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Mad Max

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2015 (US), Sept. 4, 2015 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Mad Max'

by Redmond Carolipio on Sept. 11, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Mad Max is a new open world, third-person action game where players become Mad Max, a lone warrior in a savage post-apocalyptic world where cars are the key to survival.

The only crime Avalanche's Mad Max seems to commit is that it can remind you of other great titles. It's got bits of Shadow of Mordor, a few slices of the Batman Arkham series, and some open-world concepts that date back to early GTA. The easy artistic criticism would be to point out that Mad Max doesn't have a signature innovation, like Shadow of Mordor's Nemesis System or the sheen, character or story building of Batman: Arkham Knight or The Witcher III.

It's valid criticism, but I offer this: I was still sucked in. There's something to be said for a game that makes you stay up into the wee hours of the morning and annoy your loved ones simply because you're driving around, looking for trouble and enjoying the sound the engine your not-real car is making. Poor games don't have that power.

That's what Mad Max gave me: memories of ripping across the Wasteland with a car I built, questing for ways to make the engine more powerful, the armor harder, the weapons more powerful while worrying about what crazed idiots I'd have to fight on the way. Avalanche has crafted an experience that is well designed, expertly built, and to some people, will be much more addicting than it has any right to be.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit: I've wanted a Mad Max game since I was a kid, much like I had always wanted a good Transformers game. I thought Max Rockatansky not having a signature game was kind of a tragedy. The source material was certainly there, along with road combat and a postapocalyptic backdrop that would go on to inspire games like Fallout.

Avalanche, the developer of the Just Cause series, has gone to great pains to try and capture every bit of that Mad Max ethos, and the work shows. Whether you've seen all of George Miller's "Mad Max" movies or were introduced to the character through "Mad Max: Fury Road," the game's atmosphere feels like a faithful reflection of that character's world and the struggles within it.

Mad Max starts out like fans would expect, with something crappy happening to Max. This time, he runs afoul of a band of War Boys who serve a hulking despot named Scabrous Scrotus. Scrotus, the game's main villain, happens to be the son of Immortan Joe, whose name you'll recognize from "Fury Road."

Scrotus and his squad beat Max to a pulp and run off with his trademark black Interceptor, presumably to scrap for parts. However, a cinema sequence shows Max and Scrotus getting in one last tussle before leaving Max behind, which ends with Scrotus kicking his attack dog off his war machine and Max burying a chainsaw halfway into Scrotus' skull. Of course, because Scrotus is a postapocalyptic nutcase, that doesn't kill him.

Max is left with little equipment, and the player's first task is to simply find water. This eventually leads to Max's chance meeting with the injured attack dog and Chumbucket, a malformed survivor who also happens to possibly be the most gifted mechanic in the Wasteland. His pitch to Max, in order to avoid certain death at his hands, is his belief in a sacred mission to build a vehicle he calls the Magnum Opus for Max and accompany him on whatever holy crusade he's undertaking. Max wants to survive and leave. Thus begins his odyssey, which takes him all over the Wasteland and eventually through Scrotus.

Building up the Magnum Opus is practically as central to the game's narrative as Max's true goal of escape. For instance, one of your first tasks is to find a body for the Magnum Opus, in all of its rust-beaten glory. Eventually, you build yourself up to get to Gastown and have a chance at winning a powerful V8 engine in a race — basically because anything less than a V8 won't do for Max.

With that kind of tone set, I found myself caring about every customizable part for my version of the Opus. What tires do I want? Who do I have to take out to get a new kind of body paint? What do I have to do to get access to stronger armor? All of these questions can be answered either through story missions, side missions for the few allies you find, or through raiding a variety of Scrotus' enemy camps throughout the Wasteland. In vintage open-world traditions, there's a wide range of missions to undertake, and it would double the length of this review if I named all of them. You'll be doing everything from trying to take down Scrotus' top lieutenants within their camps to rescuing enslaved children from crazy desert warriors. You can race to win vehicles. You can offer water to thirsty people, take down metal scarecrows and snipers to lessen the threat level in a particular area or just drive around and see if patrolling crazies want to get themselves a piece of Max.

The latter is probably the most unique part of the game. I haven't enjoyed car combat this much since I first played Burnout, and that was a racing game. When it comes to cars, Mad Max's combat can carry the energy of an aerial dogfight. Depending on how much you can upgrade it, the Magnum Opus is capable of carrying a harpoon, an exploding "thunderpoon" (basically like a rocket launcher), flamethrowers on the side, bladed rims and a monster grill designed specifically for ramming cars into pieces. There's also an elaborate, far-reaching sniper rifle Max can use to cut down on a camp's defenses. Oh, and then there's Max chilling with his shotgun. This can lead to a litany of ways to take down vehicles once you select a weapon and trigger a slow-motion aiming mode, where crosshairs pop up to target different shoot-worthy targets on a car. I once used a harpoon to yank off a car's tires to send it skidding off to the side. I turned another car into a fireball by aiming the shotgun at fuel barrels in the back. I took out a large war machine by using the harpoon to pull off the armor and then using the thunderpoon to light up the insides. You can even latch on to a bumper and turbo-boost into the enemy in front of you.

I found all of this satisfying and none of it irritating, which is something I couldn't even say for the constant tank battles in Arkham Knight. In Mad Max, no instance of car combat ever felt the same for me.

The same can't be said for Max's hand-to-hand combat, which is a direct descendant of the aforementioned Arkham series. Avalanche tosses in some variety, however. If you connect with enough successive hits, Max can go into "fury mode," where each of his punches carry a feral, killing power, or he gains the ability to finish off people with a slam or even a neck-breaking suplex. You can upgrade Max the same way you upgrade the car, so eventually things like breaking limbs and instant knife kills can become part of your arsenal, which would turn Max into sort of a postapocalypse Jason Bourne. I've always been a fan of the Batman fighting system, but you do a lot of hand-to-hand fighting in Max to the point where you wonder if you're playing an arcade beat-'em-up. At least the Arkham series mixed it up with some light puzzlework or narrative.

In between all the fighting, I found the Wasteland where Max operates to be captivating, with its mix of ruin and desolate expansiveness. In one sitting, you can find yourself in the abandoned wreck of a large ship and then wander the empty bowels of what used to be an airport. The scraps of humanity's former identity are everywhere, which lends a slightly sad, hopeless atmosphere to the game, down to the rusty sheet metal walls of whatever scavenger camp you explore. I enjoyed the Wasteland's sense of life as well, namely in the form of epic sandstorms that can randomly show up and make life hell for the player in terms of visibility and navigation. Sometimes, the storms can even mess up Max and his car. You can avoid them by ducking into a safe place like a stronghold or conquered enemy camp, but the mad dash to get to one can be almost as exciting as fighting in one.

What I didn't find exciting was a kind of homogenous vibe to some of the characters. I was disappointed in the "top dogs" of Scrotus, who had camps scattered throughout the Wasteland. I expected each of them to be unique, but instead, they all follow the same bulky, hammer-whirling template, only with different colored armor. They even fought the same way, so it stopped being a challenge after the second encounter. The sameness seemed to extend to all other "large" enemies that I'd face in side-quests. Only the key villains like Scrotus and his henchman Stank Gum (that's his name) seemed to provide any real "boss" variety. It just felt like they cut corners with potential bosses, a sin given that the Max universe gave us people like Master Blaster, Lord Humongous and Immortan Joe. Some of the allies you meet are interesting, if not slightly underdeveloped. You have the younger upstart Jeet, the wheelchair-riding sagewoman Pink Eye and the slightly demented and melted cult leader, Deep Friah. There's also Hope, the slight romantic interest (if you can call it that) for Max, who is first encountered as a prisoner.

A final aspect that jumped out to me is some of the crisp, visual workmanship I found in the game. I mentioned the Wasteland's merits, but everything looked amazing, from the way Max moved to the way the light reflected off the Magnum Opus as it flew through the sandy roads. I even noticed bits of flaming gas dribbling out of the exhaust and dropping on the ground beneath, only to watch it burn out. Shells from Max's shotgun would fly out and bounce and roll along the floor every time he reloaded. That's the kind of detail you don't see all the time, even in this current generation of games.

Mad Max will probably not be for everyone, especially for those who are pining to find some kind of innovative leap forward for the open-world genre. Avalanche has provided an intricate, fleshed-out interpretation of a world I didn't think would get a chance to have its day in the video game sun. The good things done here, despite the lack of that one killer thing,should give fans something that Max himself might not have: hope for something better.

Score: 8.0/10

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