Grizzly Gaming

Friday, November 20, 2015

Mad Max review: Plenty of opportunity in this wasteland

Hey guys, I know I’ve been away a while and I’m real sorry about that. I’ve been putting a lot of work into my other blog,, and neglecting my video game obsession for a while now – but I mean to change that. With the holiday season coming up, the video game industry is going to be more active than ever so this will be the first in many upcoming updates.

Here’s hoping, anyway.

And what better way to kick things off than a game that came out of nowhere to become one of my most favorite recently played games. No, it’s not Metal Gear Solid V – it’s Mad Max.

Ever since I saw “The Road Warrior,” I’ve been a big fan of the Mad Max character. Before “Mad Max: Fury Road,” it was hard to call myself a fan of the series, because even though “The Road Warrior” is a personal favorite, the original “Mad Max” and “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” did little for me. But now “Fury Road” is right up there with “Road Warrior” in my book – which was a big part of the appeal of “Mad Max” on PlayStation 4.

While earlier movies present Max in a vast, endless wasteland populated mostly by psychopaths, “Fury Road” actually takes this concept a few steps further and details various wasteland factions, societies and locations – many of which appear in “Mad Max” the game. The War Boys, Gastown, the Buzzards are all present in “Mad Max” and other areas of the lore are expanded upon as well, such as where the Buzzards’ home base is, the other various factions inhabiting the wasteland and get a look into how these societies and cultures operate.

But this isn’t a Telltale Game – there is much more to Mad Max than exploring the lore of the series. As is the case in many of Max’s stories, the game opens with Max losing his car and, with no other options, partners with a strange wasteland hermit named Chumbucket. Max had intended to use his previous car to cross the Plains of Silence and escape the wasteland, but as so often happens, Max runs afoul of the biggest psychopath in the land – Scabrous Scrotus. Max helps Chum construct a new vehicle – one of Chum’s own design called the Magnum Opus, which will help Max defeat the hordes of Scrotus and maybe even cross the impassible Plains of Silence.

Chum is a constant companion on Max’s journey. Being a blackfinger, Chum is able to easily fix any damage the Magnum Opus sustains, as well as operating the car’s weaponry. The wasteland is a dangerous place but your car can be upgraded to support a grappling hook, side-mounted flamethrowers, a rudimentary rocket launcher called the Thunderpoon and more. As you explore, you collect scrap which is used as in-game currency to both upgrade the Magnum Opus as well as Max’s own stats and abilities.

Vehicular combat in Mad Max is frantic, destructive and thrilling

Your car can also be upgraded in a number of other ways. Extra armor can be added to increase durability. Spikes can be fitted to the hood to deal with aggressive War Boys. Bigger engines, raised suspension, various tire types are all available as well. Not to mention being able to customize the appearance with paint jobs and body types. And it’s a good thing that Chum is such an adept mechanic because the wasteland is an extremely hostile place and you’ll need all your driving skills to survive.

As soon as you enter the wasteland, you’ll notice the wide open spaces and ruins of a fallen civilization. For being a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the setting of Mad Max is quite beautiful and each region offers its own distinct appearance and characteristics. For instance, the areas you inhabit early in the game were formerly a seabed, meaning your car will handle differently here than it will in the dry, arid areas near Gastown – where a few asphalt roads can still be found.

Though the wasteland may be spacious – it is not uninhabited. The legions of Scrotus terrorize the meager few who try to survive in the wasteland and refuse to submit to their vicious rule and you can’t go far without running into a War Party. Early in the game, you’ll generally only run into one or two small cars with light armor. But later on, parties of 3-4 heavily armored vehicles roam the land and the battles with these War Parties is only rivaled by the destruction caused during Convoy battles.

Convoys rumble across the arid wasteland in massive parties and confronting a convoy is one of the most exciting elements of Mad Max. Ripping across the scorched earth and doing battle with numerous other vehicles as high-speeds, all with only small occasional graphical hiccups, is exhilarating. Just as tackling convoys are a big challenge, clearing out Scrotus camps is just as difficult. These large outposts often have various objectives to complete as well as collectible loot and these outpost battles change from a series of fist fights into large puzzles that need to be solved.

Since resources in the wasteland are scarce, much of the combat in Mad Max revolves around hand-to-hand combat. Max’s abilities can be augmented over time, along with his attire which can increase your melee effectiveness, and eventually Max can handle huge groups of War Boys on his own. The fighting is reminiscent of the “Batman: Arkham Asylum” series, with well-timed attacks, dodges and parries being the keys to success.

But the Mad Max movie franchise isn’t just about chaos and carnage – it’s also very focused on Max as a character and how the events around him shape him and effect his humanity. In the wasteland, there is a peculiar nomad named Griffa. When Max earns Griffa tokens, he can trade them in to upgrade abilities like more efficient gasoline usage, finding more water in wells, increasing Max’s life meter and more. But Griff also offers more than just abilities – he offers a peek into Max’s soul.

Despite four movies and this game, we still don’t know much about Max Rockatansky as a person. But through interactions with Griffa, we begin to see the person just underneath the rugged exterior which Max tries so desperately to hide from the world.

Hand-to-hand combat is how battles outside your car are handled

Loss is a commonality shared by all wasteland inhabitants, and the losses Max has suffered have changed him and shaped his outlook on the world. Max is essentially a good person, but he has seen too many terrible things happen to people who have trusted him. Now, Max runs from his sense of honor and duty and acts only for himself and his conscience makes him feel guilty about not doing more to help those in need. Anyone who gets too close to Max seems to die and he sees this as not being able to protect anyone but himself, so he pushes everyone away, rather than see more tragedy befall those around him.

And if you’re able to enjoy this deeper characterization, you may enjoy the story in Mad Max. But if you need to be told everything point-blank and have every twist and turn in the story played out right in front of your eyes – you may not enjoy the story Mad Max presents. The actual story told in Mad Max from beginning to end is very bare bones – Max has a nice car and wants to use it on an epic trek. Max runs afoul of a psychopath. Max’s car gets stolen. Max need to rebuild. Max befriends a few people to achieve his goals. Yada, yada, yada, game ends. This isn’t to say the story is “bad” necessarily – but if close reading of stories and characters isn’t your thing, you may not enjoy the story Mad Max presents.

And along those lines - as much as I enjoyed Mad Max, it’s not without its flaws.

Foremost, the missions aren’t organized very well and the game pretty much doesn’t track them for you – even if you’re actively engaged in them. You’d think that if you’re given a mission which tells you to go to a specific place, it would show you the route or create a very obvious waypoint. But not in Mad Max. At best, it’ll put a tiny blue circle at your destination on the map and it’s up to you to figure out where it is.

And I feel like Mad Max does its best to hide that information too. When you pause the game, there are menus for upgrades, your map, a collectible list – but no tab which is clearly marked for missions/objectives. You know where they are? Hidden away in the “Pause Menu” – that’s right, you have to select the tab marked “Pause Menu” when you pause the game – is where you find your settings and saving/loading options. But you know what else is in there? The mission log! What?! And better yet – even this doesn’t give you any help. It just recounts whatever slim info you were initially given about your quest.

Also, the camera is sometimes more of a hindrance than anything else. It swings around Max too loosely and often you’ll be surprised by enemies closing in on you, which you didn’t see, because the camera was out of position.

Another annoyance was how clumsy Max’s interactions with the world can be. For instance, the X button is used to perform a variety of tasks. You use this button to pick up limited-use melee weapons or other items like gas cans and scrap and the game makes you hold the button for a few seconds to pick up anything. This doesn’t seem like much, but makes picking up weapons on the fly, in the midst of a heated battle (where you can be outnumbered 8-1) nearly impossible. Plus holding X to pick up every item you encounter gets old quick.

And in the same vein as the complaint above, the same buttons are used for too many actions overall. For instance – gas cans. You can pick them up to refill your car and store them for later use. But you can also light them on fire and throw them as a make-shift explosive. And if you’re following along you can probably guess – the same button is used to both refill your car AND light gas cans on fire. So if you’re not in the EXACT right spot to refill your tank, you could end up setting a full gas can on fire instead of using and saving it (this is another annoyance – Mad Max is a stickler for being faced the exact right direction to interact with objects).

And these are on top of other minor gripes like not being able to tell how much gas is in a can (you see a meter while refilling your car, but if your car is full, there’s no way to tell); not being able to use your sniper rifle out of the car (Chum can drive while you shoot, but it’s slow); and relying too often on the same enemy character models (for instance, some outposts are led by Top Dogs, but each Top Dog is the same model and uses the same attacks – they’re just different colors).

But even for its flaws, I still found Mad Max on PlayStation 4 to be extremely enjoyable and one of the most fun and unique open-world games I’ve played in a long time. If you’re a fan of Grand Theft Auto but sick of the setting, or want to play an open-world game but can’t get into Metal Gear Solid V or Fallout 4, Mad Max may be just the game for you. Mad Max is like building Legos – it’s nothing really revolutionary and you pretty much know what you’re gonna get, but the experience is still very fun and rewarding from beginning to end. And if you’re a fan of the Mad Max movie franchise, you owe it to yourself to check this game out, as its one of the most faithful movie-to-game adaptations I’ve ever played.

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May 8, 2018 at 1:29 AM  
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June 19, 2018 at 7:40 PM  

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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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