Backlog Burner Episode 22 :: Mad Max

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Mad Max and Jay go back a long way. So long in fact that it’s one of the first Hollywood films he ever saw on a rented VCR (wew, remember those days?). He didn’t understand English, let alone know what post-apocalypse stood for. Did it stop him from enjoying the film? Of course not. “They took his family, now he’ll take their lives”- how hard is it to understand this? Times went by and so did technology. Jay had the utmost pleasure to watch Road Warrior in a CD player and Beyond Thunderdome on TV (Bindass Movies if memory serves him right). By then, he was so obsessed with the concept of post-apocalypse and Mad Max himself that he sought out a rare video game adaptation on the NES. The cartridge had an error that prevented him from completing it though. I…he was so damn disappointed man. (All right, that’s enough of the stupid third person stuff)

With the passing of time and the increasing availability of basic internet, I read about a cancelled Mad Max game from the 90s which only helped to elevate the gradually-increasing sadness in my heart. Whenever I played games like Fallout and saw the Mad Max references, I couldn’t help but ask myself why such a great setting and character was so underused in the gaming industry. Video games based off of movies seldom lived up to the name, but come on, this is Mad Max we’re talking about. It won’t hurt to try right?

2015 was a monumental year for the Mad Max IP. It witnessed the release of Fury Road and the self-titled video game adaptation by Avalanche Studios. Coming off hot after the smash success of Just Cause 2, Avalanche’s Mad Max definitely had lots of hype and hope. I always kept a sharp eye on the project and it basically broke my heart when they delayed the game from 2014 to 2015. The ironic thing is that I didn’t have a PC capable of running the game well back when it came out. It literally choked the hell out of my old Core 2 Duo. Hence I had to drop the game after the initial hours and it wasn’t until getting a reasonably good PC that I’d finally clear Mad Max from my backlog.

Mad Max is a third-person open-world game with a strong focus on vehicular combat and hand to hand combat. It’s basically Arkham knight before Arkham Knight came into existence. It’s also not directly related to the films story-wise, although several characters and events from the films are referenced directly and indirectly. Think Star Wars extended universe minus the terrible Disney retcon. With high expectation comes the probability of sour disappointment. A quick google search for Mad Max shows that it received a lukewarm reception. But the philosophy that drives me every day is self-approval. I don’t give a flying fudge what others think or do unless it directly affects me. So I couldn’t care less what the rest of the world thought about Mad Max as long as I was satisfied with the game. But was I though? Well, yes and no.

Let me blurp out all the positives first. The game is stunning to look at, even today. The post-processing and particle effects really shine here. The highlight of the game is the absolutely delightful vehicular customization and combat. Building your death machine from scratch, customizing it to play the way you want and taking out a party of enemy vehicles in adrenaline-pumping combat encounters is a blast. Sadly, it leaves you wanting for more. Goddamn Avalanche, why couldn’t you bring over the Nemesis system from the Mordor games here? Would have been a perfect fit. One other thing I don’t get is, are these the same people that worked on the Just Cause series? Because the driving in those games is not worthy to even lick the heels of Mad Max. Hopefully, Avalanche will bring this magic back to the upcoming Rage 2.

When compared to the vehicular combat, the Arkham-lite melee combat is less exciting but it works rather well. Albeit a bit clunky, the combat feels very visceral having weight to each punch, kick and suplex. Watching Max perform dropkicks, curb stomps or take a shive to a rabid foe’s jugular is a joy. As fan service, Max’s iconic sawed-off shotgun also makes a return for those extremely close up romantic sessions. If that’s not enough, then there is also the now-mandatory levelling system for Max that no game can escape from these days. I just wish my poor old Max had a little more personality than the average Wasteland scumbag. Like all the recent WB games, you can find a kickass photo mode, in which I have spent a lot of time messing around. If there is one thing all games should feature from now on, is a photo mode. You just can’t go wrong with that one.

The biggest criticism I’ve seen thrown around towards Mad Max is its open world nature. By that I mean the filler busywork, the bane of a completionist, the STD contracted hooker in front of a….all right, that’s enough. You get the point. Mad Max suffers from the same problem we previously discussed in the case of Mafia III. The world is divided into different sectors, each having their own distinct style but filled with the kind of filler you associate something like…Ubisoft games with. The loop of unlocking waypoints, liberating enemy encampments and finding loot is repeated so damn much throughout the entire game that you feel like dropping it all off and just sticking with the main story after the halfway mark. Speaking of which, the main story is nothing special and has Max go from area to area, doing cookie-cutter favors to wasteland arseholes with the aim of building the ultimate death machine to get to the planes of silence. Aside from the last few, the main story missions don’t really do the game any justice. Such a shame really. At least the repetitive nature is not as bad as Mafia III, where it literally forces you to grind boring activities to get to the next story segment.

Mad Max is a fun yet flawed experience. These days, you can pick up the game for only a handful of dollars in Steam sales. Do give it a try whether you’re a Mad Max buff or not. Who knows, maybe the game will genuinely surprise you.

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