The “Mad Max” video game begins much like the films of the same name do: Max awakens after being beaten to within an inch of his life by a murderous band of angry Australians. He has no tools or car. The savages even stole his sweet jacket.
At this point, the Max we know and love from 35 years of film would begin fighting for his survival alongside and against colorful groups of weirdos. He would get himself into crazy situations, which he would narrowly escape from using his fists or car.
However, video game Max quickly settles into a quiet life collecting car parts and old pictures for the hunchback from “300.” Max isn’t really fighting for his own survival; he’s preparing for a journey to the Plains of Silence, where he will finally find peace. Or something like that – the plot is a little hazy. It isn’t totally clear why Max does anything in “Mad Max,” and this lack of direction is the main weakness in an otherwise serviceable title.
The game revolves entirely around Max running errands for Chumbucket, the aforementioned hunchback, and various warlords throughout the large open-world wasteland. He exchanges favors with dozens of forgettable wastelanders in order to improve his car for the journey ahead. This goes on for hours – trust me when I say that nothing of any real excitement happens in “Mad Max” until about the ninth hour.
I wouldn’t mind the parts scavenging if the bad guys occasionally threw a wrench into my plans. Some sort of unavoidable plot turn – maybe Max gets captured and dragged to an unfamiliar location, where he has to fight his way out and escape on a motorcycle made entirely out of lawnmower parts – would have broken up the monotony. I kept waiting for it, but it never came.
There are hundreds of things for Max to do between scavenging quests; all of them start out cool but grow repetitive. You fight the same groups of bad guys at every turn. As the game progresses, the mindless thugs increase in number and intelligence, but they are easily dispatched.
On the surface, the game isn’t terrible. It focuses on its core strength: vehicle combat and customization. This is one thing that “Mad Max” absolutely nailed. The demolition-derby style car action is something you can’t really get in other games, and it’s one of the main areas in which the game is on-par with the film series.
The on-foot combat isn’t as good. It’s almost identical to the choreographed fisticuffs found in the “Batman: Arkham” series. This makes sense, as both games were published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. It was a quick and easy way to shore up that part of the game; Max has to fight people, so let’s just make him fight like Batman or an “Assassin’s Creed” hero.
The hand-to-hand combat is peppered with brutal, cringe-worthy violence. Intense finishing moves activate the mandatory slow-motion camera scenes that were seemingly signed into the law of making action films or games after “The Matrix” came out. The brawls are fun at first, but lose luster once you learn the controls. The fighting system remains largely unchanged throughout the game: Simply smash the punch button. tap the block button when prompted and repeat.
Speaking of controls, I have no idea what developer Avalanche Studios was thinking when it designed the “Mad Max” button layout.
I do most of my gaming on the PlayStation 4, where action games have long since established a basic button layout for all titles: X is the jump button, square reloads your weapon, triangle changes your weapon and circle is some sort of crouch or cover mechanic. The right and left triggers control your guns and weapons, while clicking the left stick forces your character into a sprint.
“Mad Max” jumbles that completely. I am fine with a developer doing that for a reason – such as a unique game mechanic that requires special controls – but Avalanche appears to have done it for no reason. There’s nothing unique about Max’s on-foot interactions, so why make us spend extra time training our brains for new controls? It seems like the development team did it just because they can, which was an extra annoyance.
To increase Max’s skills, players have to find an old, magic Aussie who only stands on virtually inaccessible mountaintops. This is unnecessary and time-consuming. A simple section on the pause menu would save players several valuable hours.
And then there are the bugs.
Most glitches are minor – frame rate drops and audio syncing issues. But I did find at least one game-breaking bug: I came across a wastelander with information for me. They pop up with purple exclamation points and offer information or scrap metal, which doubles as currency in “Mad Max.” I pressed the wrong button – because the button layout is ridiculous – and punched her right in the face, killing her. The game then jumped into a conversation between Max and the dead body, who offered to split some scrap metal with me. The camera then froze at my feet, and I had to restart the game in order to get out of the locked screen.
“Mad Max” does a few things well, but it lacks focus. The bloated open world is a chore – not a joy – to explore, and players are forced to push through hours of tedious car parts hunting in hopes that something interesting will finally happen. After a while, the destination is just not worth the journey.