Version Tested: Xbox One
Also Available On: PS4, PC, GNU/Linux
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Single-Player, Third-Person Open World
I don’t think I’m being controversial when I say that Mad Max: Fury Road was one of the most impressive movies of the last hundred years (a.k.a. ever). The start to finish balls to the wall action, the flipping of the script by making Furiosa the protagonist, the insane practical stunts, the flaming guitar and amp stack car… everything about that movie was just perfect.
Mad Max the game is not any of those things.
Mad Max the game (hereafter referred to simply as Mad Max, but don’t get it twisted with the original 1979 movie) begins with a fairly impressive cinematic. It promises the constant chase of the most recent movie, and it’s not often you get to begin the game by seeing your character smash a chainsaw into the big bad’s head.
After chopping Scaborous Scrotus’s (seriously) head with a chainsaw, his minions throw Max off his vehicle and into the desert and take away everything but his pants. When Max wakes, he somehow has regained a shirt (I guess one of the minions felt sorry for him) and he befriends a lame dog who finds a shotgun buried in the sand. Up to this point, you haven’t touched a controller yet. But this is where you, the human player, take over.
The dog has somehow disappeared and Max tries to track it down. Rounding a corner, Max sees
Ephialtes Chumbucket about to chow down on his canine friend. Max comes up and puts a stop to that, and it turns out Max is a saint in some sort of weird automotive-based religion worshiped by the malformed hunchback. Chumbucket informs Max that he needs his help to build his “Magnum Opus,” which is esentially a badass custom car.
Max and Chumbucket return to Chumbucket’s garage/hideout for a couple of fetch missions and to get the player used to the controls.
Soon, Chumbucket’s hideout gets blown up by marauders and it’s time to move on.
At this point, you are probably feeling something like this:
I know that’s how I felt roughly 30 minutes into it. That is not how one should feel when playing a video game. This is one of those games that, if it wasn’t my job, I would not have played for more than an hour. But, as I didn’t think this game was 100% awful, let’s do some “oreo” criticism where I’ll say something nice, then I’ll list everything that went wrong with this game, then something nice again (and then something blunt at the end because I will need to have a conclusion paragraph because that’s how writing works).
The landscape was beautifully rendered. The team in charge of the art for this game obviously took great pride in their work. Admittedly, there’s not much one can do with a blasted desert wasteland to make it visually striking, but the team did their best and it shows. The inclusion of the dynamic moon and stars was a nice touch. Additionally, the character designs are pretty tight. I was especially struck by Griffa, the mystic, who carries his shelter on his back and puts off a surreal, beetle-esque vibe. He really seems like almost part of the landscape. My favorite part of the game were my meetings with him (and not just because he levels Max up).
As I said above, there’s not much one can do with a blasted desert wasteland. Once you’ve traveled the map–even on foot–for five minutes, you’ve seen everything you’re going to see. There are no forests, no snow-tipped mountains, not even any caves to explore.
Once you get your car and it’s time to really explore, you quickly realize that there isn’t all that much to do. You can scavenge, knock down “scarecrows,” get into various death races with AI opponents, dig up landmines with your dog, or invade enemy strongholds. Even the car battles–the most fun part in my opinion–got old quickly. It made me wonder how jaded I must be that a high speed demolition derby with gratuitous blood and explosions made me sigh in boredom. And then I remembered the rest of this game.
Invading enemy fortifications was another thing that was fun to do once or twice. The game gives you a couple strategic options (find a secret ingress point or hit them head on or take out the sniper first and then move in guns blazing), but ultimately I was too bored to care to find a secret tunnel somewhere by the third base I attacked.
I had read a promising review of the combat system (which I can no longer find) that reminded me that this game was developed by WB, who also developed the Arkham series which has, hands down, the best melee combat of any game to date. That review promised a less polished brawler style with the Arkham heart. While it was obvious that the systems were related, they were more like long-lost fourth cousins than brothers. Many of the same beats were there–hit Y to counter, rolling dodges, slow motion finishers, bonuses for building long combos–but without Batman’s gadgets and ninja moves, the combat mostly amounted to tapping X over and over until the baddies fell. The oddest/most frustrating thing was that if Max had a shiv he could do a great finisher, but he didn’t retrieve the shiv after. This is a game where survival hinges every bullet, every drop of water, every bit of gas, every piece of scrap, and Max can’t be assed to pull his goddamn shiv out of a corpse after combat?
Finally, the biggest sin this game committed was breaking up the action for cinematics of mundane tasks. Every time Max filled his canteen (think med kits), fade to ten second cinematic. Every time he fueled the car, cinematic, Every time he stored a can of fuel in the back of the car, cinematic. Every time he picked up a mission, a whole cinematic conversation. I had subtitles on so I could read ahead in the conversation and save myself some time only to find out there is no skipping ahead. The designers put time into these and, god dammit, you are going to listen to every last bit.
What really killed the car battles for me was this same concept. While there wasn’t a cinematic, every time I destroyed a car I had to stop my own car, get out, and walk over to pick up the scrap left behind. I get that the designers were going for realism, but seriously, just let me drive my car over that shit. If anything, have
Ephialtes Chumbucket reach over the side and snatch it up for me. You already threw total realism out the window when you had him regularly fix my totaled vehicle in 120 seconds with a fire extinguisher and a ratchet anyway.
The developers really paid homage to the original films with this game. They took a lot of creative risks trying to capture the tension and vulnerability of the situations in, especially, The Road Warrior.
That’s what’s so baffling about this game. It’s obvious that everyone involved really cared about this game. It doesn’t look like a farted-out, half-finished game intended to capitalize on the success of the movie. The graphics are polished, the voice acting is top-notch, the character, vehicle, and level models are varied, and the developers clearly took a lot of creative risks. Unfortunately, every instinct they had was wrong. You don’t build tension by inserting needless cut scenes, you do it by having the player actually experience running out of resources at crucial moments and having to improvise. It’s the video game version of the old writing axiom, “Show, don’t tell.”
Ultimately, the game swung at some great high-concept ideas and missed. Aside from that, there’s not much else to say.
Did you get a chance to try this game out? What do you think could’ve been done differently to save it?
Billy is a freelance writer living in Indianapolis with his dog, BoJack. He enjoys TED talks, video games, sunny days, football, and the salty tears of his enemies.