses doing nothing whilst Max finds all the things necessary to fortify their homes, and there are missions when he must also defend them from attackers. If Max doesn’t want to conquer them, then why not suggest they work together to overthrow the War Boys??

 

On the subject of suggesting things Max encounters people wandering around the Wasteland and if you give them water they might tell you about a scavenging location assuming you haven’t already found them all. The thing is whilst Max is happy to give the person at the front of a group of usually four or five a drink from his canteen he never tells them about the Strongholds they could go to or where they could find water. On one occasion I had cleared enemies out of a scavenging location that had a water refill point which was literally twenty yards from where I encountered a group of wanderers. Max handed them his canteen but did not point to the camp a few feet to their right and tell them that if they went there then they would be able to get their own water.

 

Storms sometimes rage but I don’t know really what you are supposed to do during a storm, if you try to stay out in it then you’ll get killed by flying debris, you can attack enemy camps as they are safe places. Or fast travel to a safe haven. Then you can only just wait out the storm which seems to be there to simply stop you from playing for a few minutes. I also encountered what I think was a bug, as a storm started during a mission, but that storm kept raging after the mission ended. Unlike a normal storm, this ome I could drive around in, but couldn’t hear any of the dialogue over the sound of the howling wind. When I quit and resumed the game later on the storm had disappeared, which is why I think it must have been a mission storm but glitched so carried on until I reloaded the game.

 

This all smacks of a game that pretends to give you freedom but that freedom is an illusion because you are allowed to drive around in certain areas doing what you want, but when you get bored, the Story games are the only way to actually let you do more. But when you unlock those areas the side activities are the same as they are in every area. Each Stronghold needs Water gatherer, a Maggot Farm, an Oil Pump, a Scavenger locator thing, and a thing that automatically scoops up scrap from enemy vehicles when you destroy them. Each Stronghold has the same requirements and you get them in exactly the same way, by searching scavenging locations, and whilst the enemies get stronger Max does too so the game play doesn’t really change.  

 

The game is so much like both Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row but in some ways not enough like them. You do stuff in various areas to reduce the threat that Scrotus poses which allow you to unlock more items, but again, if Max is the only one who can do these things then why doesn’t he run the place? I kept thinking how cool this game would be if it was Saints Row Apocalypse and allows you to overthrow the lazy dicks that control the Strongholds and turn their followers into your own. They could replace the Scrotus patrols that hound you as you drive around the world minding your own business, or maybe you could call them to your aid a la Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood if you start getting overwhelmed by enemies.

 

Scrotus is also one of those enemies that is of little to no threat throughout the proceedings, he gets a chainsaw in the head the first time he crosses paths with Max, and later in the game when he pops up you beat him with relative ease but the game has to pretend you are in trouble. When he appears the game is telling you to run like fuck because he will kill you, but you beat him down even as his minions leap into the fight, but then a cut scene plays in which Max runs for his life. In the same sequence he pops up again with a new health bar and again I kicked the shit out of him with him barely getting a hit it. However, yet again he gets the upper hand in a cut scene and leaves Max wounded, near death, but so near death that you are not back in the hub world within seconds. The mission exists to try and crowbar in a relationship between Max and a concubine named Hope.

 

Okay now comes the time when this is needed...

 

 

Mad Max spends considerable time establishing that Max is a long warrior who cannot bring himself to grow attached to anyone, however, it also has one of the worst forced romances I have ever seen.

 

At the second Stronghold you encounter an attractive woman named Hope and her daughter Glory in a cage. As the only attractive woman in the Wasteland I immediately realised that she was going to be the love interest but the first of her Side Missions I missed as I started a Story mission. She apparently escapes the cage with Glory without assistance (I’m assuming she’d ask me to help but the fact that she gets out anyway makes any help I would have given her pointless) but is encountered later on being offered as the concubine to the winner of a race in GasTown along with a vehicle powered by a V8 engine. Max wins the race and Hope seems to be trying to force her way into the position of his love interest, the game keeps suggesting that Hope, Max and Glory could become a new family, but there is precisely no chemistry between the two. Yes Hope saves Max when Scrotus wins their cut scene fight, still in return she wants him to rescue her daughter from a faction that live under the desert in an abandoned airport. Initially Max refuses but immediately changes his mind, and saves her. See this is the problem with an open world with an established character, under my control Max was doing all the side missions, as well as taking down enemy bases, ripping down totem-poles, and clearing mine fields. He helped every water needing wanderers he encountered. My Max was not a lone warrior he was a helper monkey that was doing all of the odd jobs for anyone he came across whilst asking for nothing in return. There did not need to be this scene with Max refusing to help, Hope calling him an asshole as he drives away, and him stopping then asking where the child is so Hope can kiss him.

 

Plus in the mission where you rescue Glory we learn that the Buzzards (the faction that live underground) use children to dig tunnels or something. Max encounters a couple of other children before he finds Glory but he leaves them where they are only rescuing the one he has come there for. Max returns to the Stronghold Hope is sheltering in which is about half a mile from Scrotus’ fortress, not thinking that perhaps the Stronghold which is a stone’s throw away from the enemy might not be the safest place to be. Still, once he reunites Glory with her mother, Glory immediately assumes that this man she has met once is going to be her new dad. Max, unable to risk loving them, drives away. The two are later killed by Scrotus and Max roars in rage before swearing revenge on the guy that he could have swatted like an annoying fly whenever he wanted to if the game had let you do it.

 

The game’s main focus is finding a rare V8 engine for the Magnum Opus, but once you have found it, the rest of the story missions are so short that you have basically finished the game by that point. That might have been because of my previously established sandbox happy nature I had basically done everything in the hub world so had nothing much to do except the story missions.

 

Remember when I said that you can collect enemy and rare cars??

 

You should it was only a few paragraphs ago, but the reason I mention it is because at least two of these vehicles have V8 engines, so my question is: Why can’t we use one of these engines to replace the V6 in the Magnum Opus? Naturally the answer to do this is because if you could then you would have literally no motivation to proceed with the story. The thing is that my Max would have conquered Scrotus just for the hell of it, he would also install himself as the ruler of the Wasteland, either conquering the other leaders or allow them to control their regions as long as they know that my Max could crush them beneath his mighty boot should he ever decide to do so

 

It couldn’t have been more obvious that Hope and Glory were supposed to be the love interest and daughter-figure, or that they would not survive to the end of the story. But the other thing that couldn’t be more obvious was the fact that Chumbucket would betray you and steal the Magnum Opus. Throughout the game he refers to the car as his greatest work, and that he won’t leave her side, whispering sweet nothings to it and so on. When he does steal the car and Max catches up with him, his reason for taking it was that once it was finished Max would not have any need for him so he [Max] would simply drive off leaving Chumbucket alone. As he explained this I was rubbing the bridge of my nose as I wanted to counter his argument with two simple questions: Chumbucket, how many times have I fucked up the Magnum Opus during this game, and how many times have you repaired it??

 

Honestly I could barely drive thirty yards without bashing the car into something which Chumbucket would happily repair as I was clearing out a camp or looking for scrap. If I had abandoned my loyal mechanic I wouldn’t have made it more than a couple of miles before I would have totalled it by ramping off a cliff or something.

 

The story is forcing cut scene Max in one way whilst my free-roam Max was silently getting on with the other stuff. The two don’t really gel very well. If Max is a lone warrior then fine, if Max is going to learn how to love again, and/or trust others, again fine. Switching between the two just creates a massive grinding of gears which just makes it seem as though the story writers were not sure exactly what kind of game they were writing for.

 

When all is said and done, I enjoyed Mad Max as it became my unwind-y game. I would put it on for a bit, clearing out scavenger locations, clearing mind fields, and so on because everything you do gives you a minuscule sense of progress. Plus standing in a minefield having exposed a mine, positioning yourself between an enemy and the mine, watching them charge straight into it and blowing up did not stop being entertaining.

 

The game could have been a new IP, as being in the Mad Max world limits what it can do, and ends with Max exactly where he was at the beginning, driving off alone in his car determined to never trust or love again. But I liked playing it. The open world has plenty of stuff to find including rare vehicles and faction vehicles along with historical documents. It has no replay value and now it is done I doubt I’ll return to it again but I wouldn’t spend 30+ hours playing unless I was enjoying it, as a result my Thumb is Up.

 

 

7/10 – A decent sandbox that has plenty of things to do, but bear in mind that it can be repetitive with cut scene Max and game-play Max effectively being two different people, or a guy suffering from a multiple personality disorder. If the makers of Saints Row do want to do a Saints Row: Apocalypse then all they need to do is copy this game, giving the player more freedom and the option to conquer everyone and everything and they would be on to a winning formula. 

 

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© Chris Sharman