Mad Max is a fascinating game. It does a lot of great things, some questionable things, and a few things that are not a good fit for everyone. Should you pick it up? Well that’s one of the harder questions to ask as it depends on what type of gamer you are.
But before we can attempt to answer that question we need to carefully explore this game’s various systems. In this Past Due Review we will be exploring animation quality, character and environmental modeling, lighting, particle effects, audio, game mechanics, level design, and more. Every facet of the game will be discussed for at least a paragraph, exploring which sections work well and which ones didn’t survive the wasteland.
Also keep in mind if you're used to expecting a score at the end of a review, you won't find it here. I like to let these different aspects of a game stand on their own.
The animations are the first peculiar aspect of Mad Max. At first I thought the Animations where one of the game's weaker limbs. But after I focused more on them and not the incredible particle effects, I started to notice the great use of poses the animation department subtly mastered. The cars and people move in a very similar matter, slow and mechanical. Obviously this would be a negative thing to say about the movement of people since they are not mechanical, normally. In this wasteland however, everything has become mechanical by nature, especially the people. Reduced to their basic needs to eat, drink, and survive, it only makes sense that those who inhabit this world move in ways that reflect that. Moving as little as possible to avoid exerting energy, while still maintaining enough power to kill the other person in the room trying to end your life.
The actions and movement of the characters and vehicles always accurately reflect what is happening in the games system. The Riggers clearly went to great levels to rig what must have been some daunting animation tools for the rest of the team, as the car rigs movement and suspension help recreate the grand illusion keeping you immersed in the world. But that doesn’t mean these animators have overvalued realism, far from it. Movements and key poses are fairly exaggerated to keep the spirit of animated material, animated in its nature.
This area however, would take quite a bit of convincing to claim it is anything less than amazing. Avalanche was able to take a desert, a desert of all things mind you, and turn it into one of the most visually interesting world spaces I’ve ever explored in gaming. And I played the Witcher 3 this year!! But that game did not have an amazing desert like this game (at least not one I can talk about without spoilers.) Regardless, the Wasteland brings so much to the table that Mad Max would be just a shell of itself without the effort the modeling team put into this world’s art. Attention to detail is what really puts this area above and beyond all the rest. From recreating items from the films to player expectation of how the world works, this department never missed a beat.
For example, in this sewer area, there is some sand piles here and there sure, as the end of system is open to the sand covered world, but the closer you get to that exit, the more sand you encounter. And right near the entrance you basically need to maneuver around the stuff. This offers no more to the game than pure atmosphere, making sure the player is constantly immersed in the environment. Would a player nit pick if the amount of sand did not increase closer to the exit? Probably not, but the fact that the developers not only thought about it but actually spent the time to navigate the area from front to back in a 3D engine and methodically increase the size of sand piles over time shows the modelers’ levels of commitment and passion for this franchise.
The normal maps, bump maps, diffuse shaders and specular effects come together perfectly to forge a world of color and sand. Filled with emptiness and life all around it, with subtle clues placed around to let players guess what the surrounding area may have been in the world before everything died.
This is another strange area of the game. Yeah I’ve seen better character models in games before, and yeah some of their geometry looks a bit unnatural. But the texture work remains amazing, and the main characters all look different enough to tell them apart, even if all the war boys tend to look the same. But there are quite a few different kinds of enemy types and factions that all clearly have a lot of differences to make the groups stand out. Characters are detailed with great amounts of gear and grime covering their bodies to reflect their time spent in the game’s harsh environment.
By unnatural looking I don’t mean that the proportions don’t look correct or that the characters’ topology is not incredible. I think they maybe look a bit unnatural to me because I don’t normally see people reduced to a machine-like state. I may be grasping for straws here, but the modelers all clearly know how to make good looking characters, so why do so many of the world’s inhabitants look slightly off? I can only assume it is done with purpose. And it’s not like these are the ugliest character models in the world. If anything I would have to say they only look off since the world looks so stellar, and since the people who wander the world don’t look as incredible they seem a bit out of place.
But once again, they all are out of place. The world is dead, there is no coming back from the destruction mankind has left upon this world. These people are all only here to survive for as long as they can, or too reclaim what amount of sanity they have lost.
Lighting in gaming has been very good for the last few major releases, and Mad Max is no exception. Much like a desert, unsurprisingly, the day time can become quite bright and shadows highlight objects even more so then they would in a normal environment because of the amount of space in between areas of interest.
At night the star’s shine covers many objects with a faint cosmic glow that can be disrupted by fog lights and fire-pits. I found myself enjoying roaming the wasteland quite a bit under the cover of night, searching for signs of camps off in the distance as they try to keep warm by the fire.
Interior environments can vary in huge ways thanks to the efforts of the Lighting team. A few area’s are reminiscent of 2012’s Tomb Raider, becoming very claustrophobic and mysterious, not knowing what is going to be around a corner. Inside buildings can also have beams of light, shine in from the outside, creating amazing points of interest for the player to follow. I never thought I would be paying this much attention to the lighting in something Mad Max related, but holy crap did these guys put in great amounts of work that deserves your attention.
Speaking of grabbing your attention, it is no more clear that this game is made by the developers of Just Cause 2 than in the game’s stunning explosions.
I could stare at this image all day long.
Between the high res smoke effects, the scrap flying everywhere, and the highlights of fire, I can’t help but appreciate this carefully composed chaos. And there are so many particle effects just as good as this that go easily unnoticed. There are footprints left within the sand as dust flies up with each step, the cold of a desert is captured in the visuals of your breath, and sewers and filled with whatever this stuff is.
Combat is also highlighted well both in the car and on foot. Every type of impact imaginable is met with its very own personal particle effect that reflects what the player has done or is responding to.
Audio feedback is also done quite well. Engines roar with vengeance as the sounds of metal on metal shredding apart is nearly muffled by the intense wind from an incoming storm. Each impact from your harpoon is met with instant feedback of the weapon piecing an enemy's flesh. Even the less than stellar melee combat (we’ll get to it in a bit) is still paired with meaty crunches that let’s your imagination picture the muscle being pressed against bone that is on the verge of shattering. Looting scrap is emphasized with a very satisfying feedback sound effect of something being placed in a pocket. Different object you pick up also have different sounds associated with them when you pick them up, and of course, when you use them on those who stand in your way.
Anyvista New Frontend by Mats Lundgren
The music, while maybe a bit too quiet at times, is also surprisingly great. Car crashes are accompanied by a very appropriate score to make every moment feel epic in its own right. Most of your time driving through the wasteland however, will be spent listening to the atmospheric sounds of the world. From the wind, the wheels of your car pushing sand from their path, and the engine of your car shifting gears, you will have more than enough subtle sounds to keep you immersed in the world.
Likely the most fun you will have is roaming the Wasteland in the Magnum Opus. There are so many activities built around vehicle combat, racing, or a combination of the two. With convoys being some of the most fun you can find from AAA titles in recent memory.
These times only become more exciting as you get more weapons such as the thunder-poon can really take the excitement of taking on 5+ cars pretty intense. But again, if you were looking for a game based mostly on car combat in an open world environment where the actions you will be doing in your car are akin to something like Twisted Metal, then you will love Mad Max. This isn't just a game where your car is just means to get from A to B. No this is the core of the not just how the game plays, but also the game’s story (which I’ll get into more later.) The car combat is also well layered, in more ways than one. Not only do you need to navigate around all these cars by driving well, but you will also need to carefully use your shotgun and vehicle weapons to carefully pull apart the crazy caravan crews.
Thankfully deciding to focus on the car means the developers did in fact take the time to make sure the car controlled very well. While the handling of your car won't start out great, you will upgrade it rather quickly and soon you will be speeding across the wasteland and skidding across the hoods of your enemies!
The ground combat however, you might have a harder time enjoying. Is it bad? No. but it’s nothing super special either. It borrows the combat system that we saw 11 years ago in Spider Man 2. Basically you punch guys and sometimes a counter icon appears. A system used pretty regularly these days, wonder who came up with it? Regardless, It is used quite well here in Mad Max, at least for what it is. What I mean is that it just doesn’t quite have the amount of depth Spider Man 2 did, where there where combos like a fighting game and a great incorporation of the web swinging mechanics into the games system.
Mad Max thankfully doesn’t move as nimble as Spidey did (that would be quite silly), but the variations of what you start off with is very limited and doesn’t change all that much in the late game. You basically only get to do the same things more easily. While that progression is still somewhat satisfying, it just doesn't amount to the same level of satisfaction you get from the progression of Spider Man 2 such as unlocking new combos, abilities, and move sets. Couple that with its sorrowful comparison to the stellar vehicle combat and the foot fighting just doesn’t hold up as strong. With that in mind however, it is still worth noting the combat is by no means bad. It had a great sense of weight and feel that many games using this system can miss, but it just didn’t compare to moments like this:
It is very hard to travel through the Wasteland for long without finding something you want to do. That statement alone should paint a pretty good picture of just how well composed this massive desert is for the player. Playing out like a giant level, the wasteland is surprisingly very three dimensional, being quite vertical in places and even requiring players to find hidden objects and entrances here and there. But again, you will find no shortage of jumps, enemies, and more to test out your skills in the Magnum Opus. While the car controls well and the car combat is great, it would not be nearly as fun to explore the world in it if it wasn’t for the carefully crafted wasteland that always has something off in the distance to make you go, “I wonder if my car can jump off that?”
This excellence in design is also seen very clearly in the strongholds and caverns Max will navigate on foot. With plenty of nooks and crannies littered with loot to reward the types of players who love to explore everywhere they can in a level. This may be a bit tedious for some though, as many branching paths do not wrap back around to a starting area, which means some backtracking will need to be done on occasion. For the most part though the game is great at providing a ladder to kick down or a line to grapple on to find you way back on the path to the rest of the level.
A quick Heads up before you jump into the story Section. You may get a few minor spoilers for the game in this section. I tried to avoid them as best I could and I apologize if you see or read anything you did not want too. That said I do give warnings ahead of time in this section. With that said I won't be offended if you chose to skip this section and skip to the Characters Section of the Review :)
I really feel this line from Road Warrior really sums up a majority of this story. For many this game's story is going to be one of the weakest parts of the game. And if you love games with heavy narratives and lots of direct storytelling you may be disappointed. But in a lot of ways that is fairly similar to Road Warrior and even Fury Road. Those films weren't dialogue heavy or completely direct about what their characters were feeling. It was done with visuals, same goes for this game. The most direct story telling comes in the last few hours of the game. And if you hold out till that point, you will be met with a greatly satisfying ending and tons of direct nods to the classic films.
Slight Spoilers in Following Image:
When you think about the structure of the main game’s mechanics of scouting out enemy camps, helping smaller factions, and taking resources from enemies all tie in fairly well to what the story of Road Warrior was. In fact, the whole film is basically about doing that exact same thing to one enemy camp so Max’s allies can leave. Sounds a bit like one particular group you help in this game.
Slight Spoilers in Following Image:
And obviously taking down convoys is something we’ve seen in a few films now and boy did they ever get that right. You also scout enemy strongholds and can get good information on them from people you help out earlier. I do wish we got to meet more villains throughout the journey. Only two named enemies ever really play a large role in the story and you hardly care about them until the climax.
The game does do a great job of exploring Max’s sanity through Griffa’s conversations, which I’ll get too later, and his relations with the people of the Wasteland. Max is never presented to the player as a hero. He is always talking about how he does not see Chumbucket as a friend, only a necessary ally to cross the plains of silence. But naturally things get a bit complicated later on with a few other characters and Max gets a bit tied up. And the final mission will get your blood boiling, and Max will get Mad. Yet I do feel it could be too little too late for some, as you could easily spend up to 60 hours completing all the games activities it has to offer. And when you reach the final showdown it might come off a bit rushed as it can move at a pretty fast pace if you save all the story till the end.
Thankfully much of the plot’s pitfalls are saved by its characters.
I really felt the need to include this extra section as an extension to the game’s story. While the actions and events of the main plot might not excite most, the characters presented in the game are definitely worth celebrating. I am one of those people who could watch almost anything as long as the characters in it are worth watching.
Hell I’ll say it, that’s why the TMNT show was so great. I couldn’t tell you what any single episode’s story was, but the characters were all so well fleshed out I could watch them all do anything. Mad Max is no different in this department. At first I thought it would lack in this area as Max himself first seems bland and predictable.
But the game does a great job at presenting the iconic character we all know and love. And too be fare he simply plays the observer in this world, just like every Mad Max story. He mostly cares about keeping himself sane enough to live another day, but every once and awhile you see some of his lost humanity reveal itself to help out someone in need. The exploration of his character is in no place better explored than in the conversations you’ll have with Griffa, my favorite character in the game.
He is as mysterious as he is gripping, you can't help but wonder what this guy's story is and why he cares so much about Max and his strange acquaintance.
Chumbucket is going to be a love or hate character for many people. I happen to feel quite sorry for him, as he believes that assisting in building the greatest car ever he will be on some divine being’s good side. And Max is happy to take advantage of his beliefs if it means he can get to Gas-town. Now that’s a fairly strange partnership that you don’t see every day.
But by far the best character in Mad Max is the Wasteland itself.
It is impossible to say too many good things about this desert. It not only carries the most weight in the game, as it is what you interact with the most, but manages to do so while also being the most imposing danger you will ever encounter in the game. Her valleys are steep, her hill sharp, and her storms will F*** you up. But you will endure the storm, to find treasures within the danger. You will traverse the lands in search of more Guzzoline, and you will respect the wasteland with every step you take.
Max and the Magnum Opus have plenty of upgrade options available to the player throughout the length of the game. You won’t be able to pick and choose how your ride looks or performs right out of the box. You’ll need to unlock options by playing missions and leveling up through finishing said missions or side activities. Once you have enough unlocked you will be happy to see that many of the car upgrades aren’t just a linear progression. The armor upgrades for example will protect your car more, but will also be heavier and slow your car down. This allows the player to pick and choose what upgrades are truly important to them as they build their own playstyle. When I started I thought I wanted nothing but speed, but after I started dying quite a bit from not having enough power or armor, I decided to focus more on ramming damage. Because if they're already dead they can’t kill me!
If you are looking for another game to show off your PC rig, this game will not disappoint. Mad Max not only has every option in its graphics menu you’d come to expect from a good PC port, but it runs incredibly well. You would be hard pressed to find many games that will run at a consistently high frame rate no matter what happens in game. You can also comfortably re-bind any keys you need as well as instantly switch between keyboard and controller simply by using one or the other, much like the Witcher 3.
It helps that this is one of the best looking games released this year, even if the textures aren’t always crazy high res, you can tell there has been a ton of work put into the individual texture work. And the fact that you will almost never see them or any objects pop into view is a great testament to a game where you are constantly staring at horizons. But everything does fade into view the way it would if you were driving through a desert.
The menu is organized in a fairly standard fare. All your main tabs are placed in a linear fashion on top with information being presented in a clear and easy to read manner. And I cannot thank the developers enough for making the menu’s as well as the map completely usable with a mouse.
Speaking of the map, I wish a bit more thought went into how the overview of the wasteland was presented. When you’re zoomed in enough to see all the side activities, all the icons are still the same size. So the icon for the strongholds, hot air balloons, side quests, minefields, and more are all presented with the same importance to the player. I know this is nitpicking, but it really bothered me that I would have to zoom out just to easily find important information. It wouldn’t bother me as much if the colors for all the different types of icons where more differentiated. Minefields, Scarecrows, and Snipers are all red. And it doesn’t help that these red icons are surrounded by what seems like thousands of orange scrap locations, which isn’t enough of a contrasting color to not make them all blend together. Again, I know it won’t bother everyone, but it bothered me. And this is my review!
If this game came out last year, or early this year before Witcher 3 came out. This game would seem to be one of the best open world games made in the last few years. But since I’ve played Witcher 3 this just kind of reminds me of what I liked about Far Cry 3. While I enjoy this game's cross between Far Cry and Twisted Metal, I can see why many people wouldn’t connect well with it. Combine its newly dated nature with a simultaneous release with Metal Gear Solid V and you’ve got Mad Max caught up in another perfect storm.
It is far from a bad game, and does all the things a game set in the Mad Max franchise should be, but in the end it’s a lot like Spider Man 2 (Yeah I’m still talking about Spider Man in a Mad Max review, trust me I think it's weird too.) Another movie tie-in with Arkham Combat (oh wait Spiderman 2 combat, my bad), fairly repetitive mechanics, but an insanely fun way to navigate the world. The issue is that Spider Man came out in 2004, Mad Max came out in 2015 and after the Witcher 3 I will always expect more from open world games. Still, seeing as the last game similar to this that I'd played was Arkham Knight, this feels like hearing Idomeneo after listening to Katy Perry for 15 hours. If you’re like me and are totally okay with a more than decent game that offers a few really fun things to do over a long period of time, this is for you. To be honest, this may be one of my favorite movie related games ever released. I may have beaten Max’s story and seen everything it has to offer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve seen everything I can experience. This is a Wasteland that will always stay with me, and a part of me will enjoy revisiting the dystopian paradise from time to time.