Best of the PS+ Bunch: April 2018 – Mad Max
Even if it is derivative in a whole bunch of ways, Mad Max excels in many others.
Best of the Bunch is a monthly column where I review my favorite game offered as part of PlayStation Plus. Even if a particular month’s offerings aren’t my cup of tea, my goal is to emphasize positive elements of the one game that will get you the most out of your subscription.
I have always been wary of licensed games. Time and again, licensed games, especially those based on movies, have shown that they rely far too heavily on the popularity of their source material rather than crafting a compelling experience in its own right. And, I figured this would be the case with Mad Max.
Despite my love for the films, on the surface, everything about this game screams generic. I feared that as soon as I looked past the fan service, what would remain would be just another unfulfilling open world game. While Mad Max does subscribe to some standard open-world gameplay conventions, it is anything but unfulfilling, in that it separates itself by how it allows players to traverse its expansive world.
Developed by Avalanche Studios, the folks behind the Just Cause franchise, Mad Max begins as most of Max Rockstansky’s stories do: a man in his prized interceptor V8 car rolling through the barren post-apocalyptic wasteland.
After barely surviving an encounter with the local warlord Lord Scrotus, and having had his prized V8 stolen, Max’s chances of survival are at an all-time low. That is until he comes across the lovable and handy Chumbucket, a mutated mechanic survivor of the wastes who supposes Max to be a saint sent from the god of his automotive religion. Chumbucket agrees to help Max reclaim his interceptor, but in the meantime, Max needs some wheels if he wishes to last on the roads of the waste.
Chumbucket supplies Max with a barebones frame of a vehicle known as the Magnum Opus. Initially, it’s little more than a tin box on wheels, but its highly customizable parts make it potentially the most powerful vehicle in the wastes. Max and Chumbucket set out on a mission of revenge across the wasteland that crosses paths with all manner of wasteland inhabitants, some delightfully deranged and some, well, just deranged.
Max’s world is a sprawling map that is broken up into various territories each controlled by a local warlord. Attempting to defeat warlords early on is incredibly challenging, but by completing side missions, it lowers their influence in the region. This results in less frequent enemy patrols making for safer travels from objective to objective. Unfortunately, this is the area that Mad Max falls into the tired tropes of open world games given the plethora of uninspired side missions. You’ll be clearing out enemy outposts, competing in timed race events, and scaling the equivalent of radio towers to scout areas.
All of this is done in the pursuit of precious scrap metal, the currency of Mad Max which is spent on upgrades for Max and the Magnum Opus. Souping up the Magnum Opus from a junker to a death-defying machine somewhat alleviates the monotony of these laborious side missions given just how rewarding vehicle combat is.
Hell, it’s Mad Max’s strongest asset in what would have otherwise been an average, at best, open world action game.
Along the road, Max and Chumbucket encounter enemy patrols guarding valuable scrap metal shipments, tanker trucks, or simply those looking for a fight. Large scale vehicle fights are nothing short of gratifying high-octane smash fests that perfectly replicate their silver screen counterparts. In addition to ramming and sideswiping enemy vehicles, the Magnum Opus has several upgradable offensive capabilities. Ranged attacks slow time momentarily, allowing the player to target parts of enemy vehicles with either Max’s shotgun or the harpoon gun. While both are essential and equally devastating, they serve different strategic purposes. Max’s shotgun is primarily used to shoot exposed gas tanks which send buzzards into a magnificent fireball of destruction.
Though nothing compares to the harpoon gun, which is easily the most satisfying weapon in the game. It is primarily used to dismantle enemy vehicles by ripping off their wheels, or my personal favorite, ripping drivers out of their seats. Amongst these offensive upgrades, the Magnum Opus has some defenses such as improved armor, wheel handling, and speed.
Mad Max does what so many open world action games fail to do: making the journey from point A to point B a constant enjoyment.
And a gorgeous journey at that, as despite the bleak nature of exploring a post-apocalyptic world, Mad Max delivers some of the best visuals of this console generation. Its gaunt desert vistas, and gasoline-fueled explosions invoke awe that aide in portraying the waste as a place of hellish beauty.
Once you arrive at your destination, the game shifts from car combat to melee combat, and while this is the weaker of the two styles of combat, on its own, it can be satisfying. The most adept comparison to Max’s combat style would be to that of Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series balletic approach to combat. Max can parry incoming attacks by leaping from enemy to enemy. If the player strings together enough combos without being struck, they’ll enter Fury mode which makes Max stronger and capable of devastating finisher moves.
These fights can quickly get out of hand given the variety of enemies that are thrown at Max at a single time. This keeps encounters exciting and gives some nuance to the fights, which avoids having them become button mash fests. For when fisticuffs aren’t enough, Max can use a limited number of shivs for brutal finisher kills, as well as his trusty, and devastating, sawed-off shotgun.
Much like the Magnum Opus, all of Max’s on-foot abilities are fully upgradeable via Griffa tokens earned from completing a lengthy list of both combat and exploration challenges. These perks range from increasing the amount of water Max can collect to extending the length of his fury mode. With the completion of challenges, Max will rank up, which unlocks new abilities that can be purchased with scraps such as new defensive clothes, increased ammo capacity, and increased hand-to-hand damage. The progression here is like that of many open world games, but given Mad Max’s setting and the world, it feels more significant. Max’s journey from being destitute to crafting what is the most powerful car in the wastes has a level of intimacy and significance that few open world games have.
Now, I’m not one to typically get worked up over graphics, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight just how gorgeous Mad Max is. Its gaunt desert vistas, and gasoline-fueled explosions invoke awe with some of the best visuals on PlayStation 4, bringing beauty to the otherwise bleak nature of the wasteland.
No amount of repetitive side missions are going to stop Mad Max from being an adequate use of the source material. By avoiding the plague of shoddy licensed games and instead, recreating the adrenaline-fueled highway duels of the films, the result is the rare film game that feels as if the developers were fans of the series themselves. It’s the small touches, such as instead of climbing radio towers, it’s a hot air balloon, or instead of health packs, Max uses a water canteen, that sell the world of the wastes.While a lot of it may be fan service, you’d be hard-pressed not to find fans of the films, or vehicle combat, that can’t get tens of hours of entertainment out of Mad Max.